Helping children cope stretches parents the most

Published 2:36 pm Saturday, March 7, 2015

QUESTION: What “stretches” parents most in parenting?

ANSWER: Many times we talk about the “big” challenges in parenting: defiance, the grief in divorce, the dangers of adolescent sex, the risks in experimenting with alcohol or drugs.

While those issues are all too real and very important, it is helping our children cope with the disasters of everyday life that stretches the problem-solving skills of most parents.

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Just last week in our family, it took just about three minutes for a fun idea at a family birthday celebration to turn into intense disappointment. The 5 year old girl and the 7 year old boy had been told about the “wishbone” of a turkey and one had been carefully dried a couple days before and the kids were happily ready to play the game.  They were instructed to carefully hold the bone at its tips, to make it “fair” — and then a smiling adult said, “Wait, wait — have you made your wish??”

Suddenly the 5-year-old looked extremely serious and anxious, the kids nodded their heads, the wishbone snapped and, not surprisingly, the taller, older brother announced himself the winner and ran from the room. The little sister broke into sobs. In her mind, her wish was never going to come true. She was experiencing one of life’s childhood miseries.

I am pleased to be able to report the two parents did a masterful job of working through the sadness. The adults were sympathetic, groaning with the memories of their own “magical thinking” disappointments of childhood. Dad cradled his 5-year-old on his lap. Mom went to find out what the older brother’s wish had been.

It doesn’t always happen this way, but this time the brother’s wish for a vacation trip matched the sister’s wish for an experience that would happen during that vacation.

Mom pointed out if the big brother got his wish, then the little sister was going to get hers, too. In addition, it was pointed out that when the wishes became realities, it was really because of parents who loved their children, not a turkey’s wishbone.