By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser
When one of my kids hurts: I want to make everything better. I’ve felt that way since they were tiny. Pat the backs, rub the tummies, and kiss away the tears.
Help isn’t so simple as a desire to offer it, though. I’ve learned this the hard way. You are only as happy as your most unhappy child. That’s a cliché that proves, in so many ways, correct. To grasp someone’s unhappiness is to develop not only empathy, but also strong holding muscles. In order to bear sadness yet not bow to it or get wholly bowled over by it, muscle walls must remain sturdy.
When my kid hurts, I don’t feel like holding strong. I feel like disintegrating into a powdery pulverization of sadness right alongside my child. I can’t cave in like sand at water’s edge every time a wave crashes. When someone’s hurting there are too many waves for everyone to disintegrate every time. Someone has to just hold—what? I guess to hold an understanding of the rhythms until that tossed about person can find a new place to stand, a little further from the ocean’s edge. Feelings require many things, and one is the ability to ride them out.
For a long time, my body leapt into fight or flight—adrenaline burst impulse of panic whenever I became aware of how deeply my child suffered. Flooded, I couldn’t calm my own fears. Continue Reading…