What To Do When Your Children See Your Pain

May 21, 2021

They say a picture is worth a thousand words….

And when I look at this one, it’s true; I can’t seem to form any.

Just a lump in my throat that won’t go away.

There’s a childhood innocence and a mother’s sorrow intertwined in a way that shows love and heartache all in one.

On the fateful November day when I came home from my mammogram, my husband, Ryan, and I spent many moments embracing, crying, and trying to make sense of the information they had given me. All I knew at the time was that the results were indicative of breast cancer, but I wouldn’t know for certain until a biopsy was done. Our minds raced and we desperately tried to not imagine the worse.

A few moments later, my oldest who was only 8, came up to me with tears falling down his sweet, little boy face.

 “Mommy, are you going to be okay?”

I felt like crumbling in a puddle of tears and wishing the ground would swallow me until I woke up from this nightmare.

But instead, I wiped my tears away, put on the biggest smile I could muster, and told him, “Sweetie, Mommy is going to be just fine! I’m only a little upset about some of the treatment I’ll have to go through to get better. But I’m going to be just fine. Don’t you worry about a thing!”

We hugged and laughed. He wiped away his tears and skipped off towards the innocence of boyhood once again.

And I?

I stayed back with a knife in my chest knowing full well I had flat out lied. Because truth be told, I didn’t know anything. And in that moment, the last thing I believed was that everything was going to be “just fine”.

Six months have passed since that day. I’ve had 1 biopsy, 3 scans, 2 surgeries, 1 port placement, dozens of doctor appointments and 8 rounds of chemo, with radiation and 10 years of hormone therapy yet to come. I’ve talked with many doctors, read numerous books, and spent countless hours scouring PubMed and researching literature. I know a lot more now than I did then, and STILL – I don’t know if I’ll truly be okay.

But more than anything in this world, I want my precious children to not suffer broken hearts.

I want to put them in a bubble and fight off the ugliness this world will throw at them.

I want them to sleep soundly; run, jump, explore – play with abandonment and joy, knowing they are and will always be protected and secure.

I want them to have big plans and even bigger dreams that aren’t limited by fears and insecurities of the future.

I want them to trust in God’s goodness and love for them.

But another part of me knows that’s not what’s best. Because sooner or later, no matter how hard I try, their jars will break too. There aren’t enough green smoothies or helmets or airbags to guarantee their safety. Their bodies can get sick, snakes can bite, falls can happen.

Their uncle can die. Their mom can get cancer. They’ve just been too young to really notice all that’s happened.

And even though I desperately want to fight off the world, keep them protected, and tell them “everything is going to be just fine,” I also want to read history’s pages and learn from our complicated past. I want to fly them to a developing country and show them how most of the people in this world live. The diversity of cultures, the beauty in our differences, but mostly the vast disparity in poverty and joy in the little.

I want them to know everything wont’ always be okay.

I want them to see their father cry because he’s scared his world is crumbling.

I want them to watch their mama sleeping on the couch while poisonous chemicals are wreaking havoc on her body.

I want them to ask me if people die of cancer.

I want them to know jars break.  

Because one of my greatest failures as a mother will be to send my children out in this world believing life will never have storms.

So as hard as all of this is, here’s what I’ve learned through this journey of broken jars:

  • When your jar happens to break, you’re never the only one surrounded by pieces of broken clay. All those you love; those who love you, will be cut with the fragments too. And as much as you’ll hate it, your children will be picking up the pieces with you.
  • You don’t have to always be strong. Your children should see you cry. They’ll ask hard questions and you’ll have to tell the truth, no matter how hard that might be.
  • It’s okay to tell them you don’t know the answer. Most of life is full of uncertainties and unknowns, and it’s okay to show them you don’t have everything figured out.
  • But here’s the thing: You can always, ALWAYS, tell them you believe in a God who does.

Better than answers or reassurances or promises with empty lies, you can give them faith in a Father who holds your lives in His hands.

And if they learn that truth right now – if it’s ingrained in their hearts and minds – that truth will carry them and sustain them through every single storm in life. It’ll be the light in every broken jar, giving them the peace and hope that surpasses their own understanding.

And when those hard, unanswerable questions come up, I’ve told them this:

We, are all like caterpillars.

A caterpillar lives the beginning of his life in a very limited place. His time of eating and crawling on short, tiny legs is brief and fleeting compared to yours. Being as small and limited as he is, he can only see so far. So, the caterpillar just goes on living his very best life, but he really has no clue what’s truly out there. And even if you talked to the caterpillar and told him about all the wonderful places in this world beyond his clump of green leaves, he would never be able to see what you see or understand what you were trying to describe. He’s simply not meant to. It’s not a flaw; it’s just his design.  

But someday; someday soon, that little caterpillar will morph and change into a creature so beautiful and magnificent he won’t even remember who he used to be. He’ll see the whole world in a brand, new light.

He’ll never be like you; he’ll never truly understand the complexity of your intricate human body and brain in the same way that we will never be like God. But he’ll be transformed into something great, and his perspective of the world around him will completely change for the better. And he’ll never want to go back.

Because no matter how much we wish, we simply won’t always have the answers our children ask for. We live in a world where hard things happen, and we won’t be able to protect them from the heartbreak. We shouldn’t want to always protect them from the heartbreak.

So when suffering knocks on your door and hard questions are asked:

  • Be truthful and honest with your kids. Lying or avoiding the inevitable will only breed more fear and insecurities as time goes on and they don’t understand what’s happening.
  • Get to know how each one tends to respond individually to pain and uncertainty. Every child is different. Gauge what they can handle based on their age and emotional maturity. This will help you form your words to be loving, gentle, truthful, and effective. Help them process the information you share and ask them how they’re feeling about it.
  • Be honest, but be hopeful too. There’s always room for hope.
  • But more than anything, tell them about the One who loves them so much, He gave His life in order to share the promise of comfort through life’s storms. He’s the only reason there’s hope in the midst of suffering.

Tell them that no matter what happens in this life, it’s just a caterpillar’s garden. The chrysalis has already been made; the wing patterns designed.

Iridescence is inevitable.

Metamorphosis is coming, and even though the caterpillar has no idea what he’ll turn into or where his new life will take him, he confidently trusts in the Creator who designed him for a purpose far greater than munching on leaves.

So, when you can’t find the answers and your view only goes so far, don’t ever doubt the Creator’s design. He makes wings out of nothing and teaches you to fly.

Hi! I’m Amy…

I am a stay-at-home mom with a passion for books, baking, gardening and homeschooling. My calling to write stems from the desire to share the depths and vastness of grief and suffering, and how to point it back towards an eternal perspective through Jesus. Called to live full and grace filled lives, I hope to acknowledge pain, inspire joy through brokenness and find purpose in the beauty, the ugly and the mundane of parenting day to day. 

My husband, Ryan, and I live in Charleston, SC with our 4 busy boys, 2 dogs and constant influx of tadpoles, frogs, crayfish and lizards.