I think children are born with the thought that moms can fix anything. A band-aid can heal an invisible wound. A mild head injury is healed by burying your face in mom’s lap. A trip with dad to get ice cream takes away the sting of social slights or bad days at school.
And then young adulthood reveals the truth—that parents don’t fix. Our kids get rejected. They make stupid decisions. They have relational problems and emotional drives beyond their parents’ scope of control.
But while adolescents figure out their parents’ limitations, parents often continue to flail around, desperately trying to fix.
One of the most difficult things about Ellia’s disorder is our inability to make her better. Because there is no known cure, the medical team simply offers support care, meaning they don’t use medicine—they just keep her alive. And we just wait.
And I’ve never seen a person in that much pain. She can’t be touched. She can’t be moved. She can’t handle for even a sheet to touch her body. Pain medicine can’t seem to break through. She’s immobile, telling her legs to move with no result. She lays in a sterile room and has to feel every moment of complete skeletal muscle breakdown.
The worst part for me is hearing her beg.
“Please stop. Please be done. Are you done now?” she cries, whenever a nurse checks her blood pressure or puts in a new IV port.
And I stand there. Watching her plead. And there’s not a thing I can do.
“Ellia, we’re going to have to go to a different hospital,” I told her this week, as we prepared to move to ICU downtown.
“I don’t want to go to a different hospital. Tell the ambulance to take me home.”
Many times, she’d cry for us to let her go home, still somehow believing her dad and I could rescue her from her present hell.
At home, 4 year old Olive was a wreck. Her family had been taken from her for the second time this month. “Please don’t leave! You just got here!” she’d cry when one of us headed back to the hospital.
One night when I was home with Olive and Owen, we Facetimed Brett and Ellia. She grabbed my phone with both hands and looked at her dad's face on the screen. “Please come home, Daddy. Please, please, please.” And she sobbed uncontrollably as Brett and I watched helplessly.
We can’t fix it.
Ellia’s immobility. Olive’s need for normalcy. Owen’s needed surgeries.
These heart-wrenching moments bring clarity to the fact that parenting must mean something other than fixing.
And we will fail miserably as parents if we keep trying to do the undoable.
But it’s not just our kids that we try to fix. It’s everyone else around us. Our friends facing difficulty. The people we work with. Those in our church or Sunday school classes or those to whom we minister or seek to serve.
We will fail to fix because we weren’t made to do so.
Maybe we want to fix because we can’t handle the pain ourselves. Maybe we can’t deal with real suffering. Maybe we need things to be better than they are.
Or maybe we forget the inevitability of pain or the truth that pain can be reclaimed as a means of transformation.
But being a mom or dad or a relational human in general means we don’t protect others from pain; instead we help them navigate the awful and terrible reality of pain.
Being a parent means we learn to be present. It means we learn when to speak and when to hold our children in our laps. It means we aren’t pushed away by emotional outbursts and instead recognize the person in pain pleading for help. It means we learn that love often requires we lay down the imaginary super power to fix.
Grow in solidarity with your children. Shepherd from a place of entering their pain. Don’t hand out empty “It will be okay” phrases when it may not be okay. Admit it’s as terrible as they know it is.
Learn to listen as people crack under torrential emotions. Learn to hold people when they fall apart.
And don’t be afraid to face your own suffering as you watch the brokenness of those you love most.
“Comfort, comfort, my people. There are new days coming.”
We will do well to communicate that the present is not obsolete, but it doesn’t get the last word.
Let your children know you aren’t scared of their pain.
And lay down fixing for the sake of becoming a clearer conduit of comfort and love.