“You just need to know we’re for you.”

Ellia has had a tough year. She’s had several hospital stays, missed plenty of school and spent a good amount of time in her wheelchair. She’s struggled to see herself as more than a kid with a genetic disorder. She’s strong, not just for a seven year old, but she challenges the emotional strength of every person around her.

And I think lately, she’s been tired.

Recently, the issue of school has caused her deep anxiety and fear. We’ve had a difficult time trying to decide what is best for her in the midst of her very real concerns. And right now, no solution is very appealing.

It’s ok as parents that we don’t always know what to do for our kids. Maybe that’s because we’re not our kids. We don’t know what they feel when they fall or fail or experience social rejection. We don’t know what makes their specific situation better or what makes it worse.

Traditionally I’ve viewed parenting as an institution in which the child follows the adult. What I say, you do. When I choose, you acquiesce.

But as Ellia sat in panic the night before she went back to school this week, I sensed that parenting is more than the limiting pattern of “follow me.”

Of course I affirm the parental duty to set boundaries, enforce boundaries and call our children to be respectful and responsible.

But as I sat on her bed watching her cry before school the next day, I realized that she needed something more than a parental decision-making moment. She needed more than correction or advice. She needed to know that she was not alone. She needed to hear that we weren’t just leading her; we were also beside her. We were with her in the struggle, not disconnectedly trying to solve her problems.

When it comes to adversity, we often see our role as parents in two ways: one, we rescue our children from challenges. Or, two, we explain that difficulties are part of the real world and they need to suck it up.

And maybe different times call for different responses.

But underlying any response and at any time, we need to offer a clear reminder that our children are not alone.   They are not alone when they make mistakes, they are not alone when they succeed. They aren’t alone when their feelings get hurt or the teacher gets angry or they are falsely accused or socially wounded.

Earlier that night, Brett spoke similar words to our 7 year old. He reminded her that no matter how she does in school or what people say to her or how well she performs during computer time, she has a family who will walk with her every step of the way. She doesn’t have to do the difficult things alone. We will listen to her and help her process.

“And you need to know, Ellia, that we are here and we will always fight for you.”

This doesn’t mean she won’t walk through consequences, nor does it mean we will save her from suffering. But maybe we should stop parenting solely from the front while demanding fall-in-line obedience. Instead, we must be willing to walk beside our kids, even as we hold them accountable.

They won’t be perfect, but neither will we.

But each day and in each circumstance we can teach our kids that they don’t face the world alone. And sometimes this is what our children need in order to have the courage to show up each day and live the life in front of them.

It’s a small picture of the hope we experience with the reality of Emmanuel—God with us.

Hold your kids and surround them with consistent guidance and grace—not just as their leaders, but also as their biggest fans.