“I can’t fix this,” I said to my son Luca, as he complained to me yesterday about a neighborhood conflict he was engaged in.
“But, Momma, Riley and Addison want girl time, and they don’t want to play with me.”
I responded, knowing he would never understand the concept of “girl time” for as long as he lives, “Well, then, play with Gavin.”
“I don’t want to,” he cried. “He wants to play Lego Batman, and I want to play Minecraft.” Increasing in volume and frustration at his seeming helplessness, Luca pleaded, “Momma, will you please help me?”
How exquisitely difficult it was to watch the pain in my son’s eyes when I squared his shoulders, looked him directly in the face and said, “Luca, I can’t fix this.” That, my friends, looks like disillusionment on crack.
You see, implied in his request is an intuitive understanding that I am, in my son’s world, a real life super hero. I possess an all-encompassing force. The power of fix. As parents, fixing things is our part-time occupation. We become the maintenance workers for our children. Facility managers. We change their dirty diapers. We quench their thirst. We clean their bodies. And rightfully so. We are supposed to keep them alive. Those are the fundamental obligations of the task we have been given. Later, when they come in with bee stings and hungry bellies, we fix. When they break their Lego set for the hundredth time, we fix. When they can’t open the foolproof, childproof, human-proof packaging of their toys, we fix. We fix their bike chains, their math mistakes, and their unmitigated fear of the dark in the middle of the night. We become professionals.
So, it is natural for us to struggle with the superhuman power that we develop. Being the center of our child’s universe is intoxicating and alluring. It can quickly become our central identity. The title on our business card. We see every potential conflict in their lives as a chance to flex our own muscles. To feel needed. To save our children from pain. But our inability to acknowledge when our presence is no longer called for can be one of the most crippling of all the negative forces our children face.
I see it all the time in education. Parents that have forgotten or have been unable to shift their super power from rescuer to refiner. Children who have grown into young men and women who perpetually make bad decisions, interpersonally, academically, and spiritually, all the while knowing the consequences will be nullified by an invasive parent. Coach doesn’t play me. Teacher doesn’t like me. Susie doesn’t accept me. A rescuer jumps before looking, makes accusations rather than conversation, and unknowingly builds one more obstacle between their child and a healthy relationship with the real world. A rescuer stunts the emotional growth and the necessary life skills that equip young people with the abilities to navigate relationships. A rescuer prohibits the necessary scarring of the soul, nature’s perfect protective and healing agent for the wounds of life. A rescuer ends up with a child on the gravy train far too long, a chronological adult who employs the maturity of an adolescent. For all intents and purposes, it is failure to launch.
On the other hand, a refiner parent uses the flames of conflict in their child’s life to shape their responses to future fires. And wow, is this counter intuitive for us. We are supposed to protect them at all costs, right? Keep their hearts intact. Wrap them in bunting and preserve that childlike innocence that warms us from the inside out. No, our job is not to preserve them. Our job is to prepare them. A refiner allows their child to experience discomfort. To simmer in the pain until self-actualization happens. We monitor the stove, we check the temperature, we offer insight and advice, and we step in only as a last resort. Only when those flames threaten to completely consume. Coach doesn’t play me right now, but I am going to work so hard that he can’t keep me on the bench. I’m going to talk to my teacher about areas I can improve. Susie and I are working on our differences. Their default response becomes taking responsibility for their actions instead of taking advantage of the situation. They walk a little taller. With more confidence. With grace and humility. Laid low by life, they learn to lean on the Everlasting, not the finite. We, in our own strength, could never replace the sacrifice that eternal rescue required. We can only emulate the true Father, who is refining each of us for His own glory.
Luca came running back inside a few minutes after our talk yesterday afternoon with Gavin in tow. He invited Gavin to our house to play Minecraft, and Gavin accepted. Crisis averted . . . for now. The conflicts are just going to get bigger, more difficult to navigate, more searingly traumatic. This momma has to learn how to handle her own pain while she is watching her son manage his. This momma has to put down her super hero cape and replace it with an anvil and a chisel. This requires emotional discipline and a lot of prayer. Changing roles is one of the many deaths we die raising kids. However, the life that emerges out of that grief is one of the most precious gifts we can give them.