Friday, September 27, 2013

Aunt Frances

Yesterday I managed to sneak up to my bedroom and do a little sewing. (I have several things I've made which I want to share... just have to take pictures.) While I was doing so I had the radio on and was listening to Chris Fabry's program. There was a discussion about an email he received discussing how best to love and support a child who has had a disappointment or crisis. The biggest hang-up the responding listeners had was with the use of the word 'wallow' in the email. As in, we shouldn't let our children wallow in their problems. It was seen as terribly uncaring and unloving.

I disagree. Sometimes allowing our children to wallow in their disappointments and problems is the opposite of loving. Here is an excerpt from the letter I wrote to Chris Fabry this morning. I only have the time or energy to do so much critical thinking in a day, thus the double-dipping. (Lorraine was the writer of the email under discussion.)

I thought Lorraine's comments were well thought out and I didn't actually have difficulty with her use of the word 'wallowing', though it seems I am in the minority. In listening to the discussion, I couldn't help thinking of the children's story, Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It is an older book, first published in 1917, but is one of those books which should be required reading by every family. There is a character in it, Aunt Frances, who I think illustrates exactly what Lorraine was trying to communicate. Aunt Frances has had charge of her little niece, Elizabeth, since Elizabeth was a baby and loves her dearly and tries her very hardest to raise the child to the best of her abilities. Yet, in doing so, she creates a little girl who is fearful and shy and prone to dwelling on her own feelings to an unhealthy level. Aunt Frances manages to have done this because she is oh, so concerned with each and every hardship and disappointment and fear that the little girl experiences. Every molehill is made into a mountain and every mountain is made into Mt. Everest. She does it all with the best of intentions and soley by entering into Elizabeth's travails and wanting to understand her and have her feel understood. It is brilliantly written.

Well, I fear that we have become a nation of Aunt Franceses. At no point in Lorraine's letter did I feel she was dismissive of her children's or other's difficulties, she merely wanted the adults who surround them to put those difficulties into context. This does not mean we do not sympathize with whatever crisis du jour happens to land on our child's plate, it does mean that we keep our sympathy to an appropriate level. Often I find, when my children come to me with worry or disappointment or devastation, they want me to sympathize, but they are also trying to determine exactly how bad things really are. If I over-react or over-sympathize, I merely confirm in their minds that yes, indeed, things really are horrible, and panic and despair are truly called for. This is often the opposite of the feeling I had hoped to produce. Instead, if I acknowledge their feelings (Boy, that stinks that you didn't get the role you wanted. It feels pretty rotten when you feel overlooked. Why don't you take a day or two before deciding to quit the show altogether.), and give them some time put things in perspective, they manage the small trials of life rather smoothly. (Even if to them, the small trials seem rather huge.) But, if I join them in their wallowing (yes, I will use that word), I merely confirm that this is really rotten, so rotten that even my mom can't get over it. Things must be really bad. Time to panic. 

We can sympathize and love our children, offer them support, and then the best thing we can do is point out to them that the world hasn't stopped spinning and that life goes on regardless of what has happened. We may not like it, we may not have chosen it, but we trust in a God who is good and eventually we will look back and see the blessings in the hardships.  

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