For the children most of us know, life is easy—- at least compared to the life of a Haitian orphan or Sudanese refugee. Still, an easy life doesn’t mean an escape from emotional pain. Stuff happens, usually things parents never sign up for.
That’s what happened to a young mother whose husband is going through rigorous and risky treatment for lymphoma. In a recent post, she worries about the effect on her pre-teen kids:
The kids are both exhibiting signs of stress…… All of this is normal and expected. And all of it sucks. For them. For us.
It’s not fair.
It’s not fair that their father has cancer.
Life is not fair.
I could have written this. I probably did, using far stronger words in my journal. My son had turned 7 the day before I was diagnosed with cancer; my daughter was 11. It was way too soon for them to learn the truth we all have to learn at some point:
Life. Is. Not. Fair.
And every parent knows that watching your children suffer is far harder than suffering yourself.
The urge to protect your children is hardwired into parental DNA. My parents protected me from life’s harshest realities until they couldn’t; and I did the same thing—until cancer took away my ability to shield my kids. Possibly this was the worst part of cancer for me. Hearing the tears and fears of my children—or even worse, not hearing them and knowing they were holding them inside to protect me.
How cruel is any crisis that robs children of their innocence. How painful that we as parents can’t prevent it or patch it up and make it better. How hard it is to be helpless.
Yet kids are resilient. And we are, too. A crisis morphs into the new normal; it’s amazing what you can get used to when you have no choice.
We were lucky on many levels compared to other families. Most importantly, I survived, and so did they.
Looking back, it’s clear that our challenges —-so painful at the time— had some positive side effects. I’m convinced that my two children—and I— are stronger people because of it.
If I had to pick the quality that’s most useful in life, I’d probably choose adaptability. Life is constant change, good or bad— we need to adjust constantly to what is thrown our way. And survival of the fittest is not just a cliche.
In the Stone Age, facing a saber tooth tiger forced our ancestors to learn how to survive. Most of our kids won’t be confronting many tigers. But facing a challenge teaches them survival skills that are sometimes hard to develop in other ways.
I would have preferred an easier challenge; I would never say cancer is a good thing. But good things can come from bad things. Sometimes when bad things happen, we’re better for it—because we have to be. Because sometimes it takes that for us to become what we’re meant to be. Because Life Is Not Fair—-and we’re meant to be survivors.