What do you tell a six year-old when her heart is broken?
This morning one of my six year-old daughters confided in me that she is having a problem at school. When I asked her about it, she said that one of her friends, Sam, isn't talking to her anymore. In fact, he got in trouble yesterday because he put his fingers in his ears and stuck out his tongue when she tried to talk to him. Since she dearly loves Sam, this is particularly upsetting. She added, "It makes me so sad when he does that. I think the relationship might end!"
Now, I could brush this off as a first crush gone awry, or the dramatics of a six year-old who is already quite prone to drama (so true!). But I actually felt a wave of panic. As in: "Oh, NO...so SOON?!?"
The truth is that I don't want my daughter's heart to be broken, ever - and certainly not at the tender age of six. At the same time, I know that every heart must be broken at some time or another, and frankly if this is the worst heartbreak she ever knows, she's doing better than most of us. I'm just not eager for her to learn the harsh realities of love - for instance, that you can love someone with all your heart who is absolutely wrong for you, or that it can be the right person at the wrong time (which makes them the wrong person), or that the one you love who loves you back can still sometimes act in ways that really, really hurt and make you wonder if they ever loved you at all.
I'm depressing myself as I write this, actually. Somehow my daughter seemed to think I was the best person to help her with this; I quote: "You're the best mom to help with problems, because you own your own company and help people all day!" Sigh.
What my sweet one doesn't know is that I am often as baffled by the human heart as anyone else - of course. And the fact that I sit with the pain of good people every day only makes me more aware of how little I truly know, or can do. Don't get me wrong - I'll sing the praises of therapy forever; I am a true believer, as someone who conducts it and has benefited from being a client. I know therapy can change lives.
Maybe that's where I should focus: on why and how it's changed mine. Have the therapists I've seen over the years given me the magic answer, or solved the riddle of love for me? No, but what they gave me was just as valuable: a different way to look at things, a calm and peaceful place to rage and cry, and most importantly, a willing witness to my pain. It might not sound like a lot, but when your heart is breaking it can be everything. They challenged me on what was my piece of the struggle, and if I was making things harder than they had to be - sometimes, I was. But in terms of the deeper, more existential questions of love, sometimes the most profound offerings they had were simply to agree that love is impossible, exhilarating, comforting, gut-wrenching, devastating, and wonderful. As I look back, that really helped.
Okay, so I think I am forming a plan here. When I see Sweet Girl this afternoon, I will fight my baser instinct to tell her to tell him to go to hell, that if he doesn't appreciate her there are a million more who will (frighteningly true), or that if she ignores him he'll come crawling back (yeah, my mind went there). Instead, I will hold her and let her know I get it - not him or his actions, but the hurt. I do get it. And I will remind her that no matter what happens with Sam, she will be okay. That, I know.