Nursing my not-so-little girl's heartbreak
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
The sad truth from my not-so-little girl's heartbreak is that I can no longer fix everything for her. But I hope she comes out of it knowing I will always be there for her and that she has the strength and emotional tools to rise above the troughs in life.
So, the PSLE results were out this week. While some rejoiced, some would have also been heartbroken that their results didn't meet their expectations. My elder daughter, Big E, hadn't taken the PSLE but she had a heartbreak of her own this week.
Her primary five class allocation was announced this week and when we received notification of her new class for next year, we immediately texted her BFF and asked what class was she assigned to. Turned out they have both been assigned to different classes.
When she heard, my daughter's floodgates opened. My autopilot reaction would have been to give her all the reasons why she shouldn't be upset, like it's not that big a deal, they can still best friends even in different classes and that she'll make new friends. But I didn't. Instead, I held her in my arms and told her I was sorry that this happened, that it really sucked and I love her. I watched her cry in full glory in my arms for ten minutes, while I felt helpless and wished I could do more for her.
I have read enough gentle/positive/conscious/respectful parenting and childhood psychology books to know that children are never quite ready to calm down and be receptive to solutions before they feel heard. And in order to raise emotionally healthy and empathetic children, we should always start with empathy. But in all honesty, every time my children break down - whether it be over a heartbreak like the above or childish stuff like "Jiejie said she doesn't want to play with me!" (but hey they are children right?) - it goes against every bone in my body to keep calm and empathise with them. I was just never brought up to be this calm and empathetic.
Like many adults my age, my parents didn't had the parenting/psychology resources we have now. So many of us as kids, were shamed for crying and had our feelings marginalised as our parents (well-meaning as they may be) try to explain away our sadness and why we shouldn't even be upset in the first place. I don't blame my parents. I know they were then doing the best they can, and no parents want to see their children sad. The kneejerk reaction in us would be to rationalise to our children why they shouldn't even be upset in the first place, as if our children would see sense in our explanation and we would miraculously nip their unhappiness.
But sometimes, what children (and adults I'm sure) really need is a listening ear and empathy. We just want to be validated so we can move on. Imagine if you're to complain to a friend about an unreasonable boss who was making you upset, how would you feel if your friend said "I'm sure he had his reasons" or "you're being oversensitive"? Don't think you'd ever want to confide in that friend again. Compare that to a friend who tells you, "That sucks. I can see why you're upset." The latter makes you feel heard and after you've let it out, you're ready to move on, and maybe even have new determination on how to solve the problem. If we can offer a sympathetic listening ear to our friends, we can do the same for our children.
I know having your best friend go to a different class is nothing compared to receiving PSLE results that meant you can't make it to your school of choice or you and your best friend would be going to different schools. It is what I could have chosen to say to Big E - "it isn't that big a deal, you're still in the same school!" or "nobody died!" - but I didn't because I know this heartbreak is real to her and it is a big deal to her there and then.
Putting myself in her shoes, I understand where Big E was coming. The two girls have been best friends for two years since primary three and I can see why that is so. Both of them have very similar characteristics: they are both gentle, reserved, mild-mannered and empathetic. They have supported each other over the two years when it came to certain fierce teachers and rude classmates, and the bond they have formed over the two years is genuine.
I jokingly said to my hubby, "so how do I request a change in class for our girl?" But I know I couldn't change a thing for her. I wish I could like my book characters who come up with ploys and plans to solve their problems. But I can't in reality.
Big E was teary-eyed on-and-off for the rest of the day while pronouncing, "I have a XXX-shaped hole in my heart" (XXX being her BFF's name). When Big E finally calmed down and was in a better frame of mind to listen, we talked about how we could still try our best despite the lousy situation, like how they could still meet each other during recess (which her BFF later texted to suggest the same - bless her little soul) and Big E still had another good friend with her in her new class. We also talked about how two persons can still be best friends even when they are in different classes like how her mum also had a few close friends in secondary school who were from different classes. I was realistic as well and told her that friendships can change over time and she will also make new friends in time.
Big E is back to her cheery self today. Deep down I know she is still disappointed about the reality that she won't be in the same class as her best friend but I think she has come out of it knowing the worst of feelings will pass and we can manage our disappointments in life.
This episode gave me a taste of how things would eventually be out of my hands as my children grow older. One day, Big E might feel disappointed when she receives her PSLE results or as she gets older, she might have her heart broken by a boy, have a fallout with a good friend or she may do badly for a university exam. Even if I may not be able to fix everything for her, I hope she knows that she can always come to me - I will listen to her and never judge - and that she has the strength, resilience and emotional tools to help her rise above the troughs in life.
Disclaimer: My opinions and reviews here are strictly my and my family’s own.
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