Last week, in the small space between the kitchen stove and the wood countertops, one of my children felt unloved. *He told me I had a soft-spot for the other three children and not for him. My heart cracked open. In that moment, I wanted to blurt out it’s not true, to recount love in concrete terms––held, slept, protected, fed––but they seemed so plain and empty. If love is misunderstood, do those things matter? Instead, I listened.
Through tears, she recounted the list from her head aloud, her inward rehearsals that she was somehow loved less. I wrapped my arms around her, remembering how I once held her within me, her sole source of life. Since birth we have both been learning what it means to be human. I’m sorry, I whispered. I do have a very soft spot for you. Her body began to soften, to receive my embrace.
I slowly asked question after gentle question, trying to find the path to his brokenness. Or maybe it was my brokenness? The heart is such a wayward guide. What was clear is the more these words spilled out, the lighter his face and heart became. Heartache released.
I realize, at times, in my want to fix a situation or a hurtful moment in any of my children, I rush in with words and explanation, with ideas to re-direct their pain. Yet healing is always found in the light, negative thoughts spoken aloud, released. This is easier written than practiced. Sometimes their thoughts brought into light will accuse me. Like the ones I heard in this very moment, I will hear that I am not enough, that I have failed. Maybe you have heard this lie, too? Dearest reader, this is what I know: in the work of shepherding hearts, it takes courage to silence our own insecurities and self-criticisms in order that we might hear theirs. It takes courage to listen without offense, without the need to defend our own hearts. It takes courage to create a safe space for their insecurities, their fears, their offenses. But if willing to do so, we also create space for the truth: that they are so very deeply loved, that they were created with purpose, that they are not bound by the voice in their head. This is the hardest work.
To be clear, as parents, we are not doormats. We are not powerless or without voice or defense. We are leaders of their hearts for only a brief time, showing them in such very small, plain ways how to listen, how to see. Sometimes this will happen with words about their identity––love, beautiful, you, God––and sometimes this will happen with words that instruct––honor, kindness, forgive, patience––and still other times, this will happen with only hugs and eyes that listen.
The obvious fact in homeschooling is also the hidden gift. It is that I live with my children. They see me and I see them, at our very best and our very worst. They may not remember the pages of history or literature or numbers that currently fill our days, but maybe those things are all merely fodder used to reveal one simple truth: we are spirit of God clothed in humanity. We are each imperfect and beloved, broken and rising. Perhaps our heart is not glass at all, shattering and piecing back together. Perhaps our heart is wild and alive, merely shedding skin as it rubs against another, and grows.
*For the privacy of my children, I have intentionally interchanged the pronouns here. The goal is not tell their stories for them, but to share the parts of their narrative that expose my own heart.