In 1997, I was riding the coattails of Toni Braxton’s "Unbreak my Heart" as I worked my way through my first major breakup. Last night, I sent my fifteen-year-old son a nasty-gram via text message. It was something very silly in retrospect. I had asked him not to do something, and when he did it anyway, I felt disrespected and I sent him a text voicing my displeasure (I would have just gone to talk to him, but he was on the phone with his girlfriend). He responded with a five word text. “She broke up with me.”
The First Broken Heart
I had nothing. No room in my arsenal to say anything in response. In 1997, I replayed “Unbreak my Heart” on an endless loop. I talked to my friends. I drank a lot of beer. I was in college then, and I did a lot of things to try to ease the burden. One thing I didn’t do was talk to my mom. I didn’t think she would understand. And worse, I didn’t think she could fix it, and my mom was supposed to be able to fix anything.
My son, my first born, my 15-year-old-baby-boy, is suffering through his very first broken heart. I don’t need to go into specifics about their relationship but I can say this–I respect her and her family deeply. We tried to set healthy boundaries for them as they were negotiating their first relationships. They “dated” for over a year. And he is absolutely broken. He is dealing with his first broken heart.
Last night, I fumbled for the words to try to make things better. As his mom, I searched through my stash of frequently used platitudes that can help make things better. Things like “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” And “I know you are but so am I.” Ok, well maybe not really that one. But what it came down to is I came up empty. I wasn’t prepared for this. The depth of his sadness was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When our family dog died a year ago, he didn’t take it this hard. I had nothing to make it better.
And then I realized something. I CAN’T make this better. As much as I wanted to push him aside and grab his phone and tell the WORLD that anybody who didn’t want my son as the protector of their heart was a fool, I know that isn’t how it works. And I know that isn’t true. Two people can be amazing separately, but teenagers need a lot of room to figure out what that means. I wanted to give him answers. He had SO MANY questions. Why? What did he do? Should he have seen this coming? Was there something he wasn’t giving her? Can he fix this? Can he change? Can he be what she needs?
I realized I’ve asked myself these same questions when I’ve gone through my own break-ups in the past. As parents, we often HAVE these experiences and the emotional capacity to handle these things. We’ve been there, done that. We’ve made the promises that we would change. We would do whatever they needed us to do in order to make it work. We would do ANYTHING to make it work.
And now, my son is in that position. He’s begging for a chance to be who she wants him to be. To do what she wants him to do. He’d do anything for her to say, yes. She’s still his girlfriend.
As parents, we know that this is probably it. It’s most likely over. My son needs to work on trying to repair his broken heart and move on.
So we want, more than anything, to tell our kids that this ISN’T it. This isn’t the end of their lives. That their hearts will heal. They will eventually love again. We want to. But we shouldn’t. Not in such blunt terms, anyway. His world just collapsed. The person he has been closest to for the past year just told him that she doesn’t want to be that person for him anymore. It’s easy for me, as his mom, to say that in a few months it will be ancient history. That by the time he graduates high school, he will have had plenty more girlfriends and a lot more memories.
How to Help
I just need to listen. I need to open my ears and shut my mouth. Looking back, I can remember the times my mom told me that soon enough I would find somebody. That before I knew it, I would forget the person who broke my heart ever existed. Truthfully, I don’t want him to forget her. She is a beautiful, amazing, caring girl. She just realizes that she needs something else. And that’s ok. He shouldn’t forget her or forget the relationship. And I won’t tell him to. Instead, I will listen.
We stayed up late last night. He talked well into the night, often repeating himself. He didn’t understand. He COULDN’T understand. He is 15. He doesn’t have the nearly half-a-century of experience under his belt that I do. As parents, we often forget how hard it is to deal with these new emotions. As adults, we know how to move through them and carry on. But we often forget that it’s through experience that we gained this skill.
Instead, we should give them time to adjust to their feelings. To figure out their own self-worth. And to figure out just what they are willing to do for love. As parents, we often minimize the feelings of “love” our children have. But really, if we can accept they love us, their parents, unconditionally, why is it so hard for us to accept they can love one of their peers as deeply? While their responses to those feelings of love may be more immature than ours are, they are just as real.
As much as I wanted to rush to my son’s aid and fix his broken heart, the best thing I could do for him was listen. Even when he repeats himself. Even when he contradicts himself. And I can let him know that no matter what, he has a family who loves him unconditionally, and that we will be here to help him mend his broken heart.
Last night, my big, strong, independent, 15-year-old, broken son wept in my arms like a baby. As his mom, I wanted nothing more than to piece back together his broken heart. This is something I cannot fix for him. Instead, I can only hope that keeping an open ear and an open mind will encourage him to continue to open up to me. More importantly, I know that him having my undivided attention without adding my own thoughts, judgement, or solution will give him the opportunity to mend his broken heart. And he will heal. He will learn that broken hearts happen. Because That’s Just Life.