How to Help When You Have No Words

There are times when children are hurt or disappointed, and you have no words. There are times you wish they were younger, and a hug would right the world again. There are times you wish your counsel had been wiser, your crystal ball clearer, and your luck – better.

Woman seriously considering divorce optionsThere are times there is nothing you can do, or if there is, you cannot see it.

As adults, of course, we’ve learned to process our defeats as well as our wins, and yes – the prevailing wisdom is that we learn more from what knocks us down than what picks us up; it is the process of picking ourselves back up that strengthens us.

But the helplessness when your child needs something, and you cannot provide it?

It’s terrible.

Gathering forces, releasing emotion

This morning, I’m pacing the house while my son sleeps, fighting a sense of panic, at last able to let my emotions go, my ache because he is aching, my concern which knows the far-reaching implications of decisions that are beyond our control – not only for his life, but for mine.

I know the way resources have been stretched beyond measure – financial, physical, emotional – and for too many years of single parenting. I know the weeks of worry ahead, the weeks in which my steadfast support, even from a distance, must not waver.

This is about contingency planning and finding alternatives, about giving kids the life skills necessary to make good choices, about the strength of character to manage tough days as well as good ones. This is about my ability as a parent – to offer comfort with a dose of reality, to find the right words, and a situation in which I can do neither. I have no answers, no tricks up my sleeve, no sage suggestions. And if I am vague, it is intentional; the details are irrelevant, though I imagine for some of you, the feelings I am expressing will sound familiar.

Waiting, watching, listening, loving

Some children become acquainted with hurt far too young. Sadly, this is the legacy of divorce for many, as it is with other life events of a significant nature. Some children talk it out, act it out, and come to terms with what is and what isn’t. Others put their hurt in dark corners where their parents cannot see. And so we stand by, observing and listening, hoping for some way to assist and encourage, even if only our presence.

As for “time heals all wounds,” it’s a great concept, but I haven’t found it to be true. Time may soften the edges of pain, but some wounds don’t heal.

As for my sons, I have encouraged them to dream big; both have known their wins and their losses. Both will know more of each.

  • But what do you as a parent, when you can’t find words?
  • What do you do when there’s truly nothing you can do?
  • Where do you put the fear you don’t want to show, so you can keep going?


You May Also Enjoy



  1. says

    This sounds like one of those times where your son has every right to feel bad about this, and the best way to comfort him is to let him feel it. And even to let him know you feel bad about it, too. And then…just to keep going. Because unfortunately, that’s part of life, too. We get knocked down, and once the shock and disappointment has passed, we keep going. Knowing you, BLW, you have already shown him what he needs to do because you role model that for him every day. You keep fighting.

  2. says

    Time heals all wounds the way compound interest can make us rich… if we have a meta-human time frame to work with. Mostly we get interest by the penny and compound-worry.

    I’m with KW on sending compassion ahead of insight. Here’s to hoping that you will be lifted up, as you need no more learning from being knocked down.

  3. batticus says

    When there is nothing you can do, it is ok to do nothing and build up emotional, financial and physical reserves for when you can do something (after you have more information). Spend the time while you are waiting working on your Rumsfeld-esque “known unknown” strategies (what are your next deadlines if things work out well? what are your next alternatives (and their deadlines) if things don’t work out well? ), you may have limited time when you finally have your answers and being prepared will let you execute quickly and confidently. Bon chance to you and your son!

  4. says

    Speaking as someone who knew hurts too young, sometimes you don’t want anyone to fix it or try to smooth it over. You just want them to be gentle and give you some space to feel. Hoping for the best…

  5. says

    In my darkest hours, it was never the words or deeds that held me up. But presence. There are too many obstacles where words fail and advice just doesn’t exist. Having someone there, knowing I am supported and loved, that helped me through.

    Now, as a young mama, I cannot imagine yet how very very hard that will be to see my girls go through. Hurts are part of life. No parent can fix it all or find the single path around every bump.

  6. says

    I’m with April on this. Sometimes the best ally you can have through the tough times, is the person who is just prepared to stay at your side through it all. It makes all the difference.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I know that presence alone is something, but it seems insufficient. The right words in the right way at the right time can make all the difference in the world, and lately, I’ve had a tough time finding anything adequate. This may be part of the parenting gig, but when the chips are down, our kids expect wisdom from us, or at least, context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *