Ten years ago, I sat in my classroom after school and heard a girl crying in the hallway. It was one of those big cries. The heaving, snot-dripping Oprah cries. I knew those tears. I knew those sounds.
Like a seasoned warrior, I hopped up from my desk and ran into the hallway. The sight was familiar. Two adolescent girls stood there, holding one another tightly, heads buried in one another’s hoodies. Boy problems. “Girls, what’s wrong?” I asked.
The girl looked at me, imploringly. “My boyfriend just broke up with me. ” And then she waited for me to say something. Anything.
I wrapped my 24-year-old arms around them both, pulling them to me tightly. “Oh Sweetheart,” I said. “I know it hurts right now. Shhhhh. I know. I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but just wait... wait until you’re older. This seventh grade breakup will seem easy in comparison.”
The whimpering girl looked up at me and stared. It wasn’t a thankful stare. It wasn’t a hateful stare. It was just…a stare. A confused, empty stare.
“Is that supposed to help?” she asked.
Well, yes. I suppose I thought it would help. I assumed letting her know that it could be worse, that I’ve HAD IT WORSE would somehow ease her pain. “This is empathy,” I thought. But it wasn’t–not even close. Her stare said it all: I said the wrong thing.
At that moment, I realized something: The words “just wait” are probably the most useless words we can utter to a sister in pain. Yet we do it all the time.
Ladies, I hereby issue a plea: Let’s stop using those words.
Have you been there? When we dare utter a complaint, those seasoned warriors rush in.
Pregnant and feeling huge? “Just wait until you’re at the 9-month mark and you can’t see your feet!”
Having a hard day with toddlers? “Just wait until they’re teenagers! This will seem easy!”
When I was sad after dropping my screaming son off at preschool: “Just wait until kindergarten/ high school / college! Then you’ll REALLY cry! This is the easy part!
Worse yet, we’ve been known to “just wait” someone when things are looking up:
“Glad your pregnancy is going well. Better get all the sleep you can get! Just wait until that baby is here. You’ll never sleep again!”
In fact, last week at the grocery store, a women “just waited” me near the green beans. “Wow! Your daughter has so much hair! And she doesn’t rip her bow out? Just waituntil she’s older and it becomes a daily fight! My daughter won’t even let me near her hair now!”
Gee. Thanks. Can’t wait. Better add Harper’s bow-tolerance to my gratitude journal tonight. Wait – I don’t have a gratitude journal. One of my kids threw the empty journal I’d planned to use for that purpose into the shower.
Ladies, I get it. As women, we’ve been conditioned since girlhood to wear our warrior badges on our chests (hello, Girl Scouts). Those badges were not only a symbol of accomplishment, but experience, too. But let’s remember that our badges, our battle wounds, so-to-speak, don’t necessarily make anyone’s fight easier or less valid.
Perhaps that’s why middle school girls are such remarkable empathizers… They’re old enough to know that life can be tough, but not jaded enough to know it gets a whole lot tougher. They don’t yet have a library of one-upper experiences, so they just hold each other and listen. I think they’re on to something, those teenage girls.
Raising people is hard. It’s hard if you have one, and it’s hard if you have ten. It’s hard when they’re babies, and it’s hard when they’re adults. My today is my today. It’s my “right now.” And my “right now” is sometimes really great, and it’s sometimes really stinking hard. And the only thing that a “just wait” brings is fear.
I understand. You’ve run farther. You’ve run longer. Your race has been bumpy, and long, and tiring. I stand in awe of you, my fellow runners. My trailblazers. I truly do.
But please remember, some of us are only at the beginning of our marathons, and we have a long road ahead of us– A road that we’ve never traveled before. In fact, we haven’t even trained for this. So instead of telling us about the pitfalls during mile 23, let’s just cheer the new runners through mile TWO.
Sometimes, all we need from the seasoned warrior is simply, “I’ve been there, too. I know it’s hard. You can do it, and I’m here for you.”