Blindsided - Kimberly Thompson

We learned this week that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been in the hospital with broken ribs and fluid on his lungs, after being attacked from behind by his next-door neighbor while mowing his lawn with earplugs in place. At first there was speculation that there had been a longstanding feud between the two, but at this writing Senator Paul’s office is denying any such thing, instead saying that neither the senator nor his wife had spoken to Boucher in many years. I won’t give an uneducated opinion about the details of the dispute, but rather I want to reflect on the experience of being blindsided.

Three years ago, I was blindsided when I woke up one morning with severe lower right quadrant pain. A medical examination and ultrasound revealed an ovarian tumor the size of a football. In my mind, the future that I had taken for granted was evaporating. The professional accomplishments, seeing my youngest son graduate from college, seeing my grandchildren grow up – poof! My father had died less than 10 years earlier from cancer, and the possibility of facing it myself was terrifying.

I was one of the fortunate ones – the tumor had begun to cause me pain before it developed into cancer. But there’s no real coming back from looking your own mortality in the face. I even have a long abdominal scar to remind me of it. My body is not the same, and neither is my soul. I approach each day differently, knowing that I don’t have forever to be the person I want to be and that each day is a precious gift.

There is an old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That is true only for those with the inner resources to grow from the storms of life. As a mother, it breaks my heart when my children are blindsided by life. As a human being who has been blindsided myself, I know that I can’t shield them from it. It is incredibly shortsighted to squander our years of parenting in a fruitless effort to take away all obstacles for our children. The years of childhood and adolescence are our only chance to be physically present when they face the hard things life brings. Later they will move away to college, careers, and families of their own, challenges that require strong inner resources to handle what life throws at them.

There are some essential resources that every adult needs to thrive in the face of life’s blindsiding moments. Make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to build those in your children.

1. Children need to know how to handle conflict. In preschool, we must teach them to “use your words.” Later, the job shifts into teaching them to be both kind and assertive. The conflicts get more complicated over the years, but wise parents gradually shift the responsibility for handling them to their children.

2. Children need to know how to deal with unfairness. Young children perceive many things that are uncomfortable for them as unfair. As they grow, they perceive unfairness when they don’t get the recognition or privileges they feel they deserve, or that their peers are getting. Wise parents provide emotional support but intervene sparingly, preferring to show confidence in their child’s ability to cope.

3. Children need to know how to handle failure and loss. The natural consequence of trying new and harder things is failure. Wise parents focus on the joy of learning and of self-improvement. They talk about how good it feels to work hard and to have courage.

4. Children need to know how to handle frustration. Obstacles are not always bad things. Today’s frustrations are a training ground for those that inevitably come in adulthood. Teach them to breathe deeply, to turn the mind, and to approach a problem from a new direction.

As Senator Rand Paul can unfortunately testify, sometimes you never see it coming. Since nobody gets to have a life devoid of stressful, shocking and sometimes terrifying moments, let’s nurture our children’s inner resources so that they are capable of weathering the storms that come.