Complaints and relief

It's hard to know how to help make the world right for our teenagers when they are full of legitimate complaints. Relief can come in unexpected forms.

My sixteen year old has had a hard day. He has a whole list of complaints. I sympathize. He’s a great guy, a hard worker with good intentions, and I would wish that his goodness were rewarded with a problem-free existence. But I can’t make any of these things better. So I listen. I commiserate. I communicate how great I think he is.

This has to be a more useful response than minimizing his complaints, or offering facile solutions, or getting on his case for being so negative. But it doesn’t seem to offer him much relief.

Then his nineteen-year-old brother comes on the scene, takes in the situation in an instant, grabs the younger one in a headlock and starts pummeling him. The younger one protests and laughs. As they tussle, he laughs and laughs, and I am humbled. This is what will bring relief. We can’t make everything better for him now (if we ever could!). But we can help him loosen up the tightness that transforms a list of complaints into a blighted life.

I am reminded of a similar time when my older son’s knack for irreverence was a gift to me. I hate to bother people with my troubles, but I’d had a hard day, and as we sat down to dinner I couldn’t help but let a complaint or two slip out. He looked at me cheerfully—with a twinkle—and said warmly, “Oh mom, nobody cares how you feel”.

It was so unexpected, so outrageous that all I could do was laugh. As I laughed, my internal reality was rearranged. From being an ill-used person with problems that could ruin anyone’s day, I became a well-connected mother with a few small problems, blessed with a son whose love actually made a difference.

Now I’m not advising that we laugh at other people’s problems. Sometimes we may even be able to play a role in solving them. But when we can’t, if we can use our love and connection to get them laughing, we will have given a gift.