I felt his body stiffen and his jaw set as he snuggled in closer beside me. His 9-year-old self was trying so hard to stay composed.

“Father in Heaven, we know Jonathan is missing his friends tonight. Please comfort him . . .” my husband prayed on. 

I felt hot tears running down my arm and stifled sobs shake my son. How can he seem so much like a little boy and so much like a half-grown man all at the same time? 

Prayer wrapped up, and he tightened his grip on my arm. 

“Mom? Stay?”

I tuck myself in under the covers and just hold him, knowing he’ll talk when he’s ready. Tears burn in my own eyes as he cries into my shoulder. 

“Mom, I like our new school. It’s just . . . it’s just . . . I miss Albany because there isn’t a better friend in the world. She encourages me and always prays for someone when she says she will. And I’ll bet Jacob is really missing me. And I miss Brynna and Paige and . . . and . . .”

“And Carina?”

Silence. More tears. 

She’s always been special to him.

RELATED: You Carry Your Children’s Burdens⁠—But Who’s Carrying Yours?

Moving at any age isn’t easy. Moving from a private school to a public school is even more difficult. His class of eight kids had been together, more or less, since kindergarten. Their entire experience of school included each other. 

I mentally started running through the list of the kids we’ve met so far, evaluating their aptitude for being a good friend to Jon. I shake my head as if that will physically clear out that thought. He needs to choose his own friends. 

Guilt moves to the forefront of my awareness. Maybe this wasn’t the best thing, maybe we should have stayed, maybe this opportunity wasn’t worth it . . .

There is no point in counting the cost already spent. With divorce comes change. I chose this town because of its excellent school system, its emphasis on art and music, and the number of opportunities for the children. I can’t afford private school on my own, and the only way it could continue is with help.

“There’s no use looking back,” I think to myself, even as I’m trying to calculate the tuition in my head, plus the added fuel costs. 

Maybe we should go back to the counselor. I know she said he was coping well and intermittent visits would be fine for his needs, but maybe he’s not OK? 

His quiet, sniffly voice breaks into my torrent of self-doubt. 

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really OK. I like our new school.”

“Oh?”

“There are kids I can play with. Just not kids I can share secrets with. Yet.”

“That’s kinda how I feel too, bud. There are ladies I can chat with, but not share secrets with. Yet.”

“I guess we’re both a little homesick for old friends, huh, Mom?”

“I suppose we are. Should we just feel sad together for a while?”

“It’s nicer to feel sad together with someone.” 

And there it is. 

He doesn’t need me to fix anything. 

He doesn’t need my guilt. 

He simply needs my presence.

RELATED: Watching Our Kids Face Rejection Hurts—But Cookies Help

A burden shared is a burden made lighter. We snuggle together, feeling sad together. Eventually, he falls off to sleep with his snuffling snore. That’s when my tears fall in earnest.

There is nothing that hurts me as deeply as seeing my kids hurt.

I want to protect my precious, innocent little boy from all the hurt in the world. I don’t want him to sit alone at lunchtime. It kills me to see his heart breaking over his friends. I want to keep all the hurt away.

But I know better. 

I really want to raise a resilient, kind, courageous kid. So many qualities come only through the forge of struggle. Eating alone at lunch now will make him more apt to sit with the kid who is alone later. Trying new things where he knows no one will make it easier for him to make his own fun as an adult. Learning to engage with a new town is an important life skill. 

I want to fix it now, but that’s not what he needs. He needs me to be his safe place. He needs me to let him struggle. Oh . . . and he needs me to remind him to take his baseball glove to school tomorrow because one of the boys in his class wants to play catch with him during recess. 

Kathryn Liber

Kathryn Liber is a Midwestern mother to a boy who loves books and a girl who loves dirt. A lover of words, coffee, and good food, if she isn't reading, writing, or speaking words . . . it's probably because her mouth is full of something delicious!