The first broken heart
I recalled how it felt when my son rested his sweet head on my knee, tears spilling down his cheek. The warmth of his hot flushed face as I gently brushed his hair away from his eyes. It hurts to watch them in pain. Teething was a terrible stage. Seemed so unfair that to inflict upon someone so young.
Recently, I found myself again gently stroking the hair off my son’s tear-soaked face. My hand on his shoulder as he shook with sobs into his pillow. Again there was nothing I could do to help him but unlike the teething stage there were no drugs, no cuddles, no magic potion would take his pain away this time.
Today he was suffering his first broken heart.
It is something we forget to plan for as parents of teens. We try to be as best prepared for many of their firsts: first job, first sexual experience, first driving lesson, first drink etc. But how many of us ready ourselves for that inevitable first broken heart?
Strangely my teen’s first heartbreak knocked my confidence in being able to cope and support him. I had become so used to seeing him confident and grown up, that when suddenly faced with his vulnerability and pain, so raw and open, it was confronting. I found myself wondering what do I do? How do I help? What should I say? How this is dealt with could set life-long patterns in coping in stressful situations. We need to proceed with love in our hearts.
We know that time heals and that one day when they may not even remember the person’s name (but I wager that most of us will acutely recall our first heartbreak), so honouring the situation and maintaining respect and consideration is essential. Here are some suggestions how:
This is one of those first experiences that could shape their patterns for dealing with extreme stress or trauma so do not play this lightly. Dismissing the importance of this experience can be very damaging.
Avoid saying things like “You’ll get over it”. We know they will get over it, but really, not helpful at the time. It will more likely confirm to them that you ‘don’t understand’!
Do not allow your protectiveness of your teen to bring out a negative focus on the other person. The other person is someone your teen cared about deeply, at least at one point. They do not want to hear how you never liked girl/boy-friend anyway.
They do not need to have the concept of ‘hating on’ the other person as an acceptable fallback. Things happen for a reason and there are always two sides to a story. Curb the anger and desire to retaliate by acknowledging they may feel angry now but to be careful what they say/do outside the safety of your conversation.
Talk about how people change, people make mistakes, and people can grow and evolve. This is nothing to be criticised for. Teach tolerance of others and acceptance that people change and that is ok.
Giving your teen space is OK as long as it does not result in them withdrawing from family and friends completely. Encourage time spent with their best friend. That’s what a bestie is for!
Provide a safe space to be hurt, angry, confused, and sad. It is ok to feel those emotions; they are normal, healthy and a pathway to acceptance and understanding.
Then there are things really only mum can do: cook their favourite treat (and not expecting them to eat it – who had an appetite when they were heartbroken?) Make their bed and place their childhood teddy on the pillow. All subtle but meaningful things to show you care.
It is important to show that we understand, that we care and that we are there for them. Re-enforce that they are amazing human beings that are loved by lots of people, not just us boring old parentals! It is also important to provide a form of normality in their life.
The first heartbreak can be as equally heartbreaking for us as it is our teen.
Use this opportunity to reinforce kindness, even towards those who hurt us. Use this as an opportunity to show positive healthy ways to deal with stress. Use this as an opportunity to show your teen that you are there for them and that they are loved. Use this to validate your teen’s feelings and show them that tomorrow is another day. But most of all, respect that their broken heart is very real for them.
So my baby is hurting right now, but if I practice what I preach I am sure he will be OK. The first cut is the deepest, but he is sure to love again.