On Helplessness, Unprotected Hearts, and Fifth Grade Boys

It is easier to say “My tooth is aching,” than to say “My heart is broken.” – C. S. Lewis, The Problem with Pain

Fifth grade can be rough. And while there is a pretty significant spotlight on the “Mean Girls phenomenon” and how awful girls can be to each other, {and as someone who was once a young girl, I know in a very personal way how that can play out}, I am guilty of forgetting that boys can be pretty tough on each other too. The repercussions from the pain we inflict on each other in our formative years are life-long. Those are wounds on a canvas that can be painted over, but they never really heal. While the overall picture may eventually be a beautiful one and those flaws may appear insignificant, there will always be a little bit of light that shines through those permanent rips in the canvas. 

Watching one of my children struggle socially is one of the most difficult parts of motherhood that I have encountered thus far. Knowing what is happening to him inside and that he is being handed an obstacle that he will have to struggle to surmount, and at the same time, knowing that my only participation is to witness and support and love is … just helpless.

He has reached an age where the particular problem he is having cannot be fixed by me because what he is seeking can only come from other human beings. If he were struggling in math or spelling, we would just spend a little more time on those subjects and direct our attention there until the struggle were resolved. If he were searching for something from me, whether more attention or time, I could find a way meet his need.  {As a mother to three children, time and attention are always in short supply.}

But the friendship and acceptance he is seeking can only come from the outside world, and in seeking those things, he is at the mercy of other little fifth grade boys. 

And that is enough to make any mama’s skin prickle and pulse quicken because I’d just as soon throw him to a den of lions. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea that motherhood is like having your heart walk around outside of your body … a meaning that is very different from what I understood it to be when he was a toddler.

So what do I do?  What do you do when there’s nothing you CAN do? 

Right now, I pray. I pray with the full knowledge that things may be working in him in ways we just don’t understand right now. 

And I remind him of who he is … my kind-hearted, spirited, loving little boy whose empathy has been an inspiration to me as an adult

I remind him of the way his younger brother and sister look up to him like he hung the moon. 

I remind him of the light he shines in my life and in our home.

And I wait

I wait and pray for those who surround him to see it.

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Jennifer grew up in Houston before heading to Austin for seven years to attend the University of Texas as a history and government major and continuing at UT for law school. An attorney by day, in the evening she trades high heels and ambition for wet kisses and warm hugs from her three children - Kieran {Dec 2005}, Sawyer {Jan 2011}, and Birdie {Sept 2014}. Her many vices include an intense passion for all things Bravo and her plan for the future is "more cowbell." You can find her at the duck pond, the zoo, on Instagram @jen.e.underwood and blogging at Treading Water in the Kiddie Pool {www.treadingwaterinthekiddiepool.com}.


  1. It’s so hard. I remeber watching them struggle. What I can tell you is that working for it will help him greatly as an adult. Everything came for one of my children so he has struggled more as an adult as he has to learn to work for things.


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