The painful truth about our child’s pain

Written by Alli Worthington
Published on August 08, 2023

I had stopped praying other than to occasionally tell God how mad I was at him. I was still a believer, worshiped on Sunday mornings, trusted my soul to heaven, and knew God loved me, but I had no desire to talk to him. 

I was a few months into the darkest season of my life. Two of my sons were suffering (and still are suffering to some degree) from chronic daily migraines. The illness came years apart for the boys. Jack’s migraines started in high school, and we assumed it was from a football-related concussion. And then our youngest son, Jeremiah, developed them out of the blue in early puberty. 

We’ve been to every specialist, neurologist, chiropractor, and pain specialist who would let me in the door. We tested our home for mold and poor air quality. We tried allergy shots. We’ve done extreme diet plans from prestigious universities. We’ve tried every medicine the FDA has approved for each age group. Our older son has tried Botox, nerve injections, acupuncture, and devices with electric currents promising to reduce pain. You name it—we’ve tried it. 

After spending tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours with doctors who all guarantee they can cure constant migraines, still no cure. 

But none of those disappointments compared to my disappointment that God had not healed my sons. God, the maker of heaven and earth, the eternal creator of my sons, would not relieve their pain. Over the years, I spent hours praying and begging him to remove the pain. I thanked him in advance that he would heal them. I had many people praying for them, and it became painful when they would ask for updates because I only had bad news to share. 

Surely somewhere among great doctors and the Great Physician, there was an answer to my sons’ pain. Over and over again, I placed my hope in both medicine and miracles, only to have them crushed beneath the waves of one disappointment after another. 

Year and year, month after month, day after day, and nothing happened. Nothing happened. The pain intensified in them and in me. 

With each passing day, my disappointment turned to anger. I was mad at the illness, mad at the world, and mad at God. My grief was so powerful I feared that if I let myself feel it, my heart would be like a black hole, sucking everything up, including me. 

I stayed mad at God for over a year. I told him how mad I was, often. He didn’t get angry with me for not being able to process my pain. He didn’t quit loving me or judge me when I lost myself and my desire to talk to him. He didn’t condemn me for the grief I let come between us. God waited patiently for me, with love and understanding. 

The months rolled by, and both boys found treatment plans that gave them some relief. Jeremiah was able to go back to school this year, and we hope Jack will be able to finally start college. The pain isn’t gone yet, but we are getting closer. Their smiles returned, dark bedrooms were left empty during the day, and God was there through it all. 

God didn’t cause my pain, nor did he protect me from it. But he stayed with me through it and led me to people who could help me process it. 

When it comes to our children’s pain, that’s our role too. The “good mom” myth that says it’s our job to protect our kids from pain is wrong. Pain is inevitable. It’s a part of life—yours, mine, theirs. Good moms don’t protect their kids from all pain; they teach them how to handle it when it comes their way.

In our wisdom, we allow them to experience discomfort, knowing that pain will give them strength to live a great life. 

With every new experience comes the possibility of pain. If you think about it, childhood is basically a military-grade challenge course. Try, fail; try, fail; try, fail. It’s ongoing for their entire life. But as they fail, they learn they can get back up and try again. And eventually, given enough opportunities to try and fail, they will succeed. 

The secret to your child’s success is in your willingness to let them fail and experience the pain that comes with their mistakes. 

Of course, I’m not saying we let our kids suffer needlessly. But pain, struggle, and discomfort work together to build strength. Without struggles to overcome, children may develop the core belief that they can’t handle hard things and see themselves as fragile or weak. Jumping in and solving every problem teaches kids they can’t handle problems. Keeping kids protected from situations where they could feel pain has the unintended consequence of teaching them that they can’t handle the disappointment. 

And it doesn’t stop with early childhood. If we kneecap our kids by accidentally stopping them from learning how to deal with the pain of life, we’ve set them up for an adulthood they won’t be able to handle. 

We don’t learn how to ride a bike without the pain of skinned knees, bruised elbows, and a few tears. We don’t learn how to deal with conflict without hurting others and getting hurt. We don’t build grit without struggle. We don’t learn that we can do hard things, survive pain, and rise above our challenges if we never have any challenges to begin with. 

Our role as mothers is not to allow excessive pain. If I could snap my fingers, my boys’ pain from their illness would disappear. I would also take away the pain of broken hearts, hurt feelings from overzealous coaches, and every other difficulty. But I can’t do that, and other than the pain of illness, nor should I. 

We aren’t the hero or the villain in our kid’s journey with discomfort or pain. Age-appropriate pain, be it having tummy time or failing a test, is necessary for our children’s development. 

When it comes to our children being in pain, we can’t help ourselves. We are wired to rescue them. We are called mama bears for a reason. You mess with our babies, and we will come at you hard and fast. Hell hath no fury like a mama whose baby is hurting. And it doesn’t matter if the baby is two or twenty. 

But as tempting and innate as it is, rescuing our children from pain is not always the right thing to do. We must learn new ways to think out their pain and our response to it. 

Taken from Remaining You While Raising Them by Alli Worthington. Copyright © August 2023 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan,

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Alli Worthington

Alli Worthington is known for her straight-talking encouragement and practical tools that help women reach their dreams in business and life. Author of Remaining You While Raising ThemThe Year of Living HappyFierce Faith, and Breaking Busy, she is a well-known speaker, podcaster, and life and business coach. Her no-nonsense, guilt-free take on business, family, and balance has led to multiple appearances on The TODAY Show and Good Morning America. Alli lives with her husband, Mark, and their five sons outside of Nashville with a pampered golden retriever. @AlliWorthington 

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