It is said that parenting is the world’s hardest job. What should be said is that parenting while grieving is the world’s hardest job. Simply put, while you are pushed to your emotional edge, you are entrusted to guide a young person through their own grief. It doesn’t get much more challenging than that.
Wells Need Water
There are a lot of ways to describe the phenomenon of a parent’s tendency to put their child’s needs before their own. I like the analogy of the well. If you allow your internal well to go dry, you have no water to offer your child. Take a moment to contemplate what this means in your life. What fills your well of emotional and physical wellbeing? Exercise, sleep, eating well, talking openly, professional support, etc. Once you have an answer, do it. A well with at least a little water will help you meet your child’s needs as they grieve.
Share the Load
Acknowledging the struggle to family and friends may feel like admitting that you don’t have it all together or know all the answers. But you don’t. None of us do. Allowing others to lend physical and emotional support to your children provides a new perspective and shows an additional way to cope. The aunt or friend or neighbor may have just the words, actions, or advice that your child is craving at that moment.
Be Honest – It’s OK to not be OK
The desire to protect kids from our adult emotions is universal, and unfortunately, not doing the kids any favors. While we don’t want to overdo it and make our children feel like they need to parent us, it is very healthy to model that grief can come with big feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, fear, etc. The trick here is to allow the emotion and then talk with your child about how you deal with it. For example: After crying during breakfast, say, “I’m really missing your dad this morning. It feels good to cry for a bit, then I think I’ll go for a walk outside before I go to work.” Modeling healthy coping helps your child learn ways to cope when big emotions come up for them.
Teachable Moments Abound
Yes. This will change them. AND accepting that and using it is the best you can do. Unfortunately, we can not change the situation. What we can do is help our children learn how to express their emotions in a healthy way. We know that bottling up feelings can lead to a lifetime of negative coping and emotional disconnection. Teaching children the words to describe what they are feeling, and giving them permission to express themselves lays the foundation for a healthy emotional future.
It Won’t Be Perfect
Because there is no such thing as perfect grieving. It will be messy and complicated and confusing and many other things for you and your child. What we know is that being loved and cared for and having our basic needs met in childhood is the foundation for a healthy and happy life. When in doubt, focus on the love you have for your child. It’s what will matter more than absolutely anything.