There’s a myth that floats around about parenting after losing a child if you have one (or more) still living. It assumes that since you’ve had a tremendous, life altering loss – you must be the very best parent now. Everything that annoyed you about your kids before must be cherished, each frustration seems like nothing compared to your loss, and no moment is ever wasted or taken for granted anymore.
After all, you’ve lost a child. You know how quickly life can be taken, so excellence in parenthood just comes naturally.
In fact, for most of us who have gone through the death of a child, it’s just the opposite. Most of the parents I know who have children at home are left to balance so much that it’s hard to fit normal parenting back in — much less parenting on a level of nearly holy.
There are so many roads that people take to raise a child after losing one. I’ve known parents who become consumed with the child they lost, far past the initial stages of grief. Their marriages and children suffer because of this – yet how do you let go of a life that wasn’t even close to being finished?
Others turn to complete indulgence of living children. No more discipline, no more “no’s”. They allow their children to have and do nearly anything in life with few repercussions – and what might come along as a natural consequence is smoothed over by a parent for them. Think of it this way – we all have the fear of, “What if the last thing I said to my child was something harsh?” but some parents actually live this moment in their grief.
Some still push their children away, unconsciously afraid that they might lose them too and have to suffer through this all again. Better to guard your heart from investing too much.
I think I’ve been down each road and a dozen others in my nearly 2 years of loss. I know so many other parents who have too.
Being a parent is tough no matter what the situation. However, having one of your children die takes it to a whole other level. You’re suddenly left with children who are also grieving, needing to be raised, needing boundaries and rules, needing love and attention – along with all the day-to-day life that takes place as you try to put pieces of a new normal together. Your heart aches for the child that’s gone, while the others wait for Mommy and/or Daddy to come back.
Living a life without a child is hard. It’s an unnatural order of things. Since very few people want to talk about death, and even less want to know anything about what this is like, we’re all thrust into this giant tunnel of darkness with no idea what to do or where to turn. We’re exhausted from grief and trying to be grateful and thankful for the children we do have – which so many of us are reminded of on a continual basis.
That doesn’t help anyone grieving.
If you’re finding that you are slipping further away from the parent you were or want to be, seek help. Look for a therapist for you and your child. Sam and I struggle constantly with raising Bella after losing 3 children, but our therapist and hers tend to give us a shove back to reality when we get too far off track.
We could not do this alone. Let me repeat that – we could not. We have a solid marriage and a strong faith, but this would have destroyed us as people and parents had we not found help. Even then, it feels like most days we hang on by a thread. I worry constantly about Bella growing up a total disaster because we failed.
It is not easy to parent after a loss. It’s harder when the expectation is that you’re doing an even better job now since you know how it feels to lose a child. Don’t let that projection stop you from reaching out to someone else.
Then cut yourself some slack when you do – because you’re here. You’re still standing. You’re trying. You are an amazing parent no matter what stage of grief you’re in, and I promise that it won’t feel just like this forever.
Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, Still Standing Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Smaller glimpses into her day are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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