Adapting to single parenthood after the death of a spouse and co-parent be can be challenging for you and the child. Not only are you dealing with your grief and providing the chief source of support for your grieving child, but you are also learning to adjust to being a single parent as well.
This is not the time to adorn yourself with a cape and instantly become a superhero. Instead, you must acknowledge your limitations and gather every resource available. One of the biggest mistakes you can make during this time is attempting to “tough it out” and be all things to your child. Remember, you are in a stressful and painful situation, too.
First and foremost, getting the proper support for you and your child during this time of bereavement should be your top priority. Consider seeking support from family members and friends or contacting your local church for spiritual counseling. You may also check for local grief support groups within your area where you can open up and find support in dealing with the challenges you are experiencing. It is not uncommon that you would need a good deal of time to adjust to your loss and new role in life.
More importantly, talk with your child. Depending on the age of the child, you might want to give more or less detailed information. Children younger than 3 years of age feel the loss, but they fail to understand the finality of death. They go through essentially the same stages of grief as adults; however, it’s important to remember that children display their feelings differently.
They may deny the death, behave angrily toward the deceased parent or even feel guilty, thinking they did something to make the parent go away. Simply explain death to them in a language they can understand. In some instances, children develop a fascination with death or dying, asking questions and perhaps even doing research. Unless these curiosities reach a level where they appear to be obsessive or your child develops an interest in his/her own death, it is usually just a way to process through, gain acceptance of and understand the loss.
If your child prefers to speak with a close friend or family member, don’t be offended. Instead, be happy he/she is talking to someone rather than keeping his/her feelings bottled up inside.
Additionally, try to maintain routines and rules. It is all too easy to give in to a grieving child when it comes to bedtimes and basic routines/rules. If you do relax your rules, you may only be setting yourself up for trouble later. Make every effort to maintain as much normalcy as possible.
As you and your child navigate this difficult time, you will find that many issues will arise. Be both a parent and a person; share the grieving process with your child. It is incredibly important that you and your child continue to talk on a regular basis. Let your child know you are available whenever he/she may need you.
Help sustain the memories of the lost parent for your child by talking about him or her often. Tell stories about vacations or special events. It may hurt at first, but talking and sharing with your child can prove to be a healthy way of healing for the both of you.
Michael Fowler is the Dougherty County coroner.