No one prepares you as parent for grief, loss, and sadness. When that baby first comes home from the hospital or those adoption papers are signed, your imaginations of motherhood or fatherhood are of joy, fullness, and bliss.
Family life is full of joy, but it also includes change, fear, disappointment, and loss. Parenting is the biggest risk you’ll undertake. You love with a bottomless reserve of affection and devotion. In this love, there is pain from adverse experiences you didn’t dream for your family. You may have thoughts like:
- Life wasn’t supposed to be this way.
- When will this ever end?
- What did I do wrong?
- I never thought my heart would hurt this bad.
Parent pain is unexpected and deeply personal. Most often, you can’t put words to it. You may fear judgment if you share it with someone. You may also feel alone, wondering where God is, and how to make sense of your emotions, circumstances, and the future.
You’re not alone in the confusion, sadness, and loss. You’re experiencing parent grief. Here are seven truths about grief that may help you through it.
- Parent grief is universal. It naturally happens when you lose control as your child becomes independent and autonomous at varying stages, beginning in toddlerhood. It culminates as kids leave the nest. It continues with adult children whose lives change and affect you.
- Grief occurs in most family stories. These may include:
- Grief of family stages ending.
- Grief of regret because of things you wish you could do over as a parent.
- Sadness that your child’s childhood experience was not what you had hoped.
- Grief of disappointment over your child’s choices.
- Grief of family conflict.
- The loss of a child whether by miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, tragedy, or estrangement. No matter the circumstances, when you experience grief, it’s helpful to name it so you better know how to respond to it.
- Stages of grief are applicable to non-death experiences. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are five stages surrounding grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. A person may not experience each stage, but you may feel anger, sadness, denial, and melancholy as a parent whose family is experiencing significant change, pain, or loss.
- Find non-judgmental, safe places to talk through your grief or emotions. Your friends or family may not be the people who can empathize with you. Processing your feelings with an outside counselor, coach, spiritual director, support group or online community may provide the specialized place to help you name and sort through your grief.
- Seek resources for your situation. There are a plethora of books for a variety of family experiences. Just a few of my favorites are In a Boat in the Middle of the Lake, Messy Hope, Mended Hearts: Restoring the Hearts of Mothers and Daughters, Grieving the Child I Never Knew, and Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind.
- Pursue God. In grief and pain, you may feel far away from God. He’s still with you, the same Father who is beside you in the good days. Move towards him, even when you are angry or sad. Pray, journal, read devotionals and Scripture that minister to you. My favorite Bible verses are in Psalm 91 and Joel 2. Devotionals I turn to are Streams in the Desert by Lettie Cowman and Edges of His Ways by Amy Carmichael.
- Give yourself grace. Undeserved kindness is often a description of grace. I like that. We parents can be mercilessly hard on ourselves. We care for others and often don’t get much reciprocation. So be gentle with yourself in your grief. Allow yourself to work through it. There’s no rush. Just take one step at a time.
Father, thank you for understanding my grief. Help me lean first into you, then others, to learn how to process my feelings. Thank you for not leaving me alone. Amen.
If any of this was helpful or resonates with you, leave a comment below!