Childhood... We have pictures of it being carefree, protected and idyllic. Then life happens and we have to deal with not only our own pain, but the pain of children we love. How do we do that?
If we overprotect we rob them of valuable learning, of the coping mechanisms that they will need to adjust to the losses of life. If we do not protect enough, we throw them into situations above their ability, and harden them to joy in life. So what do we do?
Loss is a human certainty. If we live long enough we will lose things precious to us. Loss is an issue that we must think through carefully if we do not want children to see themselves as the victims of an unfair world. Rather, we would have them see the realitiy. Loss is a part of life, one that if faced with acceptance and faith, we will come out stronger.
This week a friend of my daugther in law, was killed , my grandaughter has questions. I told her that this friend is more alive now than she has ever been, that for her, it is not a bad thing, but we are sad. I told her that her friend is with Jesus, and is happy and whole and free. That is what I believe. I cannnot tell her what I do not know. Why does this friends little boy have to grow up without his Mommy? I don’t have the answer. I do know that God is good, and that our days are set before we live one of them. I think that we can tell our children the truth. The friend is gone, and we will miss her.
Long ago, all people went to the funeral of those they knew and loved. From the smallest infant to the oldest great grandparent the acknowledgement of death was easy as the acknowledgement of life. These days we think we need to protect children from loss, sometimes because we are consumed with our own grief, and sometimes because we think that we can protect the child from sadness. We can’t.
What about deployment? The loss of a parent for an extended time, is a part of military life. As in the case of sheltering a child from death, we should not shelter the child from the truth that the parent will be gone for a long time. The parent can assure the child that no matter how long it is, they will be thinking of the child, loving them and are still their parent. This takes some real commitment on the part of parents. The way many kids feel loved, is time, so what do we do when time is the only thing we can’t give?
Well, we can put some thought into the fact of loss. You cannot change the facts. You can work within them. Letters , phone calls, packages, go a long way to making a child feel remembered. Asking questions about the life they know, school, dentist appointments, all the things of everyday ,can still be shared, and should be as much as possible. Don’t worry too much about how they will cope, if you are coping well, it is more likely that they will.
Teach them that you are like a resilient rubber band. We get stretched and sometimes the stretching hurts, but we bounce back and over and over we can come back better than before. When we normalize a situation, we take the fear out. Deployment is a normal part of our life. We will feel the loss and move on, living and loving. With a loss such as death, we can tell the truth. It is a normal part of life, and though we will hurt, we will survive, and given time the mention of that persons name will someday bring a smile instead of tears.
Maybe it will help to know that children do not usually grieve the way adults do, but they do grieve. Commonly children will be irritable, whiny, cry easily. The fit over the chicken nuggets…is grief. Sure they throw a fit occasionally over chicken nuggets anyhow, but, familiarity in childhood is a core value. Maybe they do not want to go to bed (which is exactly what you need them to do!)
Children become fearful when they see a parent cry, but that does not mean a parent should not cry.
Tell your child something like:, “I am crying because I miss your Dad, it is normal to cry when we are sad, but I will feel better later”. “Crying helps us wash out our heart, so it will heal and feel better”.Be prepared that your little one will want to cling when you most when want him to leave you alone. Give yourself some space , but recognize that you have a chance to teach some coping skills while you are at it. “I know you want to be with me because you are worried, but I am fine, and I am going to take a short nap, could you sing me a song?” You may not get the quiet you desire, but you will be parenting, and that is worth more than you know.
As an adult you can teach good coping skills. Taking care of yourself and telling them how you are doing that, can teach then that there are ways to help ourselves feel better and we are not helpless. We can call a friend, engage your children in prayer with you, teach them to take a small moment to enjoy, a cup of hot cocoa. Loss is something none of us like, but we can and do grow through it.