Grieving is personal; tell well-meaning family and friends what you need
Following the loss of a husband or a partner, a newly Solo Mom must navigate the tricky terrain of grief. During the holidays—a time infused with joy on overdrive and a heavy emphasis on family—it may be especially difficult to find solid footing.
My second child was stillborn in early December, and the holidays were everywhere. It was exquisite agony to parent my two-year-old and still mourn the death of my baby. The world seemed tinged with magic, yet I felt very alone. My son did allow me to see the magic that was there. I could find beauty in all the tiny lights and in the carols and music wafting everywhere.
Still, it was as painful to feel magic as it was to shut it out. Losing a loved one presents an unsolvable crossroads that strains the limits of human existence. To love your children and raise them while missing a loved one or the loved one’s other parent, an essential piece of who made them, can make you feel like you’ll break.
Empowering yourself to accept generous offers of assistance on your own terms will enable you to welcome gracious gestures while still tending your metaphorical garden.
Consider these tips:
- Explain. Many Solo Moms find parenting grounding, which is not to say that it is easy—far from it. Let people know that your family is in transition. Let them know that it is important to you that you demonstrate your unwavering presence to your children so that they can feel secure. Those who love you and are eager to help will certainly understand.
- Invite support on your own terms. The previous tip is not implying that you can do it all on your own. If you want to light a candle on a menorah or trim a tree with your kids alone, do so. It may be an important gesture to you. It may show your children that families continue despite tragic circumstances. However, take steps to guard your heart. For example, if you wish to have these traditions with your kids, afterward, when your kids are asleep, invite someone over for a cup of tea or a glass of wine who will listen and be supportive.
- Ask for the things you need and want. If you want to have people come and help celebrate holidays, do so. Decisions about this are deeply personal, and there is no right answer. Don’t forget that holidays are fraught with emotion in the best of circumstances. As a bereaved Solo Mom, you are coping with additional angles to this truth. Consider and plan how you want your holiday to unfold. Invite those who you think will best support your vision.
- Ask for practical support. If you are comfortable delegating your children’s requests for presents, by all means do so. Many people who love you are eager to be given specific things to do. Asking family and close friends to help financially if they are in a position to do so is completely acceptable.
- Remind people to consider you when they are at the store. Logistics may prove challenging for bereaved Solo Moms. Last-minute runs to Target are difficult because all the kids need to be piled into the car—and you may not want to include them on your trip in order to maintain holiday surprises. Ask people to text you when they are buying basics such as batteries and Scotch tape. Life can sometimes come down to these kinds of nuts and bolts.
Though it’s important to ask for help, be mindful of those parts of life only you can attend to. No matter what, let yourself cry. Understand that you can be strong and vulnerable, and your children will learn from you in this regard. If you feel that you might benefit from a bereavement group, find one in your area that you identify with and attend a meeting. People are eager to help but uncertain of how to do so; therefore, don’t hesitate to present specific requests for child care and other support that helps you attend to your needs.
Keep track of your emotional state. Check in with yourself regularly. If you feel that you need a mental-health professional, asking friends for a recommendation is a good place to start. Your health insurance may cover the cost of therapy.
Parenting alone is hard under the best of circumstances. Holidays are a trigger for many who are bereaved. Don’t forget to check in with your kids to see how they are doing. Even though it feels overwhelming, having frank and open dialogue about grief is possible and advisable. Let your child’s needs guide your discussion, and be mindful of your child’s age and maturity. For more on how to talk to kids about grief, see “Talking to Kids About Grief Is Difficult but Necessary.”
I have parented through the holidays while deep in the throes of grief. The pain was immense, but I felt grounded when I could find the strength to parent my two-year-old. I have known many mothers who have parented through holidays in grief, and the strength it takes to manage, somehow, is reason to be proud of your resilience.
You are amazing. I salute you in your strength and courage.
Connect with other Solo Moms who understand grief and loss in our confidential community of Sisters.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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