Grief is a Constant in Parenting

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Did feelings surface for you as you read this title? Trust me, I get it. Who wants to admit that grief is a major component of parenting? Not me! However, when I was able to accept this as reality, I felt free to love all aspects of the journey.

They say that the only constant is change, which when you think about it makes complete sense. What this quote leaves out is the sense of loss that is often associated with change – even when the change is good. It’s complicated, but I believe, the sooner we can accept that grief is a constant in parenting, the more present we can be in the experience. 

The sooner we can accept that grief is a constant in parenting, the more present we can be in the experience. 

In Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart, she tells us that her research has demonstrated the existence of three foundational elements of grief: 

  1. Loss
  2. Longing
  3. Feeling lost 

We often associate loss or longing with losing a person through death, divorce, or moving away. When we take the time to sit and understand loss and longing at a deeper level, we find that it’s so much more than that.

The feeling of loss can happen when we thought we knew something, but realize things have changed. It can occur when we lose a sense of normality we have taken for granted, or when our circumstances change. It even happens when we realize that things are not going to play out the way we anticipate them to. In each of these experiences, whether we allow it to happen or not, there is grief. Longing shows up when we’re searching for meaning or a desire to feel whole again. 

When understanding the concept of feeling lost Brene Brown says, “grief requires us to reorient every part of our physical, emotional and social worlds.” Reading this, my immediate response was: Wow! This definitely speaks to my experience of parenthood so far. 

Becoming a parent is a re-birth. Re-birth comes with growth, opportunity, and something completely new. But it also means that you’re leaving something old behind. Often, there are parts of the old that we really loved. It’s not always easy to fully accept the new without grieving and processing that. This is deep, so let me provide a real life example.

When I reflect on what I miss the most before becoming a mother it’s my sense of spontaneity, which is a value of mine.

Before I had my daughter, If I wanted to go shopping, I went. If I wanted to read a book, I did. If I wanted a lazy morning, I took it. If my partner and I wanted to grab a beer or go out to dinner, we did. The spontaneity of life made me feel sexy and exciting. I realize this spontaneity came with a lot of privilege and I am grateful for that. Not everyone can drop everything and do these things, due to many different restrictions like a work schedule, financial constraints, a safe environment, etc. 

For a long time I grieved the loss of my spontaneity after becoming a parent. I felt boring and tethered. Many of us at first try to push through, but I just couldn’t. I felt it so deeply that I shared how hard it was with my partner – and was relieved that he felt it too. The sharing aspect of this process unlocked something for me. 

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.” – David Kessler

We sat in the grief together. Allowing myself to feel the sense of loss and longing empowered me to – eventually – shift my perspective.

I have come to realize that I am still spontaneous – it just looks very different. Spontaneity is sprinkled into our Saturday breakfast, the books we read, the at home date night experiences we create, and the new walking path we will discover. It may not bring the exact same feelings of sexiness and excitement, but that’s okay. It’s also okay to still want to feel those things, but with an understanding that they may have to be found in different ways or places.

The grieving process is a part of every change we encounter with our children, partner, and selves. From starting to eat solids to going off to college, our children provide us with a long stream of little losses. The more comfortable we become with grief, the more accepting we are of the only constant there is: change. 

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