For some, the holiday season is enjoyable for all the common reasons. Driving around and looking at lights, going to parties, decorating, participating in family and spiritual activities, cooking and eating, and giving to others are traditions for many. For others, the season brings with it the duality of experiencing joy while grieving. Sometimes the mere fact that we are enjoying ourselves almost makes the grief more painful, more pronounced. Memories of loss finds its way into our daily lives, but during the holidays, it can feel downright overwhelming. Dealing with this grief by yourself can be difficult, but if you have children it is a crucial moment that can help them learn about emotions – especially one as important as grief.
This time of year brings memories of people in my life whom I loved very much and are no longer here. I think about what they would think of my children, what would they think about the world today, and how much I miss their funny quips or crazy outbursts. Naturally, I become emotional. This is normal, and these feelings serve a purpose. The emotions remind me to live and to stay present in the experience I am having now, because time is so precious – and it does not come back.
Sometimes no matter how hard I try, I cry. I remember a moment of not wanting my kids to see me cry. Then I realized that by pretending everything is okay or hiding myself from them when I cry only teaches them that it is something to be ashamed of or something to avoid. Often it is difficult to tell our children why we are crying, we do not want them to worry unnecessarily. None of us want to have to grieve. But alas, we are human beings, and we do.
None of us always behaves like perfect parents – some days are a struggle to get the children clothed and fed. But on a good day, when feeling brave enough (and you will), here are some things to keep in mind when you are losing your composure, yet you have a compassionate and befuddled little face looking at you while you do it.
- It is OK to cry, and it is OK to do it in front of your children. When we normalize our own feelings to our children, we also teach them that whatever makes them sad is OK to talk about to us, and OK to feel.
- Tell your children (in age appropriate ways) why you are feeling what you are feeling. Maybe you are sad because you miss a loved one, or you are plain stressed out. Sharing your feelings can lead to opportunities to tell your child a story about the person we miss or the event or experience that meant so much.
- Let them know what they can do to help. Maybe you can ask them for a hug, or engage in a fun activity. Children appreciate helping and for them to have the opportunity to help a parent in this capacity can promote empathy and compassion.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to tell your child that you may need additional help from a counselor or therapist. The best way to teach your children coping skills is to model good ones. Going to therapy means your doing something to help yourself feel better, and is nothing to be ashamed of.
None of these conversations make the grief go away forever. None of these things will make your child immune to grief. However, these things can help your child develop the skills needed to be able to deal with grief as a difficult but necessary process of the human experience, and a healthy one.
Micah Hatchett, Ph.D., LPC-S, is a mother of two, a resident of Mandeville, and a counselor with 15 years of experience. Dr. Hatchett works at Northshore Counseling and Wellness, and sees clients dealing with problems such as depression, anxiety, grief, personal identity issues, and common adjustment issues.
If you need to reach out to someone at Northshore Counseling and Wellness, you can call 985-624-2942. They can also be found on the web and on Facebook. They are located at 201 Holiday Drive in Covington.