Grief is Normal, Necessary & Healthy
Over the years, I have presented workshops and written articles about
the grief process. In the aftermath and continuation of COVID-19, the
grief process is just as important now. Yet many still find it a form of
weakness, blame and vulnerability. Grieving is time consuming but doesn’t stop you from moving forward. Choosing not to grieve can stop you from moving forward. Grieving is a natural part of loss, especially when that loss is close to the heart. Unfortunately, despite all the brain research, books and experts telling us that grief is a natural process, and we must work through our grief, most still want a quick fix via a pill or simple denial. Today’s society often does not allow for proper grieving. Keep in mind, even if the loss is under the best of circumstances, it is still the loss of a way of life, known security, support system and change, which all human beings tend to resist.
Often if a grandparent, older aunt or uncle passes away, parents seem to be more tolerant of the grieving process for themselves and their children as a natural progression of life and tend to be more supportive and patient for grieving. However, if the trauma is due to a more direct loss such as a divorce, telling their children they are adopted or their spouse has died, parents tend to feel that their children’s grief is a negative reflection on them as parents for their child’s pain and heartache. Often parents will deny their child’s pain if they see them laughing, playing and carrying on like nothing is wrong and/or choose to pre-occupy them with distractions, gifts, activities and refusal to admit their children’s heart is hurting and broken, an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. There is nothing wrong with distractions, gifts and activities, but not as a permanent substitute for or avoidance of grief. To pretend nothing is wrong, dismiss their pain or tell yourself or your children “that’s life and move on” does not help work through their grief any faster. You would never deny your children their medication to keep them healthy, why deny them the ability to grieve? To allow grieving also keeps you and your children healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. Brain research has proven that if you are not healthy emotionally, you are not going to be healthy physically nor mentally. As you know, children lack the experience and tools to work through what they are feeling. Even if they know others who have gone through similar circumstances, like adults, no one feels their pain like they do, because their pain is personal.
Think about the pain your felt when you lost someone close to you or even when your divorce was final, or spouse died. You’re an adult with life experiences; yet your pain made you feel helpless, vulnerable or like a child all over again. If you, the parent, have those feelings, imagine how your children, who have little, or no, life experiences must feel? Regardless of why the loss occurred, the blame and guilt cannot consume you to the point of long-term denial for yourself, your children, nor can you simply feel that a few months of grieving or short-term support system is all you need. The deeper the loss, the longer it will take to grieve.
It is never easy to ask your children how they feel about their parents no longer being together. Even if you did ask them and they said they’re fine or simply shrugged their shoulders, doesn’t mean they are okay with it. Often, the reality sets in six months or a year after it happened. This usually coincides with family and friends that stop coming around on a regular basis to give support or help you and the family, or a move to a new home or state.
At the end of the day, to grieve (adult or child) takes time. How much time it takes to grieve is truly unknown. Simply understand you cannot put a time limit on it. Part of raising your children is teaching them to cope with life’s bumps in the roads. Those bumps may be caused by us, the parents, and we must be prepared to help them cope with that also. Choosing to do nothing and denying the pain will simply cause greater issues and perhaps greater heart ache for you and your children. I know if a speeding bus was coming toward your children, you would do anything in your power to prevent your children from being hit by that bus. The unresolved grief is a speeding bus.
To help you and your children start the grieving process in a healthy manner, consider some basic steps:
• All technology is off or put away. No distractions.
• Acknowledge the loss and validate their feelings (often that starts with sharing your feelings).
• Crying is ok and healthy.
• Make time to discuss “their world” and the impact the loss is making on them.
o Don’t set a time limit, facilitate the discussion, don’t run it. Guide it.
o If it must stop, try to end it on an upbeat note and a promise to continue.
o Reassure them you will be there to help them every step of the way.
• Understand, your children’s time to talk may not be convenient.
o They may very well wake you at night to talk.
o They may do very little talking…but they are listening and watching.
• Consider counseling or a peer support group for your children.
o www.rainbows.org is one form of peer support.
• Parent your children consistently with appropriate boundaries.
o Parenting out of guilt tends to have negative long-term effects on your children.
• Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just “are.”
o It is how the feelings are expressed that should be monitored.
o Never dismiss their feelings even if they are angry at you.
o They need to verbally express themselves and may not know how.
o Listen more than give reason or excuse. Be empathetic.
o Pity and sympathy usually don’t work…especially with adolescents.
o Conversations with younger children may be limited, and you may need to ask them to draw what they are thinking and feeling while explaining it to you as best they can.
• Tell them each night you love them and reassure them you are in this together.
Parenting is never easy.
Adding an emotional trauma such as a divorce, death, pandemic, deployment, incarceration or deportation, makes parenting more difficult. Anything worth doing is often difficult and, regardless of how hard parenting is or becomes, your children are counting on you! When tackling grief, try to break it down into chunks. Sometimes looking at grief long-term can be overwhelming. Chunking the process may not make it easier, but it will make it more manageable.
Making the most out of summer with your Children
Summer is here and many dads are getting their kids for an extended period of time now their kids are out of school. For some dads, it is two whole weeks, other dads it may be the whole summer. Regardless of the time frame, most dads want to jam pack that time with activities as they maximize their days with the kids for a block of an uninterrupted visit; an exciting time for you and your kids. By all means, make the time enjoyable and take lots of pictures, but remember to make a routine and boundaries too. You cannot always be the hero or most popular. It is never a competition or who they love more. It is about being with you!
First and foremost, you are a dad. As a dad, you need to have a routine and boundaries for your kids; especially for your teenage kids. Whether you are new to being a single dad or you have been doing this for years, routines and boundaries are a required necessity. Here are a few easy steps you can use to make their extended stay enjoyable and memorable.
Establish a routine: This would include bed times, meal times & chores (yes chores).
All kids have their limits. Children without a set bed time, usually will set you up for crabby, edgy and often unpredictable kids. I am not saying an occasional late night is out of the question, but to allow your kids to stay up as late as they want, often sets the ground work for potential problems.
Going out to dinner, lunch or even breakfast is a great treat! Ordering in is also a great treat; however, to make that the norm, again becomes expensive and could set the example of some bad eating habits (dogs, burgers, fast food). Planning meal times together at the table also allows you to engage in great conversation about your kid’s lives, your life, thoughts and feelings about different things. A restaurant atmosphere often has too many distractions. While every meal at the table may be often unrealistic, meals at home are often cheaper, easier to make, more nutritionally balanced & does not require reservations.
Chores do several things; first it teaches your kids about life skills they will need as they get older, next it helps them take ownership and responsibility of your home and last, it teaches them to respect the home they live in. Each home is different, naturally chores are different. Even the youngest of children can take out the trash, clean a cat box or dry the dishes.
Activities: Vacations, movies, amusement parks and other extended fun.
If you are using your full two weeks for a vacation, you can still set a routine as you rest and have fun away from home.
Everyday does not have to be a fun activity away from home. Water parks, Amusement parks, movies and mini-golf are great for extended fun. Break those activities up. Don’t fill every day with “Disneyland Dad” activities. Remember your kids love you for you and not predicated on the fun you provide them (unless that is what you want). Outings to a local park, BBQ outside in the yard, playing board games or yes even use you xbox or WII to spend time together at home. Even having neighbors over with their kids is a great way to keep the activity close to home and teaches social skills too!
Visits to relatives that they haven’t seen in a while are also a great way to combine travel and help your kids connect to family.
Establish Boundaries: Kids are our responsibility until 18 for a reason. They lack many life skills to make proper choices all the time. Remember it is their job to test the limits of your boundaries. It is your job to know when to push back or find the middle ground.
All children need rules. Your kids need to know what your rules are. Ideally, your rules should emulate what is done at your ex’s home. I fully understand that may not be possible. Remember you are a parent first, their friend second. While they may be angry at you now, it usually doesn’t last and can also be a great way to set up some wonderful dialogue between you and your kids.
Yes, sometimes your rules can cause disagreements between you and your kids or between the siblings. This is normal, as it is a family learning to cohabitate. It will not drive your kids away from you, it may just do the opposite because you are modeling expectations. Remember life lessons are usually done as part of your routine.
Establishing rules early also sets up a level of respect for you, your home and your kids. As your kids hit those teen years (you remember how you were), it was those rules that helped keep us in check. If rules are not established early, it will often set you up for major disobedient issues in the future. An example of this would be to allow your kids to drink soda their whole life and then at 15 years old, tell them they have to drink water or milk. If you think about it, all the fun activities that you may take your kids to, have rules that must be followed. Your home is no different. A home with no rules does not make you a good parent. It will set you up for failure.
Having your kids for extended time is a wonderful thing! Finding that balance between fun time and family time is very important. Fun time is an extension of family time. Do not get the two confused..t o develop and maintain a good relationship with your kids requires you to find the balance between parenting and being a friend. Remember you are a parent first, friend second. Yes, they can be in conflict, but being the parent is your first, best responsibility. Enjoy everything the summer has to offer. Remember you are a family!
Single Dads and Covid-19
It is hard enough to shelter in place during this difficult time when you have a traditional family (both parents living at home); however, when you are a single parent, visitation schedules have just become a little more difficult. It is hard enough when you cannot see your children on a daily basis, but now with Self-Isolation, physically seeing your children may have just become impossible.
Additionally, navigating the new norms such as e-learning, the stress of the routine changes such as not seeing their friends, playing outside as before, not seeing the parent that doesn’t live with them and all the negativity in the newspapers, on tv and social media. Being a single parent has just become much harder and for a single parent, stress levels may even be worse. How does a single parent handle it? One day at a time just like everyone else; however, self-reliance on your end may prove problematic. Here are some suggestions to help get through this tough time.
While it may be your time to have your children, their safety and your safety are more important than physically seeing your children. Talk with your ex-spouse and determine if their self-isolation is equal between the two homes. If it is, it could be as simple as going from point A to point B. Don’t force it if it is not safe for you and/or your children. This not an attempt to withhold visitation. No one expected this to happen. If you find that visitation continues as normal, offer to help our ex-spouse by having your children for an extended period of time. This includes engaging in their e-learning and other activities that keep the shelter in place a little more palatable (more on that later).
If you are unable to physically see your children, use social media platforms such as Zoom, Skype or the live streaming features on your phone, laptop, tablet or desktop. Set up a schedule so you can video chat with your children. Older children you may be able to video chat with them directly.
If you can see them or they are staying with you an extended period of time, FANTASTIC! It is important to stick to a routine. Now is not the time to forget about the rules and boundaries. This includes any e-learning scheduling and a regular place to do homework like a kitchen or dining room table or any place that is free from distratction.
Since you have more one on one time with your children, it is a great time to have family dinner on a regular basis with no technology for interruptions. Make sure you keep the discussions age appropriate and start with yourself. You will find your children will be more inclined to open up if you start with yourself. With the nice weather, take walks with your children as a form of exercise, way to have conversations and get some fresh air. Walking can give you one on one time with each child.
The grieving process does not stop because our routines have stopped. Now you can add “grieving the loss” of their routine and not seeing their friends on top of the loss of their traditional family. Make sure you make extra time to have open and age appropriate discussions.
Just because you lost your job due to Covid-19 doesn’t automatically suspend your child support payments. This is where having an amiable relationship with your ex is important. Talking on the phone or email without the children present before you lose your job or right after is important. Remember, you are raising your children together from two separate households. While each state is different, it is important to contact your attorney to determine if a reduction or temporary suspension of payments can be done. If you get that reduction or suspension, usually the missed payments are simply deferred and will still owe the back support. If you lost your insurance, can your ex cover them, can you do Cobra or get a basic policy to cover you and your children? Yes, state aid may be the temporary solution. Yes, this is frustrating and humiliating; however, it is about your children, not you. I understand you may not have a working relationship with your ex and must keep in mind, you need to do what is in the best interest of your children and your financial stability. Whatever you decide, document and create a paper trail. Even if you do it all correctly, the state and Clerk of the Circuit Court may not have documented properly.
With a Shelter in Place and limited interaction, it may be time to resurrect things you did as a child with your family or perhaps what your parents did as children. Remember, technology was not like it is now in the 1980s or earlier…if children did not play outside, they played with toys, colored, wrote letters to loved ones, meals regularly at the table without television, play board games, or card games.
Now is the time to teach your children some self-reliance and teach them some skills they may not have done before such as learning to do such as cooking, laundry, folding laundry, ironing, how to check the oil in a car, filling the fluids. Chores are also teaching your children life skills.
It is a great time to have your children go through their clothes/toys and donate what doesn’t fit, they don’t wear, use or play with any longer.
Lastly, reassure your children, this is temporary, and things will return to normal. It is ok to be worried, frightened and even angry of what has happened. Remember to tell them you love them and be available to them when they need you. You have the time, use it to improve your relationship with your children, take care of yourself and support them as you go through this temporary normal.
Covid-19 will redefine how we interact with our children, our families, coworkers and friends. The silver lining in all of this is we as a society are learning how to improve communication, reassure those that are close to us and work together as a family.
Building Your Child's Self-Esteem
Parents, whether single or married, have a responsibility, not only to feed, clothe and house their children, but also help build their self-esteem. When an emotional trauma happens, this simplest of lessons is often lost specially to single dads. For me, I was so self-absorbed in working and going to school, I always assumed his mom was handling it, or school would take care of it. I am not saying I never encouraged him nor watched what he was doing. I am saying we must be mindful that building your child’s self-esteem is just as important as feeding them. Most single dads who do not have residency with their children tend to fall short of this important life lesson. Without it, children will find other, mostly unhealthy ways to build their self-esteem or erode it. We cannot assume it is someone else’s job or someone else will do it. Ideally, both parents should be building it together. While other adults in your child’s life will help build self-esteem, the key lessons start with you.
When single dads have their children, often the parenting takes a back seat to “fun” and wanting your children to enjoy their time with you. I get it and understand it; however, you are always the parent first and their friend and buddy second. These simple suggestions may seem like a no brainer to you, but ask yourself, do you use these strategies on a regular basis? Are you quick to blame others for your children’s actions or behaviors? Let’s look as some easy steps to put this life lesson into play when you interact with your children.
Your actions model behavior. For example, my dad smoked, drank beer and drank coffee. I always thought part of being an adult is to smoke, drink beer and coffee. I would ask to sip his coffee in the morning and asked to sip his beer. He would always say just a little. He wold say, “You need to be an adult to drink this.” Yes, I would sneak out a cigarette or two and try to be grown up. He caught me once and was punished but I never remember him telling me cigarettes were dangerous or addicting. Now, keep in mind, in the 1970’s smoking was the social norm. You smoked in restaurants, planes, and yes, in the car with the family. If you watch old movies, you see this habit all over the place. My dad would simply say, “When you’re 21, you can smoke and drink all you want.” While you could argue that his responses were indicative of the time, I will ask you, are all your actions in front of your children something you want them to pick up? Modeling behaviors trickle down to your children. You can’t expect your child to want to go to church, if you don’t model it. You can’t expect your children to not swear if you are swearing. Today it could be preoccupied with social media, never putting down your cell or tablet to help your children with their homework. How many times have you not looked away from your computer, cell or tablet when you child needs help with something and say, “In a minute.” You are indirectly telling your child that you are not as important as what I am doing right now. You can expect that behavior from your children at some point. A better tool would be to pause what you are doing and look them in the eye and tell them that you be done 5 minutes and you will be happy to help. Family serves at that foundation for positive, proactive behavior. Having a healthy, functioning family does more to build a child’s self-esteem than anything.