How to Handle the Grief You Feel for Your Child
As a dad to eight kids through adoption, Mike Berry of the Honestly Adoption Company knows a thing or two about parenting. In 2016, he beautifully shared his perspective on the grief of adoptive parenting. And it’s still profoundly true. Take a look.
You’ve probably been down this road before:
Your child suffers from extreme depression, hurts others, or makes decisions that are against everything your family holds true. It causes unimaginable grief.
How do you handle the extreme emotions you feel, while making sure your children are taken care of?
I stand in my kitchen, early on a Monday morning, coffee in hand, feeling sad. It’s been a tough 8 months. We thought bringing our son home from residential treatment would be a good thing. It’s been an uphill climb ever since. But not just between us and him. Our other children have gone through secondary trauma. Our younger children are on edge all the time, and another child deals with major depression.
So I stand in my kitchen, as morning dawns, and grieve.
I grieve my son’s behavior. I grieve his birth mother’s choice to use drugs and drink throughout her pregnancy with him. I grieve the loss of the day, as I realize that it’s almost time for him to wake up. I grieve for my younger children, who are innocent and kind-hearted. Why do they have to go through this? I question. I grieve for my child dealing with depression, as a result of all of this. I wish I could reach into her heart, flip a switch, and make this all better.
Have you been there with your children? Are you there right now? I can safely say this to you: You’re not alone!
If tears drip from your eyes as you read this and identify, we’re right there with you. We understand. If you’re wondering how you’ll make it through this, here’s some encouragement from our life and what we’ve learned to do…
I need to let myself feel loss. You actually need to grieve. It’s okay. Grief is a natural part of life. When we lose a loved one, or we lose something valuable, we mourn the loss. Give yourself permission to grieve over your child’s depression, bad choices, hurting spirit.
Too often, we take on a “pull myself up by my bootstraps” mentality, even in dark circumstances, like grief. And while there’s a time for pulling it together and moving on, you need time to feel deep loss. You need time to mourn over your child and the circumstance they’re in.
2. Hold fast.
I need to stick to my guns. As hard as it may be to do in your grief, hold fast to the decision you’ve made (if you have made one) to discipline, restrict, or protect. If your child’s decision making is bringing harm to others or putting your child’s life in danger, it’s your job to protect.
For us, our son has an alarm on the outside of his bedroom door to alert us when he opens it in the middle of the night. He also has an extremely strict bedtime which is much earlier than other kids his age. We know our son’s brain damage, suffered from FASD, could lead him into dangerous situations that could compromise his safety and the safety of our family. So, we hold fast. We’re not backing down. It’s exhausting but it’s one of the main things that keep us on a straight path.
I need to find help for my child. Be willing to seek out the help you need for your child. We recognized that circumstances with our son would cause our other children to go through the wringer. Mostly due to lack of structure. So we sought out camps and summer programs that helped keep his day structured. We also filled out paperwork to gain services for him such as a caretaker to help him after school with homework and transitioning to home after a structured day.
For our children’s emotional needs, we’ve hunted down counselors who know exactly what we’re going through as a family. Finding the help you need for your family and your children is critical.
I need to hold on to hope. The fact is, there is hope. I know it’s hard to see it when you’re in the middle of this trench. You reach up, hoping for the sun, but all you get is muddy walls, and a soupy, dismal life! There is hope. The trauma your child is going through and acting out of does not define his or her future. It’s a reminder that I have to give myself every single day of my life.
Hold on to hope.
Your story and mine are far from over. The same is true for our children. We stand together, hand in hand, through these dark times, holding on to hope. Holding on to one another. In the middle of your unimaginable grief over your child, place your hand on your chest, and feel your heart beating. There is hope.
Mike Berry is a writer, blogger, author, speaker, and family consultant. He and his wife Kristin have 8 children, all of whom were adopted. Mike and Kristin blog regularly at the Honestly Adoption Company.
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