Most parents stress about whether they are parenting correctly. There are so many opinions on the right way to do everything. From potty training to sleep, from feeding to discipline to screen time. And in our current world, we don’t just look to friends and family, pediatricians, or a few books written by experts to guide us. We have all of these sources as well as information from social media groups, blogs, online course advertisements, and opinions from all over the internet.
The most supportive mom friends in my life remind me that to maintain sanity as a parent it is important to do what works for you. Do the research you need. Trust the information that you think seems trustworthy. Filter whatever information you get through you as a parent, and do what works best for you and your child.
This is true for all parents, and it is so important to remember when you are parenting after loss.
If you are a loss parent who had living children before losing a child, you may wonder if you are parenting differently now that you have had a loss. That’s okay. You are different. Losing a child changes you. Grieving a child changes you.
If you, like me, lost your first child, you will never know what you would have been like as a parent without having loss as a part of that identity. If you find yourself wondering if you would have been a different parent had you not lost the baby(ies) or child(ren) you did, know that it is normal to wonder this. You likely would have been a different parent in some ways and the same parent in other ways. And that is okay. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how you would have been in a different reality.
In this world now, you are parenting after loss, and you have to do what works for you and your child now. Here. In this situation.
Perhaps what is most difficult about filtering through all of the information and deciding what works for us when parenting after loss is that the vast majority of parenting information is not written with that perspective in mind.
A recent quote on this topic from Lindsey Henke has stuck with me, reminding me that those who have not lost children may not understand how it affects the way we parent.
Others may not notice the things that you may do differently, and as with so many things in life, your own judgment of yourself may be the most harsh. But, if others do notice and do judge, remember that if they have not parented after loss they do not understand. If you ask others’ advice, remember that it still gets to be filtered through you and your experience. Even in the world of bereaved parents, loss affects us each differently.
We each find a different way to cope, a different language that fits for us, and different fears and hopes as we go through the next steps in our journeys.
If we weren’t loss parents, I think my partner and I would have gotten our child to a point where she fell asleep on her own after we left the room. We have done some sleep training, but we still lay on the floor next to her crib until she is asleep. And you know what? There are some things about this I don’t like, but there are other things I like. And I just can’t do it differently yet. Most times I just don’t like knowing that I made her cry because I chose to leave the room. I need to be there so that I know she knows I love her. When she does cry for an extended period of time going into the crib I can’t help but remember stories of other loss parents who have said that if they knew that their child was going to pass the next day they would have held them longer. I can’t not think of those stories if my child cries when I put her to bed.
It wasn’t until a fellow loss parent recently said to me that they always stayed with their kids until they fell asleep that I realized how our identities as bereaved parents were affecting what works best for us in our household around sleep. It made me feel better about it. Why should I judge myself harshly for doing something that works for us when other parents who I respect, and who get it, have done the same thing?
These differences in how you parent after loss are just different. They are not positive or negative. They are not good or bad. They just are.
If I was not parenting after loss I am pretty sure I would be pickier about things that just don’t matter to me now. I am particular about things that could involve safety. But, when it gets beyond life and death safety I am far less concerned than I think I would have been before loss. This weekend our two-year-old licked the dishwasher because she was imitating the dog. We mostly tried to ignore it so that our reaction didn’t make her want to do it again. I hope she doesn’t do it again because it is gross, but I am really not that worried about it. And I don’t know whether I would have been this way as a parent before loss because I have never parented a living child without having previously had two babies die inside my body without me knowing.
If you observe yourself doing something different than other parents, remind yourself that it is okay. Only you know how it feels to be in your shoes. You get to decide how to talk to your living children about the babies who were supposed to be growing up in your home and aren’t. You get to decide how comfortable you feel with different people watching your children. You get to decide your routines around feeding and sleeping. You get to decide how much to battle about them wearing a coat or mittens. You get to decide how much screen time is okay. You get to decide what works best for you and your child.