How to Honor a Child’s Request to Grieve: “Mom, I Need to Cry”

diane sitting on steps with three kidsThere are some posts that bring tears to my eyes, for various reasons. Some are so sad, some are poignant and confusing, and then others tug at our heartstrings and bring a kind of poignant joy.

Today’s post focuses on one that both tugged my heart and caused me to feel that poignant joy because it is a beautiful example of how consistently healthy parenting allows a child to be safe enough and clear enough to ask for what he needs.

I am so blessed to have several young women work with me.

One young woman has two beautiful children, and it has been my honor over the last several years to hear the many touching stories of their day-to-day lives.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to share parenting information and provide a little guidance, especially when there are those moments that can be so challenging—like those many nights being sleep deprived, those moments of defiance, meltdowns and temper tantrums. Watching her grow and mature as a parent, facing all those times that can try a parent’s soul, has been a privilege.

I know she doesn’t see just how good a job she is doing. She’s so immersed in the day-to-day activities and decisions that can be overwhelming at times. But a Facebook post she shared a few weeks ago was one of those moments when it was crystal clear that her attentive, attuned, and healthy parenting was evidenced in her son’s request.

Here is what led up to that moment.

Her six-year-old has had to cope with the pain and struggles associated with having a biological father who had been absent when he was very young and who suddenly came back in his life, demanding periodic visitations, causing confusing for this little guy.

He would often come back from these visits out of control, angry, frustrated and highly emotional. He would find solace and a way to regulate back to his normal self by hugging and cuddling with his oversized, gentle giant of a dog, Max, a large, black Great Dane mix.

His mom and stepdad appreciated how hard it was to be pulled back and forth between two homes and to experience the confusion associated with this kind of dual life. They worked hard to give him the time and space to recover each time he returned home. Everyone was so grateful to his gentle giant for providing a consistent, safe and accepting presence. This dear dog was a constant companion, even sleeping with him at nap time and at night.

And then there was a tragic day when Max got out, was hit by a car and died.

In the aftermath of this profound loss, his grieving parents worked hard to figure out how to explain death and loss to a six-year-old. How could they explain why he suddenly did not have his dear four-legged friend to retreat to when he was overwhelmed by his own emotions and struggles to stay regulated.

a boy crying, being held by his father. It’s confusing enough for us as adults to process why tragedies like this happen and to deal with our own overwhelming grief…but then to have to deal with the grief of a child who just can’t make sense of it with the looming underlying question, “Why is Max not here anymore?”

They did so much to help this young boy grieve in healthy ways. They acknowledged his feelings, encouraged him if he wanted to look at pictures and tell stories about Max. They put no pressure on him to behave in a certain way and respected when he wanted to talk and when he wanted to try to forget. They honored his anger and frustration and struggles to somehow reconcile the reality that Max is not coming back.

Here is the post that brought me to tears:

There is nothing like having your 6-year-old ask to listen to all the songs that remind him of Max so that he can sing and cry ?
So far we have listened to:
“See You Again” Wiz Khalifa
“Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” Aerosmith

This little post speaks volumes.

It speaks to how safe this child feels to grieve openly. He recognizes that he’s able to both sing and cry and that can provide some release from the pain. He knows that he has a mom who will honor his request and help him in the way that he asked. This was one of those times when all the years of consistently providing nurturing, sensitive parenting is evidenced in the innocent request of a child.

I am in awe.

Invitation to Reflect:

  • How did reading this blog and especially the words this mom posted make you feel?
  • Do you think your child feels safe enough to make a request like this of you? Does it inspire you to want to be sure your child knows he or she can make requests to address unmet needs, unresolved grief and deep pain?
  • Take the time to savor moments when your children reflect being parented in healthy, loving and sensitive ways, even if only for a moment, where they feel safe and you are trustworthy enough to respond with acceptance and nurturing.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Initiative


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