Parenting and Grieving, How the Hell?

My sister came to visit last weekend, and we went out for a girls night to see that movie Bad Moms. It’s the first time in my life I could relate to such a movie… and to parts of my sister’s life, having raised three children herself. The movie was hilarious, we laughed so hard, and it felt so good to finally just have some girl time together.

At the end of the movie, the actresses sat down with their own moms to do little outtakes. Sharing old funny stories and memories of motherhood. Laughing and crying and bonding together. And of course, here we are, two sisters without a mom, watching all we have missed out on with our own mother being gone 25 years now. Insert ticking time bomb of grief here. 

I sucked it up that night, trying not to here the tick, tick, ticking. "Eh, it's nothing new, just let it slide off your back" I said to myself. Sure. Because that works. 

Mike asked a few times in the days following if everything was okay, because I was noticeably a bit bitchy. I shrugged it all off, thinking I am just overly tired. But I wasn’t just overly tired. I had a time bomb of grief inside me. For my mom. And for every single moment of the day that I want to be able to call her and vent, or ask her advice about mom stuff, or just share and feel “normal”.

When I finally unloaded to Mike, the tears welling up in my eyes, he acknowledged that it must be really really hard to be helping to raise a child without your own mom’s guidance. Time bomb activated! I burst into tears. I try my hardest on a daily basis to just not feel this truth, because it sucks, and it isn't going to change. But there are new layers now, that I never was challenged with before. Like the feeling that I am somehow less capable of mothering because I lost my mom so young. That somehow her death has created a deficit for me. 

Here I am, 33 years old, with an instant 9 year old to care for, no mom, and no clue what I am doing. And this shit sucks. Because now I am grieving for my mom all over again, and also trying to parent. And I just do not know... how the hell do you grieve and parent all at the same time?



That movie wasn’t just about all the hilarious stuff of momhood, some of which I have come in contact with already… like PTA moms and school drama. It was also about the underlying dedication and unconditional love a mother has for her kids though. A fire deep inside them to care for and protect at all costs. I suddenly found myself feeling entirely unequipped for that. Thinking, “I don’t have that feeling inside. Shit. Am I broken?”

I may love and adore Mike’s daughter, but let’s be honest, I only met her a bit over a year ago. I know realistically I may never have that bond with her… and certainly no one expects it to be happening NOW. Yet somehow I’ve put all this immense pressure on myself to feel that kind of undying love for her. Because society creates insane expectations for mothering. Seriously, I had no idea of the societal pressures momming until this past year. And even the most together moms must succumb to this crap. 

I love this kid, and I would do anything to protect her and keep her well and grow her up right. But... I don’t love her the way a mother loves her own child. When she is away at her grandparents, I don’t really miss her. Not one bit. Her dad misses her. I don’t. I feel shitty for that. When she goes to bed at night, I come in with Mike and say goodnight and give her a hug, but I’d be fine just waving goodnight from the couch eating popcorn. And I feel shitty for that too. The reality is, I’m not used to missing a kid. Or tucking a kid in at night. And I'm not a particularly lovey-dovey person to begin with. 

I can really only spend maybe 3 weekdays taking care of her while Mike is working before I get overwhelmed and need a grandparent to take her. And I feel shitty for that too. But I guess the truth of it is, that’s just where I am. But still I feel like… “Shouldn’t I miss her more? Or care more about tucking her in at night? God, what the hell is wrong with me?”

It feels so vulnerable to talk about this stuff, because people are so quick to judge when it comes to momming. I also realize there are plenty of people here who never had kids, who are probably thinking “Well at least you have a kid to parent!” Yup, I hear you. I know it. There’s always two sides to things. 

I have been so quiet about this stuff because of fear of being judged. I’m quiet about it with Mike too, because I worry he will think I don’t love her or that I'm a horrible person (which of course he never does). But I guess at some point you just have to be open about stuff. It’s just me, someone who’s never really been around kids much. Someone who honestly, probably would have never chosen to have kids had one not just fallen into my lap last year when I met a guy from Ohio. It’s just me, who’s been focusing on myself and my grief and my career and my art for the past 10 years... and is thusly very happy being self-centered. Just me, trying to still grieve and also parent and clean houses and work and understand how the hell anyone does all this?  

I don’t even know what this has to do with being a widow persay. Other than learning how to balance parenting with grief. It’s really incredibly hard, to manage your shit, someone else's shit, and also try to find space to have the emotions you need to have. As someone who has entered parenting in warp-speed this past year, I can say that I truly had no idea how challenging it could be to be grieving and parenting at the same time. Even with a mega amazing, super well-behaved, truly easy child. To be trying to hold it together for the kids and trying to let it all out for yourself. To be pouring so much of yourself and your attention into someone else’s well being at a time when you yourself are so depleted. It’s a whole other world of complexity that is just leaving me, on a daily basis, saying "what the hell". 

There's also those days when you let your guard down with kids. You stop trying to hold it together, and admit that you’re having a tough day. And you ask them for a hug. And you realize that these little arms have magic hugs... within mere seconds all of your stress has melted away, so fast you don't even know what happened or why you ever cared to be stressed. I mean really, tiny magician hugs. How do they do that?? 


Showing 4 reactions

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  • Antonella Totino
    commented 2018-07-19 03:38:56 -0700 · Flag
    Parenting in all its forms is challenging let alone parenting AND grieving.
    When my husband, my children’s father passed away ( 8 months now), I was barely treading water, in fact I was drowning. I could barely look after myself let alone my kids- emotionally and yet they needed ME! What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know. All I wanted to do was stay in bed all day and cry. I didn’t want to take care of anyone ELSE. But they’re my children and they just lost their father. My oldest would say that it was depressing in the house, so much sadness and crying. My youngest would scream and leave the room when he would see me cry. So, I had to support them and talk to them.
    I would go to the washroom or in my car or walk my dog and bawl my eyes out. I still do that.
    So hard to have to share your grief when you don’t want to bc your heart is so broken but I have to and I have to look outside myself and see my children’s brokeness too.
    Still today, this minute, I want to lock myself away but…. the children call.
    We mom’s need to give each other a break and not be so judgemental.
    Sarah, give yourself some time to adjust to motherhood as well as to the loss of your dear mother.
  • Janice Boltseridge
    commented 2016-08-18 09:28:42 -0700
    Just so you know, it took me over two years to fall in love with my adopted grandchildren.
    I look at them now with the same stars in my eyes as I look at my biological grandchild. I think your stars will come in due time.
  • Linda Tevebaugh Keeling
    commented 2016-08-17 20:34:57 -0700
    I wanted to love my SIX stepdaughters and really really tried….we came close…or so I thought…yet they NEVER accepted me and when their dad died, unexpectantly, all hell broke loose…..
    I agree with Julene…it takes time…..for me the kids were from the ages 6 to 27(my late husband became a father very young and also late in life)….it was easier with the younger ones…however, their mother, did not want the kids to have a good relationship with their father let alone me….so that did not help.

    I recently remarried…I am older now….all kids are grown…..I truly care about my now husband’s grown children….his late wife was their first stepmother and they had a very good relationship with her…..and they are very respectful to me….
    Over time, I think we will get closer….yet I do not expect a parent/ adult child relationship….

    On the other hand, my own sons learned to like my late husband…..I can not say they loved him…..I think he, in turned, cared alot for them…but probably not love….and I can say the same for my current husband…My sons really like him….and he really likes them….and they get along … might get even better over time…..yet I am okay with how things are now.

    So hang in there…and don’t beat yourself up too much… are doing great!!

  • Julene Black McGregor
    commented 2016-08-15 13:51:28 -0700 · Flag
    I’m not a widow but I am a step-parent. I have two daughters of my own and one stepdaughter. I’ve had said stepdaughter for the past 10 years (she was 15 when I came into her life and she lived full-time with us as her mom is not really around and I became “mom”). I will tell you that although I am a mom, I felt those same feelings about my stepdaughter the first few years. It was hard. Really hard. But over time that has changed. It will never be “exactly” like my own, but it’s close. I do miss her but differently. I love her fiercely and probably now very close to my own. But it takes time, struggles, love and everything in between. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s hard to be honest but it’s also wonderful to be honest. The love between the two of you will grow in it’s own way and someday you’ll look up and see what a unique and special relationship you and she have.