Month: November 2015
Following on from my blog on World MS Day, I seem compelled to write when there is an awareness day or week that I feel I can contribute to (so look out for my next one on National Chocoholic Week or Beautiful Stationery Awareness Day).
But I digress. This is a rather serious one. It’s Children’s Grief Awareness Week in the UK from 19th-25th November. I hope that no one reading this has experienced grief as a child themselves or has had to support a grieving child. I hope this all comes as news to you, but sadly statistics suggest that this is highly unlikely. It is estimated that 1 in 25 children have lost a parent or sibling. Even though I know several children who are part of that statistic I find it really quite shocking and it doesn’t include children who have experienced the death of a grandparent or other significant person in their life. Bearing in mind how relatively common it is for a child to experience grief it is surprising how little it is talked about and how few services there are to support children through this most difficult of emotions.
Children experience grief in a different way to adults. I’ve heard it described that for adults they are in a river of grief that is constantly flowing, whereas children jump in and out of it like jumping in puddles. They can be inconsolably sad and distressed one minute and then 10 minutes later playing outside without an apparent care in the world. As a parent that is incredibly difficult to watch and cope with. My son was 8 years old when his dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. For the first 6 months he appeared to be ‘doing really well’, but in reality, on reflection, he was still in shock. He would talk about his dad and there would be times of tears but generally he was functioning well. Then he started to become increasingly upset at school (not helped by a that half terms topic about Egyptians…and all the death rites, tombs, death masks that go with it!). It triggered memories and flashbacks to what had happened to his dad and he found that really difficult to manage.
So I looked for help and advice about what to do…and found there wasn’t much around. There are a couple of excellent national charities (Winston’s Wish and Child Bereavement UK) who have really good helplines I could ring, but the face to face help they provide is regional and not in my area. Fortunately, my son has an amazing ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) based at his school who has been an absolute godsend. He has had regular weekly sessions with her and has the security of an adult in the school who he feels he can approach if he is upset. That combined with things we have done together at home, using books, writing, drawing and making a memory box seem to be helping him.
The phrase that often gets used when talking about bereaved children is ‘children are so resilient’. Erm, no they’re not! Their whole world has changed in the most profound way. They will not bounce back after a few months and carry on as normal as if nothing has happened. It will affect them forever. The way they grieve will change as they get older. It will shape the way they grow up. The challenge is to try and help them to do it in a positive way. For it not to define them. To help them to grieve well.
A challenge indeed! So, what next? Well, I feel that supporting bereaved children seems a pretty basic need that isn’t being met across many parts of the country and certainly not in my area. I could write letters to my MP or the NHS or the Prime Minister himself, but I fear that would be a lot of effort for probably very little gain. So my plan? To try and do it myself. To set up a service in York to support grieving children in whatever way they need. How am I going to do it? I’m not entirely sure, but I am determined to find a way to help the children that need it at the time when they need it most.
So watch this space…and if you are a child bereavement counsellor/child psychologist (or you know one) who’s looking for work in the York area then please get in touch!
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The other morning I asked my 10 year old the somewhat risky question of how he would describe me. He said I was kind, helped him with his homework and that I was a good ‘only parent’! At first I thought he said ‘you’re only a parent’ and was ready to give an extensive list of reasons why there was no ‘only’ about it! Then I realised he meant ‘only’ as in ‘single’ and I was rather touched that he thought I was doing ok!
I have always admired only parents, even before I became one. I marvelled at their strength and ability to manage it all on their own when it was so tough when there was two of us! Parenting is such a challenging job and you receive absolutely no training for it! As all parents know, children don’t come with instruction manuals and even if they did, you soon realise that they quickly become out of date. Just when you think you’ve read theirs and might have them vaguely sussed…everything changes and you realise you actually don’t have a clue!
So, when only parenthood was thrust upon me 2 years ago, I didn’t really know what to do. As I’ve written about previously, in the early days after my husband died I found it difficult to make a decision about anything. I couldn’t decide what to wear or what to have for tea, let alone make parenting decisions. All of a sudden, when my son asked if he could go somewhere or do something I had to decide whether he could or not. I had to think…could he? Should he? Was that ok? It took some getting used to and I have certainly made (and continue to make) mistakes along the way.
But there is another not so negative side to this. There is no conflict between two parents. If I make a decision, that’s it. No negotiating with my other half if we have different views on something. No disagreements and no arguments. So if my son plays with a (soft!) football in the house that’s ok, because I don’t mind, but it was always a bone of contention between me and my husband.
Discipline is another issue. As someone said to me recently, there’s no ‘good cop, bad cop’…there’s only ‘bad cop’ and you’re always it! All the discipline lies with you and it can feel like you spend all your time nagging and saying no! There’s no one to share the disciplining duties with…you are the sole focus of the ‘Can I? Can I? Can I? Pleeaase can I? Everyone else is going/has one/doesn’t have to/takes it to school’ (delete as applicable) You get the idea. However, on the positive side there is no playing one parent of against another. No tension caused when one parent says one thing and the child goes to the other parent to see if they can get an answer they like more.
Being a parent is the most amazing, tough, rewarding, emotional, fantastic, frustrating job ever and to be an only parent is a mixed blessing, but a blessing all the same.