Coping (or rather not!) with a tween’s grief

I feel like I’ve been winded. My tummy feels tight.

I am crying. The tears started and didn’t stop. The happy feeling dissolved.

My heart hurts and I don’t know which way to turn. How to act for the best.

An argument with my 11-year-old daughter caused this. I have to write – I really have nothing else.

I’d said something fairly subtle about finding happiness again and she jumped down my throat.

‘Oh stop going on about it. Everything is about Abi. You only want attention. It’s so annoying.’ (Think tween when you read this and you’ll get a good idea of tone!)

I’ve been here before with her. I’ve spoken to experts. She’s not struggling with her grief, she’s doing well, but she is acting her age.

Any parent will complain about not being appreciated, of being the target of pent-up stress, of being tested to near breaking point. I get that this is normal behaviour. But to her, Abi is just another cause for complaint now. In her mind, we’ve dealt with it and need to move on, stop dragging up our unhappiness.

I state as calmly as I can that even if it annoys her, I have a right, as Abi’s mum, to talk about her whenever I like (which I already don’t overdo because I know it irritates her). She can choose to ignore me if she likes.

I go into ‘therapist’ mode and try to use this as an opportunity to dig a little deeper, to find out what annoys her about it. Does it remind her of painful feelings of that time? Does it embarrass her?

‘No. Don’t be stupid. Everyone’s always talking about it and they should just get over it. I have.’ (By ‘everyone’ she means us and Abi’s friends who often write messages on Abi’s Facebook wall about missing her still.)

Still trying to be the peacemaker, I say: ‘Sometimes when we are sad it can come out as feeling annoyed.’

‘No. Because I’m not sad about it (she starts laughing to prove her point, as though I’m being idiotic). I don’t care at all. You’re all so annoying and need to get a life.’ Then she carries on chatting to her friends on her iPad.

None of this was said with much passion, anger or pain. She was being hurtful and to her mind, truthful. Yet as much as I know she’s just a child who has no idea or empathy with emotions like this, I cannot stop feeling upset. I walk away, as I can’t think what to say, and go up to my bedroom to hide my feelings from her. I sit on my bed and weep – weep for Abi, weep for her sister downstairs, weep for myself. I look at the cross on my wall and pray to God to guide me.

This is the girl who has lost her big sister. Who’s world was rocked by this loss. I have albums of photos of her and Abi, having fun together. Just 22 months apart in age, they were like chalk and cheese, yet close. They did so much together. In the last year or so of Abi’s life there was some change as Abi found new freedom out of the house with her friends, but they always had each other.

Perhaps I should let her see me cry. Show her how she can hurt someone’s feelings. But no, that would show weakness, that she has the power to upset me. She needs the security of knowing I am strong for her. Yet I’m angry and vulnerable. I’m dogtired. I don’t feel like being strong.

As much as I want to scream at her, I can’t force her to mourn Abi. I wouldn’t. I can’t get angry at her for speaking her mind. It would damage any trust between us. As a parent you have to repress so very much emotion it’s a wonder any of us remain sane (and why so many of us write blogs!).

She is so calm, feeling irritated by me. Even some emotion would be better than this. You’d expect a bereaved child to display anger, perhaps start causing trouble at school, or be depressed and withdrawn. I could make allowances for that. I wasn’t expecting this, this off-handedness. The enormity of Abi’s death hits me even more when I see how quickly her sister has ‘shelved’ it. But then I will make allowances for it, because I know deep down it’s her way of coping.

She’s an intelligent, funny girl. She has inherited my love for writing and reading. We share our faith, our prayers. She has more glimmers now of being herself. The girl I love. I’m ever proud of how she has progressed and how she knows her mind. I also understand her anxieties and insecurities, and give her opportunities to overcome them within a loving and secure family environment.

I love her so much and long to be close to her. She’s my only daughter, now. The other day, we went to the local park. She got lost following us and a stab of panic hit me. I held it together while we all went searching and she wasn’t far, and was simply a bit embarrassed, but I couldn’t help that clenched feeling inside. I cannot lose her too!

I know her outburst means I need to hold her even closer, not push her away.

I know it’s her age. She’s found something to test me, get a reaction.

I know she doesn’t understand how much her words hurt. Why would she?

I know she dislikes the attention. She doesn’t want to feel the pressure of being sad.

I know she’s been robbed of her childhood because of this.

I know she’s grieving too, That this is her way of coping with emotions even I cant truly understand.

Yet it hurts.

It may come out differently over the years and I’m already dreading the teenage years, there’s enough angst anyway without this terrible thing she has to live with too.

I’m upset with myself too. For getting upset – I should stop being so selfish. For not parenting her properly though this. It’s my fault she feels so resentful. I don’t know how I’ve done it but I know it can only be my fault. I have to rise above it and keep going.

And I will rise above it, again. That’s what mothers do. One day, in the distant future, maybe she’ll realise, maybe her sister’s death will surface, maybe it won’t. But for a brief, exhausted hour, I give in to the hurt.

This is the real challenge of parenting through grief. When a child dies, people treat you all as though you’re on the same mournful journey. But we all grieve differently. They ask me how she’s coping and I feel I should be saying she’s missing Abi terribly, just to appease them. But I know to my cost that sometimes sympathy is not what a child needs or wants, and as normal as that is, as a parent and adult, it can be unbearable to live with at times.


11 thoughts on “Coping (or rather not!) with a tween’s grief

  1. Of course she’s grieving but her journey through the grief process will be different to yours. Her friends won’t understand, her teachers won’t make allowances, everything in her life away from you will demand that she just ‘gets on with it’ and so that is what she must do. She can’t allow herself to be dragged down into the abyss at home or she may not be able to survive in her world. She also probably feels that she needs to be strong for her siblings and for you.
    Yes, her childhood has been robbed of its innocence, life will never be the same for her, everything will be different but you can’t change that and you can’t really make it better. All you can do is let her cope with things in her own way even if you are worried that her way is wrong. Sometimes the easiest way to deal with emotions is by provoking an argument, particularly when you’re young and struggling to deal with so many conflicting thoughts.
    I couldn’t talk to my parents about my brother; they thought that was because it upset me too much but I think the real reason was that my memories of him were different to theirs and I neither wanted to lose nor share that special relationship that he and I had.
    Your daughter will survive but it will be a long, hard journey for her. As parents we can only do so much; she knows you love her and at the end of the day that is sometimes all we can do.

    • Thank you. Your last words rang true for me. So long as there is love, it will keep us together. It really is all we can do sometimes. xx

  2. From a non-grieving parent’s perspective, that sounds like a typical tween outburst and a typical argument between tween and parent. It sounds like just the sort of arguments I have with my son. Then I walk away and wonder why I bothered, why was I arguing with him? But he knows how to hurt me. Sadly, your daughter has something extra in her arsenal and that must be so much more hurtful for you to deal with. A friend’s sister died (aged 32) at a similar time to Abi. Her daughter, then aged just 7, didn’t grieve. She lashed out at people and she demanded attention. She revelled in being the girl whose mum had died and in how much she could gain from it materially. I guess everyone deals with these things in different ways.
    I hope she calmed down and is back to being the daughter you love. x

    • Thanks Sarah, it feels so much better to have shared that post. A problem shared and all that… I know this is one of many rants and struggles we’ll have over the years, but like Frazzled Mum said, so long as there is love, that’s all we can give. We’ve had a really nice day today. For me, a new day is always a new start. x

      • This is what gives me so much faith when I’m at the end of my tether with my daughter. For all the horrible days we have at loggerheads, there are more when she loves me, and tells me so. I try to hold onto those x

  3. Your post has me nodding my head at so many points. When we lost our daughter one of mine carried on like nothing really had happened. Her desperate need for the world to still carry on the same was astonishing to me at the time but we went with it. My other children grieved more ‘expectedly’. It is several years later and she is starting to have to deal with the feelings she seemingly suppressed. The bereavement experts said to leave her- it will come out in the end. That type of grieving was (& is) far more difficult and challenging than some of the other kids responses because it’s painful for you too. Hang on in there- you can’t always knowingly assess grief from teen behaviour (& definitely in our case, some teen selfishness) but you sound like you’re doing an amazing job.
    Don’t worry about letting them see you cry- I don’t think it’s a bad thing occasionally. I’ll pray for you too xx

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to hear from another mother who has had to deal with the same thing. Xxx

      • It’s a ‘club’ where the support is thinner on the ground but so much more helpful in the long run. Hope your day today is a positive one and feel free to get in touch (if you want to!) my email address is on my blog x

      • Yes it certainly is, but I’ve found friendships with many caring and inspiring people along the way. I like your blog idea too, using your skill as therapy is more therapeutic than people realise! Many thanks xx

  4. Your daughter sounds like a typical teen already, they don’t like to be told anything especially if it comes from mum! They can be so hard to live with at times and that’s enough without having grief to cope with as well. As mums, we are all strong, we keep going & do what we think is best. Thinking of you x

  5. The comments after this post are so lovely, there really is such a wealth of support in the blogging world.
    Teenagers, especially teenage girls I find, say such incredibly hurtful things and know exactly which buttons to press to get at you emotionally, and they really don’t even know why they do it.
    She’ll need you so much when she passes through this stage and has not only the loss of her sister to deal with, but also the guilt of how she’s feeling and reacting now xxxx

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