My hubby and I had a discussion about our parenting styles. I felt he is too much on the children’s cases, telling them off for this and that. He feels I’m too inconsistent, one minute strict the next turning a blind eye.
It’s so hard. We were good parents once. We had it sussed. We had our routines and rules, nothing over the top, just clear and manageable boundaries. But then grief stepped in and cocked it all up!
One day I’m set on re-establishing rules and boundaries, the next I’m beating myself up with guilt for depriving them of the things they want or shouting at them for making a mess or not doing what they are told.
They are only children!
Abi was a child. One day, aged 12, she died. Like that. No warning. Nothing.
What if that happened again?
People say it won’t. It’s highly unlikely. That lightening doesn’t strike twice.
But we all know it can, and it does.
I still have the worries of a non-grieving parent, but they are heightened – ten-fold! It’s hard not to feel we will be one of those families you read about who experience tragedy after tragedy.
The minute Abi died I regretted every bad word I ever said to her. I remembered with accuracy all the times I flew off the handle because I was trying to do something and she was bothering me. I remembered the times I said no. Pointless ranting about nothing important.
We live our life trying to maintain a stable and secure home for our children. They need routine and rules. They need boundaries. I’ve read all the books. I know the rules. But there are no parenting books for this!
We find ourselves being consistently inconsistent.
They know how to press our buttons. They know we have changed from being the people in charge to the people being ruled by the fear of loss. They sense the anxiety, of course they do. Children are not fools!
But it’s not their fault.
It’s not ours.
Parenting is a huge part of a relationship that you don’t consider before you become parents. The idea of having a baby together is wonderful and you can both be fully committed to that. But when the child arrives, your individual experiences come out in ways that are set to test you all.
One parent might think table manners are important, the other might be fine with letting them eat in front of the telly so long as they get the food into their stomachs. One parent likes things kept tidy at all times, the other doesn’t mind a mess. Whatever the differences, most couples work out compromises that help them to live more harmoniously. As long as consistency is maintained, it works as well as it can do.
But when a child dies, the parents are left fumbling to find their confidence. One parent struggles more than the other. Rules become instantly pointless. Bedtime becomes drawn out, all evening. There is no ‘switching off’ from them. Ever.
(Since Abi died, we have not once sat in our lounge to watch TV, with the children in bed asleep, as a couple. We are either in with them or in our bedroom next door ready for them if they need us, because they call out and are scared. In fact we’ve not left them for an evening once either. That’s 838 days, no date night, no time to unwind. It’s hard not to envy people who share pictures of the normality we once had).
Attainment at school doesn’t matter anymore. Why push them if they don’t enjoy it? (Although both are doing surprisingly well.)
The things we took for granted are shattered and we have no idea how to put them back together.
We don’t want to raise ‘brats’, with chips on their shoulders. We want our children to be balanced people. Kind friends. Hard workers. Contributors to society. Appreciative of the things they have. And, in all this, happy, feeling secure and with God guiding their hearts.
Yet we struggle to keep the balance.
I realised I wanted to cry during our discussion. Because Abi’s death weighed so heavy on my heart, and his too.
We didn’t want this for us.
We just want to love and parent without this constant drain on our mental and physical well-being.
Everything has to do with the fact we saw our beautiful, life-loving child die and living knowing how it could happen again at any moment, to any one of us. Despite the promise of heaven, we are parenting in fear.
We don’t want our children to be scarred by our ineffectual parenting. We don’t want them to be treated differently by us, or anyone. We don’t want them be bitter or angry as they grow up – because their sister died and their parents were bitter and angry. But right now we want to give them the world.
When we shout at them, are we taking our anger out on them? Are we really angry with them or our situation?
And when we don’t discipline them, is it because we are weak? Broken by our loss.
What do I do when my children refuse to behave, to do a chore, or ask nicely? Do I shout? Do I ground them? Do I send them to bed without dinner?
Or do I ignore it, because they are hurting too?
…Because they know I’m weak now and I won’t follow through?
…Because they know I never want to hear the words “I wish you were dead” shouted at me?
At the end of our discussion, we had no solution. We had stopped blaming each other though. We realised that there is no answer, we just have to try to work it out together.
Only perseverence will get us through.
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And, for the time being, I will try to be more consistent and he will give them some slack. Maybe as time goes on we’ll find a new, happier medium?