How do I parent my other children when I’m grieving?

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.

It’s grief.

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?


15 thoughts on “How do I parent my other children when I’m grieving?

  1. I have read loads of your blog posts before but I am not sure I ever made the connection to your chasing dragonflies blog (to my shame). I’ve just read back through from the beginning. Your courage is amazing and she sounds so wonderful. I feel like it has been an honor to read all about her xxxxx

  2. Let’s hope you do! Even parents who haven’t been through what you’ve been through are inconsistent and bicker about priorities and parenting styles and that has been multiplied to the nth degree for you. Don’t forget, you’re the best mum and dad your kids could hope for and need. X

  3. This is a really interesting post. I’ve no doubt at all you’re being the best parent you possibly can be. Grief is tough enough when I have only myself to worry about…makes me think about the challenges I will have if/when I have another baby. Nothing can ever be the same after the death of a child, can it? xxx

  4. I really feel for you both and when you said that when Abi died, you remembered all the times you had shouted at her, that touched a nerve as I know I am an inconsistent parent ruled by my moods and by other pressures meaning that I do not react to the same situation in the same way each time. I can totally imagine how this must be exacerbated after such a terrible tragedy. I am glad you are all working through this and I wish you all every best wish that you can find some kind of balance that works for all of you. xxx

    • I know what you mean about discipline being dictated by your mood. When I’m low and weary I let them do anything, I just don’t have the strength, but then I feel OK so I’m on their cases. I’m more aware of it now though so I hope thats a step in the right direction. Thank you for reading and your lovely comment xxx

  5. You sound like you are both wonderful parents doing the best you can under the circumstances. Sending you a big virtual hug and hope you manage to find an approach that you feel happier with xx

  6. All parents are tormented by the childcare books which advocate consistency but I honestly believe that a consistent approach to parenting is neither achievable nor desirable. The truth is that we all react to the particular circumstances of the day – our mood, others’ moods, past experiences, the weather, our schedules etc etc. A friend of mine once said to me ‘ Kate, you can only do what you can do” and I often remind myself of this. All I can do is my best on any particular day: some days I will feel like I’m doing a great job at parenting, other days not so much but one thing is for sure: no matter how bad I may be feeling about life on a particular day I ALWAYS get out of bed in the morning and try my best. My children have always been fed, clothed, housed and most of all loved. Don’t beat yourself up about what you don’t do, recognise that you are doing the best you can and they will know that, just as Abi always knew it too.

  7. It sounds to me that you guys are doing amazing! I lost my 2 year old almost 12 years ago and have gone on to have 2 more gorgeous, frustrating and loving kids. I can relate to constantly second guessing the right thing to do. I try so hard to not wrap them in cotton wool, but I would desperately love to. Sometimes I have to just go and make sure they are still breathing while they sleep, occasionally in the middle of a conversation, that feeling of terror just overtakes you. So from one mom to another, you are doing amazing xxxx

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