This was originally posted on the Postpartum Support International Blog:
The living grief of parenthood
Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D.
It’s always there, sometimes just below the surface. Sometimes in your face. The push and pull of overwhelming elation and grief in every moment that your child grows.
It seems to affect us all; some more than others. That moment when you see your child learn a new word, concept, or skill… its holds so many good feelings, so much happiness, so much hope. That moment when your child says a word incorrectly, like “fingerns” or “strawbees” so sweetly; then, someone tries to correct her. “No, it’s strawberries” and you hope she never actually learns the correct way to say it…because that means she is growing up. You’re already missing this stage and it’s not even over yet.
For some moms, this grief is incapacitating. It’s excruciating. They feel anxious and sad all at once. They feel worried about their baby growing too fast or that they will miss him at this stage. But then they feel guilty because they feel like they are missing out on this very moment. They are worried that they will look back on this time and regret that they couldn’t be present. Then…more guilt.
Each mother’s story is different. Some mothers may feel this grief if they aren’t having—or can’t have— any more children. Others may have lost a pregnancy or a child in the past, so they feel the need to cling to each moment with this child. Sometimes, it’s not at all clear to the mother why she feels this way. Sometimes this grief is related to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD or other maternal mental health complication.
This ongoing, living grief of parenthood is on a spectrum. It may just be a hint of grief that comes up every now and again. It could be debilitating and make it hard to function throughout the day. It looks different for everybody. Whatever is going on, it’s important to know that IT’S NOT JUST YOU. It’s okay.
Here are some things to help manage the grief:
1. Acknowledge the grief when you can. Denying our feelings can intensify them.
2. Accept that you have the feelings. They are there. They are not going to be there forever, but they are right now.
3. Act with compassion. Treat yourself with the love that you would give to a friend who was feeling the same way.
4. Be mindfully present. Take a slow deep breath and lovingly guide yourself to appreciate this very moment. “I am here. I choose to be present”.
5. Reach out for help. If you feel overwhelmed by your grief and sadness, you can get help to navigate. Sometimes talking with an understanding friend is helpful. Or you may need professional support, especially if the grief is overwhelming and/or related to depression, anxiety, or other mental health diagnosis.
Here’s the thing…the more we can understand that we are not alone on this journey AND that our feelings and experiences are OKAY, the easier it is to heal from our wounds. Here’s to healing!