A Parent’s Grief
My journey into parenthood has been an adventure, to say the least. I read the books, I am a perinatal care provider, I’ve worked with children and families my whole career…I thought I was so prepared. Then reality hit hard with the birth of my son.
There are many lessons I have learned in my own parenthood journey, but the one that I least anticipated is the immense amount of grief present in parenthood.
Grief is common and, even expected, anytime that we have a shift in our identity. This may happen when we take on a brand new identity (i.e. becoming a parent), have a shift/adjustment to an existing identity (i.e. add an additional child to the family), or leave a familiar identity behind (i.e. being a pregnant/birthing person). When I look at it that way – it makes sense that becoming a parent would be riddled with grief!
Since grief as a parent is not readily identified, normalized, or shared, you may not even realize that it is part of your parenting experience. In fact, it is quite sneaky. Think about all the feelings that have arisen when your child transitioned into their next developmental phase, when they reach that milestone you have been working towards, and when they gain more independence and autonomy. While these moments are filled with great joy and pride, they are also often partnered with a sense of loss and sadness. You no longer have a baby – you have a toddler! Your child no longer relies on you for nursing – and you may grieve this vital role in their life. They can put themselves to sleep – and you miss those sweet, vulnerable moments in the middle of the night. Directly alongside the wonderful moments are pangs of loss.
It must also be acknowledged that grief in some parenting journeys is more abundant than in others. If you experienced a loss through miscarriage or infertility issues you will continue to have grief around that loss arise even if/when you have a healthy baby. In this space, I want to normalize this experience. There is nothing wrong with you. You can grieve and have joy.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) collection of spaces where grief can exist in parenthood:
- Having a neurodiverse or autistic child.
- Having a child with a genetic disorder or abnormality.
- Having a child with chronic disease or mental illness.
- Having a traumatic birthing experience, or one that did not meet your hopes or expectations.
- Challenges and/or complications with nursing, if this is something you wanted for yourself.
- “Firsts” and developmental milestones: -walking, crawling, rolling, beginning school or daycare, etc.
- Children leaving the home (i.e. becoming an “empty nester”).
- Having another child.
- Being done having children, and nuances of how this is experienced when this is your choice/preference vs when it is not your choice/preference.
Throughout your journey as a parent, you can and likely will feel both immense sadness and joy at the same time. I strongly encourage you to give yourself permission to do so – and when you can, talk about it, write about it, externalize it, honor it.