Helping Parents Helping Children with Loss – Looking At Myth 4 – Be Strong

 Looking At Myth 4 – Be Strong

The article, Monkey see Monkey do opened with the statement –

“My son’s father died, and I want to know how to help him.”  the time has come to return to that story.  The mom in our story was a loving mom.  She wanted only the best for her child.   This mom had been socialized in a world that says you have to be strong. When she was around her son and experienced an emotion, she would immediately get a hold of herself so that she could be strong.

The myth about being strong is so big that it has two sub myths

The myth about being strong is so big that it has two sub myths, kind of like a planet with two moons.  In the time since the death of her husband, well-meaning friends had bombarded her with another phrase, “You have to be strong for your children.”  Given the circumstance of her life, the fact that she was mostly in a daze, and the backdrop of a belief system that says you have to be strong, the idea that she might need to be strong for her children went unquestioned.  It was a logical extension of the idea of being strong.  Like most other parents, she had never stopped to question the wisdom or validity of that and many other clichés related to dealing with loss.

What you practice is what you perfect

Another aspect of this situation is the simple idea that what you practice is what you perfect.  Mom had practiced being strong for her son in other emotional events prior to the death of husband / dad.  in fact, she, like most of us, was so practiced that she was unaware that she was being strong.  It took an outside observer to help her become aware that she was unconsciously teaching her son a habit that would hinder rather than help him in his life.  her son, in copying his mom’s actions, was doing what he thought was the right thing.

Wait, there’s more

As we observed, the boy imitated his mom who was being strong for him.  And, if we shift our focus to one of her other children, we will see another variation on the be-strong theme.  Mom’s concern about her nine-year old son was only the tip of the iceberg.  Both of her daughters were also being affected by their mom’s actions and non-actions, each in different ways.

Her fourteen-year-old daughter adopted the role of the family caretaker.  Watching her mother’s attempt at being strong, and her brother’s silence, big sister decided that she was going to save everybody.  In effect, she tried to transform herself, overnight, from a child into an adult.  Part of this was copying her mom being strong for her son and daughters.  part of it was the accumulation of a young lifetime of misinformation from books, TV, and movies.  And, being the eldest child, she had been told, ‘You have to be an adult now.”

The daughter’s attempt at “fixing” her family is also the flip side of the mom being strong for the children.  The child learned :”be strong for others.”  In all our years of working with grieving people, one of the most common and difficult-to-overcome problems is the child who was cast in or adopted the role of taking care of everyone else.  It is one of the most heart-wrenching examples of loss-of-childhood experiences.  While we are able to help people get their hearts back, we cannot give them their childhoods back.

We hope all the parents, guardians, teachers, and others who affect children will read this loud and clear: Please avoid phrases like “You have to be strong for your mom, or dad” or “Now you’re the little man, or the little woman, of the family.’  this is equally true whether dealing with the aftermath of a death or a divorce.

We don’t want our children to become little therapists.

They still need to be kids.

The death or divorce will affect them enormously without the additional burden of growing up before their time.

We have seen marriages sabotaged and destroyed by one partner taking care of the other in ways that rob dignity and integrity.  This is often traceable to a child being strong for or taking care of parents or others, an unfortunate habit that turns into a lifelong impediment.

Strong or Human, pick one!

I have to be strong for him; that’s what everybody tells me to do.  So when I feel the tears coming, I go to my room.”  Those are the words of the mom from the very beginning of the book, “When children Grieve.”  The idea of being strong has become so distorted that it now implies that you should not have or demonstrate emotions in front of others, and especially not in front of children.

Perhaps it would be helpful if we redefined the word strong  for you so that you can have a new perspective on what strong really is.

Real strength looks like this:

The natural demonstration of emotions.

Saying and doing what is emotionally accurate.

Real strength creates these results:

Teaches children how to communicate feelings, not to bury them.

Sustains energy for other tasks.

As you can see, our definition of strength really defines a human.  It is very possible to be human and to accomplish what seems like an overwhelming number of tasks.  The proper expression of emotions frees up energy to deal with life.  The alternative is to hold on to feelings that, in turn, lead to explosions or implosions. Since our children are watching everything we do, we must become very aware that our beliefs and actions will become their beliefs and actions.

We have already identified several major misconceptions you may have learned when you were young:

  1. Don’t feel bad.
  2. Replace the loss.
  3. Grieve alone.
  4. Be strong. i.e. for your children and or for others.

You may recognize yourself or your family in some or all of these myths.  Again, we remind you not to be critical of yourself as we continue to uncover other beliefs that you may want to reconsider as they relate to your children.

From the book.  . When Children Grieve written by John W James  and Russell Friedman with Dr. Leslie Landon Matthews

There is help . .

If you are interested in participating in the Renew Your Possibility – As Children Grieve 6 week Study group, sign up here.

This is a complimentary study group that will provide you some incredibly valuable safety tips and tools that you will be able to use for the rest of your life and your children’s lives.  I guarantee it.

Or, if you are not ready to take that step, purchase the book “When Children Grieve here . .

Or download one of the ebooks under the resources page and read up on grief.

Another option is to Schedule a 15 minute complimentary call to share what your experiencing so you can ask me questions.

Just take that first step.  Do something that you have not done before.  It’s ok, that your not ok, yet please don’t stay stuck in grief.  There is light on the other side.

Remember, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Plato

Yours in Gratitude and to Renewing Your Possibility. . .

Debbie  Your Grief Recovery Specialist®