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Parenting with a Broken Heart

Parenting is a full-time job. From the time they are born, children require more than we have to give them. For many years the demand is everything from feeding, changing diapers, giving baths, tying shoes, and kissing boo-boos.

The demand changes as a child gets older and more independent but even as an adult, I need my parents. I seek out their advice and want their time and expertise regularly. So, in the end, parenting is a full-time, forever type job.

So, when grief hits, being a mom does not go away. My husband and I lost our son after an eight-month-long battle with heart disease. As you can imagine, it was devastating on all levels. He was a precious, strong boy with round cheeks and silly hair. He had so much spunk and strength. We miss him every single moment of every single day.

During this painful time in our lives, our older son was two years old. He was too young to understand everything going on but one time he did say that mommy lived at the hospital. So, he understood more than we realized at the time.

No matter what has happened in your life, I am sure you have had heartbreak. We live in a broken world where no one escapes the tragedies of life. The loss of a parent, child, job, health, spouse come at us without warning. And yet, we still have our jobs as a parent.

I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned as someone parenting with a broken heart.

Let yourself grieve.

Young children have no concept of your needs. They cry out when they are hungry with no consideration to your fatigue. Good thing they are cute. Little ones also do not offer the space required to do the heavy, hard work that is called grief. Circumstances might be challenging but make the time to grieve. Take days away to cry, pray, journal, scream. Make use of naptime to read the book that you can relate to in your sorrow.

It has been two years since losing my son and I am learning to let the tears come as they need to but to also let the laughter come a few moments later. Letting the wave of grief wash over you is healthier than trying to push it away. It is more exhausting trying not to grieve than to actually let yourself grieve.

Ask for help.

Loss and trauma cause what experts call “grief brain.” It is like you are listening to conversations while your head is under water. You forget more often. You are functioning in a fog. Every task takes ten times as long to complete. Everything requires more effort. This is the perfect time in your life to ask for help. Ask for help with the practicals of meal making, child care, and home life. But, also ask for help from someone who will just cry with you, will let you talk about your loved one. Find someone who does not try to fix or correct you but simply is present for you.

Create space.

This is not the time in your life to add more responsibilities. Don’t join a new committee at work or coach your child’s team. This is a time to pull back and create the space needed to do the hard work of grief. Create a slower pace of life for your health and the health of your family.

Let your children see your grief.

Do not hide your tears. Let your children see the pain and let them see you get back up. My son is now four years old and he is very aware when I am sad. He even says, “Mommy, are you missing Hudson?” He can feel it from me and he is only four! So, attempting to hide the heartbreak of divorce, death, financial burden is actually damaging. Your child is aware you are hurting. Include them in your story of sadness and triumph in an age-appropriate way.

Give yourself grace.

Grief can be all-consuming. You will likely forget something that needed to be done. You will probably find yourself engaging less with friends. Do not beat yourself up if you want to pull away for a season. It is okay to create a quieter space for yourself for a time.

Don’t go it alone.

Seek out others with a similar story and invite them into your hard, ugly journey. Do not try to navigate the waters of grief by yourself. Have someone who can look you in the eye and say, “Me too. I’m so sorry. I’m here.”

Seek God.

I was so incredibly angry with God when our son died. He is all-powerful and He could have changed the number of days my son had on this earth, but in His sovereign plan, He did not. It has been a long, hard journey of reengaging with the God I love. It has been a new kind of surrender. But, I will encourage you to seek Him out. We are all part of His story even if we cannot see it and even if it hurts deeply. He loves you and He is close to the broken-hearted. Even if you have not been connected to God prior to your loss, seek Him now. He is so near and He loves you.

Suggested Resources:

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard

Amy Sylvestre
Amy Sylvestre
Amy is a writer, mom, and southerner living in the suburbs of Chicago. She has also worked for several large non-profit organizations. Amy is married to her hunky pilot husband, and they have two sons, Graham and Hudson. Graham is a hilarious, talkative, four and half year old. After a strong fight with congenital heart disease, Hudson passed away at eight months old. Amy is also in the process of growing her family through adoption.

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