Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Gentle Parenting Through Grief

"Mummy's sad."

"Yes, darling, Mummy's sad."

"She's had some really bad news."

"Yes, that's right."

You may have noticed I haven't blogged much this month. (What do you mean, you haven't? You hang on my every word, right?) That's because this month got off to a pretty bad start.

At around 7am on Friday 1st August, just as I sat down to breakfast, I got a phonecall. Or rather, my husband did, from my mum. When my mum calls my husband's phone, I know that means it's bad news – she does it to make sure I've got someone with me. As he talked to her a number of scenarios raced through my head, but not one of them was close to what had actually happened – my aunt had died, completely out of the blue. We learned a week later that she had been ill for a while, but nobody knew this – she probably didn't know it herself.

I could make this blog post a tribute to her, but really, I don't think I have the words to express what a wonderful, inspirational woman she was. Instead I want to talk about the impact the news had on my parenting.

As I burst into tears that day, Toddler became deeply upset too, and my husband took her out of the room to try and calm her. I didn't tell her what had happened – I didn't feel up to explaining it to her, and besides, it was seven months since she'd last seen my aunt, so I didn't think she needed to know straight away. So we just said I'd had some really bad news. But as the day wore on, my obvious distress was making her very upset, and the smallest thing was setting her off into a full-blown tantrum. I decided that the best thing I could do for her was to go out for a bit, so I left her with her dad and went to see my cousin.

It was a hard decision to make. Having practised attachment parenting/ gentle parenting since Toddler was a few months old, I was used to being her main source of comfort, her rock. But that day I was a very shaky rock, and I was bringing distress rather than comfort. It was hard to admit it, but she needed space from me at that time, and I needed space from her.

One thing that has surprised me about the effect grief had on my parenting was the way my patience seemed to wear thin so much more easily. When I went home that day, I found Toddler's high emotions, testing at the best of times, deeply frustrating. I'd spent the last few hours with people who were deeply grieving, I was grieving myself, why did she have to cry over not having the right toy to play with?

It's that frustration that I'm still struggling with. It got easier for a while, but the funeral was last week, and that has made the grief feel very raw again. I've found myself with very little patience for Toddler's perfectly normal toddler behaviour – her refusal to follow instructions, her tendency to mess about when I'm trying to get her changed, her tantrums, and recently her nap refusal. Being a gentle parent feels really, really hard right now.

Last Saturday I took to Twitter to express my annoyance at myself for taking my low mood out on Toddler. I got a number of responses from some lovely, wonderful mums telling me it's normal, we all do it, and I'm really grateful for their show of solidarity. One tweet really stuck. It said:

"it's hard to be there & present for someone else's needs when our own needs are unmet ... Self-compassion."

This really struck a chord. I realised the reason I was being so impatient and snappy was because I simply don't have the headspace to remember how to be a gentle parent right now. There's a large part of my mind still desperately trying to grapple with the fact that my wonderful, active and apparently healthy aunt is gone from this world forever. I'm still deeply worried about the effect this is having on my relatives. Remembering all those tactics to stay calm and handle the challenges my spirited and independent girl will inevitably throw at me is just beyond me right now.

The trouble is, the only thing that will fix this is time. In time, I'll come to terms with what has happened. In time, those who were even closer to my aunt will adjust to life without her, although we will, of course, all miss her deeply and unendingly. But while that time passes, I need to carry on being a parent, and raising my daughter in the gentle way I believe is right for us. How I'll manage this, I don't quite know yet. But I know I need to be gentle with myself, too.

Thank you to those lovely mums who comforted me on Saturday night without even knowing why I was down, your kindness means a lot to me.


  1. So sorry to read this, and I'm not surprised grief affects your parenting, especially gentle parenting which takes so much patience. I know I've taken a low mood out on Bagl, and that's without grieving for someone I love. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Take care x

    1. Thank you. My reaction took me by surprise, I wanted so much to just keep my loved ones close and show them how much I love them, but instead I just became so short-tempered. It's getting easier now though and writing this post helped.