Teaching for almost seven years now has shown me that if I want children, especially my son, to learn something it ALWAYS starts with me. If I want them to learn to be kind, encouraging, to use their words, to express their feelings in a healthy way, to have a close relationship with the Lord, then I, the teacher and parent, need to be practicing all these things too. And if I am not practicing these things or wrestling with them then it is my responsibility to be asking the Lord why this is happening and to shed some light on why there is a disconnect.
Kids are like mini mirrors. For the most part, they reflect ourselves and what we pour into them. Their personalities can be completely different from ours but how they view the world and their self-image is molded by what they see modeled by their parents and people they look up to.
When it comes to grieving and mourning Ben and handling his death in a healthy way I realized that if I’m going to help my son grieve and mourn well I have to help myself FIRST. These are the top things I have been reflecting on when helping my son grieve and understand his life without a dad entails:
Continually Talking About Death: Adults have a hard time wrapping their minds around death even when they know the finality of it all. Young children’s brains are not fully developed and they need to repeat things over and over and over again to learn and remember things. So, constantly answering my son’s questions of his dad being dead is exhausting. In those moments I have to face the reality of Ben being dead, regulate my emotions, and help him navigate his. My son blurts out to people and strangers, “My dad died!”
What I Do: In each of those “My dad died!” moments I ask the Lord what is going on in my son’s heart and what I should do.I also ask for comfort for my own heart if it’s one of those moments I’m having a hard time talking about death that day. I want my son to be free to express what is true but I don’t want it to turn into something he does to get attention. Being able to take the continuous repetition of talking about death I have found that I need to be comfortable with it for myself. I have my own questions of death and my own struggles and being able to process that with safe people and the Lord helps me feel equipped in helping my son when he asks questions.
Letting My Son Experience the Emotional and Pain Of Not Having A Dad: Since Ezekiel was only 2-years-old when his dad died his brain could only take in so much. It’s been two years and Zeke is now 4-years-old. With age comes more emotional and mental capacity and that has been difficult to navigate this past year with him. He is now able to begin to see what not having a dad looks like compared to his friends. I remember him enjoying himself at his friend’s birthday party but when we got home he started crying and expressing how he wished his dad could have played with him at the party like all the other dads he saw.
What I Do: I broke down and cried with him. I answered his questions and prayed that God would comfort and be with us as we missed Ben in our living room. There is no getting away from how we felt. Watching and being with families that are not like ours is not easy but I know shutting ourselves out from the rest of the world is not good either. So, there is definitely a balance of retreating to have a break and needing to press into the pain and be with people because we still need community.But there is always a need to get comfort from the Lord in all those moments we are hit with missing Ben or having a hard time being around families that are not like ours.
Helping My Son Understand What He is Responsible For: Two things I want to be very clear with my son is 1) He is NOT the man in the house 2) He is not responsible for making me happy or my emotions.
What I Do: 1) My son is not the man of the house but he is responsible for HIS things and HIS room. He is responsible for things that concern him like grabbing his backpack when we leave for school, picking up his toys, and hanging up his shoes when he comes into the house. As he gets older he will get more chores and cleaning but for now he is responsible for his things and it is changed and regulated by me. There is a difference between him taking care of me and helping me. I don’t want my son thinking that now that his dad is gone he is responsible to take care of me. He can help me with the house or help me clean the dishes but I feel he needs to stay a child and stay in roles that are appropriate for a child to fill. 2) My son shouldn’t feel the need to take care of my emotions. He commented one day and said, “I am here to make you happy.” I corrected him and said,”Honey you bring me lots of happiness but it’s not your job to make me happy. If mommy is sad than mommy is responsible to find out or talk with the Lord or a friend about why I am not happy. And the same goes for your friends. Be funny and make your friends laugh but it’s not your job to make or keep people happy. You are responsible for yourself and your emotions and the choices you make.”
One thing I tell the kids that I work with is something I repeat to them on a daily basis, “You are responsible for yourself and controlling your own body. You cannot control other people or their choices.” That doesn’t mean we can’t remind people of things or give advice but ultimately it comes down to them actually taking or following that advice for themselves.
In order to help my son I have to help myself first. If I am going to help him understand or answer his questions about death then I need to be answering my own first. Although his questions are different from mine at times the process of being able to understand the problem is the same. Who or what I turn to when a problem or grief hits molds my son. And if he is mirroring me like a mirror then it’s my responsibility to reflect and mirror a heart that is abiding in the Lord.