Well, after quite a few weeks, I'm back in the blogging saddle again. I must apologize for not keeping up with the weekly articles. We recently wrapped up our first training for the Sussex County Schools called Healing in the Elementary School Classroom. Much preparation and organization went into this initiative and it was quite successful. We had a total of 17 participants representing 14 schools in the county, so we were quite pleased for our first attempt. The participants were given a lot of information, but the main points were how to implement support groups in their schools and how to create crisis management plans and teams. If you are interested in getting more information on this workshop, please feel free to contact me at 1-800- 882-1117.
Now for a different getting back into the saddle. A lot of my ideas for my articles come from prevalent themes from issues I deal with in my work. In the last couple of weeks, I have had a few clients with issues of being ready to reinvest in life but their children are not on the same page. This can be a tricky road to navigate. To put the situation bluntly - a spouse has died, the surviving spouse is ready to start dating again, but the children do not like the idea (and that's putting it mildly).
We first have to go back to the "Variables of Grief." One of the variables is "personality style," - how a personality is typically, is how they will grieve typically. Since families are made up of different individuals and personalities, you can assume that you will have different grieving styles in the same house as well. This can be difficult as everyone will seem to be at a different stage of grief, or task of mourning. For example, the surviving parent is ready to reinvest in life (date again), but the children may not even have accepted the death of the parent yet, let alone be ready to reinvest in another parental relationship again. They typically interpret this as someone trying to take the place of the deceased parent, and become resentful and angry.
We also have the variable of "age" - what developmental stage are the children? Do they understand the finality of their parent's death? They may not accept a new parent if they believe the deceased parent is going to come back one day. Or if they are a little older, they may understand that death is final, but don't quite understand how death works. They just know that death can take someone they love, someone who provides for them and keeps them safe. How can they risk loving anyone else (reinvesting), when death can take anyone at any time? It's much safer to not love anyone or depend on anyone, that way it won't hurt so much if someone does die again. Another aspect of the reinvestment stage, is if the surviving parent begins dating someone who has children themselves. So now the children may be worrying about having to love (reinvest) new sisters and brothers, or worry about the new siblings taking some of their parent's attention away. If your child is an adolescent, they may be struggling to gain their own independence. They will most likely resent any new parent coming in to take the place of their deceased parent. They will resent any new authority figure imposing new family rules and guidelines. They will also feel protective of the deceased parent and will often remind the new parent that they are not their biological parent. They can even become protective of the surviving parent and no one will ever be good enough for that parent, in their teens' eyes.
So, what do you do if you are a surviving parent and you wish to start dating again? It has been my experience that most families do not handle this situation well. I don't mean to be discouraging, but simply honest. If you are a surviving parent and are interested in dating again, you have to know this, and be prepared. Regardless of the age of your children, I would not introduce new people into their lives, unless you are serious about the new person. If you decide to introduce a new person into their lives, always be honest and age appropriate with the information that you provide. Reassure them that the new person is not taking the place of the deceased parent. Reassure them that you love them just as much as you always have. Reassure them that their safety and security will not be taken away as a result of this new person coming into their lives. Reassure them that you will still be there for them.
Get it? Reassurance! Do it over and over again. Let them know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they might have about this new person. Listen to them! Reassure them! If you get back in that saddle again, it may well be a bumpy ride. By being prepared ahead of time and anticipating trouble spots, you can smooth out a lot of those bumps.
Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.
P.S. If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center. We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community. As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.