Parenting your grieving child, #3: Q&A with the founder of Rainbows, grief support for children

Most of my mission online consists of peer support: helping widowed people connect with each other, share stories, and find validation and new friendships. Last summer, as part of an extremely active conversation on my Facebook page, it became clear that widowed people with kids at home wanted more: you asked me for the comfort of an authority on what to expect in your grieving children as they grow. I posted a quick signup and got more than 100 widowed parents showing their interest!

This series is the first outcome of your requests. I asked my friend, Suzy Yehl Marta, founder of Rainbows For All Children (LINK), to answer your real questions. Suzy is the author of “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope.” Suzy has been working with grieving children for nearly 30 years. Rainbows has programs for children and teens, ages 3 to 18, in all 50 states and many international sites. Find a program near you by calling 1-800-266-3206.

This is the third of four posts by Suzy – one for each Tuesday in October. Questions were selected from those submitted by widowed parents on my Widowed Village page on Facebook. You can “like” that page at right, and ask your own question here. You can read the first post in the series here and the second one here.

Please see my note at the bottom of the post for details on how you can take a minute or two this month to “vote” online and gain financial support for Rainbows.

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At what point do you insist on making your child attend grief counseling? I never pushed it with my 18 year old and now am wondering if I am doing him a disservice by not giving him a safe place to express his concerns about our new family structure and his feelings about losing his ather. (Both he and my 14 year old son watched their father die of cancer 2.5 years ago).

I worry about their ability to form healthy relationships as adults now that they do not have a consistent male role model in their lives. I have no family where I live and my husband's family is absent. I am currently dating someone who has long-term potential but don't want to make this man feel obligated to help my sons. Suggestions?

This is a tough question because grief is a normal, natural way to process the death of a loved one. The death of a loved one impacts each family member differently. If the death was a homicide or suicide, other painful concerns and responses surface compared to the death of an elderly grandmother who was 90. Other factors that influence how a child is able to process the death is the age of the child, the family’s ability to talk together about the death and their individual feelings surrounding it, and the type of relationship to the deceased the child had. Most people do not need grief counseling, but rather need to learn more about grief and have the emotional support that enables them to grieve at their own pace, in their own way.

Grief counseling can be helpful but the best is if your sons and you to talk as a family on regular basis about the loss and actually take a “pulse” of how your sons are doing. Secondly, getting your sons enrolled in a grief support group with kids their age who have had a loved one die allows them an emotional safety to feel “ordinary”…their companions on the bumpy journey of grief. This support group needs to be led by a trained adult facilitator. Many communities offer such opportunities, as well as Rainbows for All Children, Inc which has programs in schools, churches, synagogues and agencies across the country.

You are wise to be aware that your sons need male role models/ mentors. As a single parent of sons, I sought out male mentors. The obvious ones were my Dad and brother, and you don’t have these options, I also enrolled my sons in sports (coaches), scouting (pack leaders) and asked husbands of friends to help me with teaching them things about being a man. Things from tying a necktie or shaking hands with a solid grip. Another great resource is Big Brothers. And lastly, I invited the school to be a partner with me… keeping me aware of needs or concerns that might arise that the teacher or social worker are observing. While your 18 year old is either out school or heading for college, your 14 year old has years left in high school.

I pushed myself to learn about the various sports and other interests of my sons. All three were so different which added variety to our family life and conversations. I learned over time while I could not fix their bikes or teach them how to pitch a ball, what sons need is a good role model of unconditional love, integrity, humor, consistency of values and expectations, as well as dependability.

You are prudent to not expect the man you are dating to be pressured into taking on this role. First, your sons may very well resent him for assuming the role of Dad or male mentor because he is not their Dad. This needs to develop naturally over time. Just having him around your sons and including him in family activities is a huge step. You did not mention if your friend has kids and if so, this may add more challenges -- and more opportunities -- to the situation.

Read the other posts in this series:
October 5, #1
October 11, #2
Or ask your own question.

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Please help support Rainbows programs!
Rainbows For All Children is participating in the Pepsi Refresh campaign. From Oct. 1 to 31, log on to the Pepsi Refresh web site and vote for Rainbows every day. And please help spread the word! With $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project, Rainbows will:
  • Provide emotional support to 2,500 youth through 100 new sites nationwide
  • Help children and youth strengthen problem-solving and coping skills
  • Improve communication in their families and peer relationships
  • Prevent destructive behaviors including violence and substance abuse.

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