Grief and Toddlers


I wish I didn’t have any experience with this topic, but I think in some sense, we all do. Everyone’s level of grief is different. Some of us have grief from hurts and hangups, while others have grief from loss and trauma. 

Grief is hard enough, but throw in a couple kids and it gets messy. How do you process your own feelings when the 9 month old doesn’t understand, “mommy is sad right now, so she needs some alone time.” Sorry mama, but that baby is hungry and only you can feed him. Or what about the 2 year old that just fell down and needs to be held.. she doesn’t understand, “sorry honey, but mommy is just going to lay in bed for a while. Get yourself a bandaid from the top shelf in the bathroom.” Kids are great, but they don’t understand the toll grief takes on a person. In some ways, I’m so grateful. In others, it makes grieving that much harder. 

Unfortunately, we’ve had our share of grief in the last few years. We’ve had to deal with tremendous loss from babies to grandpas. In each of these situations, we’ve had kids at home that needed us and their dependency on me didn’t stop. I’m thankful to have people that filled the gaps where they could, but while your world stops when you go through loss, the rest of the world doesn’t.

A few things I’ve learned about dealing with grief with toddlers at home:

  1. Accept help. If a friend offers to take your kids – let her. If someone offers a meal – take it. If someone comes over and starts folding your laundry while you sit on the kitchen floor, talking – let them. If someone asks how they can help – tell them what you need. 
  2. Give yourself grace. I don’t mean give yourself grace to order pizza instead of cook. I mean actual grace to stay in pjs and tell your husband, “I’ve got nothing. You’re in charge of dinner.” And do that for as long as you need. Yes, even if that means it lasts a week.. or 2.. or 5. Give yourself guilt-free grace to grieve and grieve well. 
  3. Give your kids grace. During our last loss, our kids basically raised themselves for about a week (eh, ok probably 2 weeks.) We were all in shock, processing, and busy with arrangements. Our kids ate way too much candy, stayed up until crazy hours, and honestly were just kept alive. But you know what, they survived and are fine. They even ate broccoli again this week. But with that, when the kids hit a wall, I had to remember that they had lived off sugar and tv for a week, so they needed grace as much as I did. 
  4. Throw out the timeline. For whatever reason, we have this weird timeline of grief in America. I think a lot of it is self-inflicted, but we feel like we only have a set amount of time that’s appropriate to grieve, and then it’s time to move on. Many other countries grieve intensely, for long periods of time. They wear black, wail, scream, and isolate. They run to the grief instead of from it. If you’ve ever experienced grief, you know this timeline we have is pure junk. You have no idea that you will walk into HEB and start to cry. You don’t expect that worship will bring you to your knees when you’re just trying to press into Jesus. And you don’t expect that after 2 good weeks, you’ll all the sudden have the worst day you’ve had in a while. And guess what.. those kids are still there, rocking and rolling like life is grand. So they sure don’t understand what’s happening. It’s ok. It’s normal. And it happens. And if you can get off this crazy made-up timeline, you can teach your kids what the cycle of grief is actually like.. which may not line up with the psychology books. It’s messy and ugly, but it’s part of life. 
  5. Press into Jesus. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how people experience grief without the hope of Heaven. Even with a firm faith and hope in Jesus, grief sucks. It’s hard, unfair, and gut-wrenching. But if you press into Jesus, you can use your grief as an invaluable teaching tool for your kids. They are watching how you handle your situation. Not to put pressure on you, but they are learning how to grieve from you. So while part of that is the messy part of grief, it can also be a part that directs them to Christ’s unconditional love and goodness, even in the midst of chaos. 

Our family is a little over 2 months out of our last big loss, and the hardest one to date. I wish I had more answers, but I don’t. But I do feel like these 5 things are daily running through my mind as our family learns to navigate this new reality we didn’t ask to be in. I want our kids to look back at this time with a deeper knowledge of how to grieve well, while holding onto hope.