Dear Amy: I am (now) a single dad of three teens, ages 13, 14 and 16. Their mom died suddenly last winter.
On the surface, the kids seem to be handling it. They tell me they are all right, but I feel they are trying to protect me because whenever I try to talk to them about their mother, I break down.
Should I continue to press the issue or leave it alone? Am I doing them harm by showing my emotions?
— Shattered Dad
Dear Shattered: Even though it can be shocking for a child to see a parent break down, what you are actually demonstrating is that it is OK to cry, certainly when you have something very real and potent to cry about. However, it's also important for your kids to see you start to heal.
Each member of your family will express this loss differently. One child might shut down, while another would get anxious, angry or simply want to flee. Deal with your children individually to gain insight about how each is doing — through everyday activities — not always prompting them to discuss this heavy and painful topic.
You need to be gentle with yourself and your loved ones, to get help when you need it, and to have compassionate and caring people in your corner. If possible, attend a grief-support group with your kids (your local hospital or hospice center can connect you with local resources). If you can't persuade your children to participate, attend these sessions (or private sessions with a therapist) on your own. You will also be demonstrating to your children the utility of seeking outside help when they need it.
The best part about displaying your authentic feelings in front of your children is that, through time, they will see you start to recover. They will be part of this process and if you huddle and muddle through this more or less together, your family relationship could strengthen in positive ways.
A book you should have at your house is "The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends," by Helen Fitzgerald (2000, Touchstone).
Dear Amy: Like "Had Enough's" daughter, I invited my mother to my fourth wedding. My mother did not attend, assuming it would not survive (just as the others hadn't).
In a few days, my husband and I will celebrate 25 happy years of marriage. No one knows which marriage will stick. It's best not to set up hostility at the start of what could be her daughter's "good one."
— Happily Married at Last
Dear At Last: For you, the fourth time is the charm. Congrats!
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