The Five Stages of Parenting Grief

The Five Stages of Parenting Grief

Parenting. It’s fun, right? It’s okay; you don’t have to answer that. We all know your answer is no. Or it might be yes. It probably depends on the day, the ages of your children, and how much you’ve had to drink. It’s different for everyone. But in my extensive parenting travels (that’s right – I said extensive), I have noticed that while raising kids looks different for everyone, there is one thing that all parents have in common: The five stages of parenting grief.

You have probably heard of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is generally a process associated with mourning the loss of a loved one, like your grandma or dog or favorite pet rock. People go through each stage in different ways and times and don’t always go in the traditional order.  If you’re a parent, you are probably familiar with these stages, and if not, you will be. Not sure if you’ve dealt with each stage yet? See if any of these look familiar…

Denial:

Ah, denial. A personal favorite of mine. This stage is when you still have faith that all of your pre-parenthood dreams can come true. You think adorable thoughts like, “My child will never watch TV.” “I am going to make all of my own baby food.” “All I have to do is put my baby on a schedule and then I can work around their schedule and live life like I always have.” You might dream of a clean living room without a bunch of Little People scattered all over it and have visions of doing bath time with your children every night. You vow to never let relationships with any of your friends change, and you know babies are a lot of work but your baby won’t have blow-outs or spit up on you moments before you leave for church. It’s a sweet and precious stage, the denial stage. Remember these feelings of hope and confidence as you continue on your parenting journey.

Anger:

This one is probably visited most often in my house. You start to question your newborn baby about her motives – “Why did you spit up on me when you knew I was going out to dinner?! Why? ANSWER ME.” You become irrationally bitter toward cartoon characters because they somehow tricked you into breaking your no television vow, and they are also extremely annoying. Can you really not find which shape goes in the hole, Mickey Mouse? Or are you just being lazy and trying to get my kid to do all of your work? Considering you are licensed to operate a hot air balloon, I think we all know the answer to that one.
During this stage you will also start to talk to yourself. A lot. You might say you’re talking to your baby but he’s only six months old and you both know he can’t understand you. You hold those rassafrassin’ Little People in the highest contempt, furious at them for being, so, well, little, and purposely hiding themselves under your couch without the slightest regard for your plans to keep the living room tidy.

Bargaining:

Also known as the stage where you start making secret deals with infants, the bargaining stage is where the TV starts to come on a little more and the educational sign language books start to come out a little less. You haven’t given up hope for educating your children; you’ve just started to realize that the public school system is perfectly capable of doing so and in a few years your kid will be their problem. But you’re still determined to retain a little of your pre-parent life. So you promise your toddler that he can have a little extra ice cream if he agrees to eat it quietly so you and your BFF can talk about grown up things like how tired you are and if they know of a good under-eye cream. Sure, you swore that all desserts in your house would either be fruit or sugar-free, but this is a special occasion and you haven’t seen another adult in three weeks so everyone wins. What’s really important is that most of your goals have stayed intact and you can lie about the ones that haven’t.

Depression: 

Most parents reach this stage sometime between one and five in the morning as they sit on the couch with a child who is somehow both starving to death and too sleepy to eat. It hits you like a ton of poopy diapers – things are different now. Sure, your oldest child has had some fruit today, but you’re pretty sure the “real” fruit inside the snack pack with candy that’s shaped like a Flinstones character doesn’t exactly hold the same nutritional value as an apple. You did get to see a good friend for lunch last week, but your visit was full of trips to the changing table, removing the same dangerous item from your toddler’s hands fourteen times in a row, and several mutterings of “Just WAIT till we get home” as your precious angel flips a spoonful of yogurt at the server. You had a good time, but just the idea of venturing out to another restaurant before your kids are old enough to vote is exhausting. The Little People have now taken over your living room and demand that you bring them food and apple juice or suffer the consequences. You meant to give your kids a bath every day, but you might have skipped a day or two. Or three. Hey, as long as they don’t smell, it’s all copacetic, right? But they do smell. And people are starting to notice. At least you make your own baby food! And when you don’t forget about it and leave it in the freezer for six months, it’s a really cheap way to feed your child!

Acceptance:

Goodbye, other adults. Goodbye, balanced diet for children. Goodbye, carefully crafted infant schedule.

Hello, Dora the Explorer. What can we help you find today?

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