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How to Grieve with a Toddler Around

The news came at 8:30 in the morning. My grandmother had died. This was two and a half hours after my 2-year-old son abruptly woke up with teething pain and three hours after his father had left the house early for work. I was already wiped out for the day and now I was suddenly consumed with grief. I wanted to let myself cry, but I knew I couldn’t. Because if I cried, my son would cry and then I’d have to soothe him, defeating the purpose of having a good old-fashioned cry for myself.

Toddlers are incredible emotional receptors. They’ll start crying if you do without even understanding why. If mommy is sad, the whole world is wrong and that makes toddler miserable. A miserable toddler is more work for mommy. So, how can a mother find some time for herself to grieve when she receives bad news amidst a busy day? Here are a few tricks I pulled out of my sleeve that day that will hopefully help you, too.

Flip on the television

Ladies, let’s get real: Screens are there for us to use when we need them. As much as we might hate plopping our kids in front of the television, there is a time and a place to do exactly that. I’m not talking all-day marathons of Daniel Tiger here, but an extra hour or two throughout the day won’t ruin your child’s life. Toddlers love following your every move (c’mon, you’ve seen enough of those Instagram mommy-in-the-bathroom-with-toddler shots) so if television is the only way you can get a few moments to yourself, do it. You’ll be a better mom if you’re able to get out that first wave of grief.

Pull out the pictures

Even if you just spend a couple of minutes doing so, pull out a few pictures of your departed loved one to share with your child. This will help you focus on a happy memory or two while sharing the memory with your little love. Even if your child is too young to fully understand, a simple point or smile will help to bridge your now with your then.

Take a social media break

You have enough to consume right now. Spare your brain and your emotions from the saturated fats on the Internet for a day or two. Any spare time or space you have belongs to you right now, not Facebook.

Get outside

Fresh air and exercise heal a multitude of pains, both physical and emotional. Besides, it’ll keep your baby busy and tire him out so he can hopefully nap, giving you the only time you might get to yourself before bed.

Have a cuddle

At this age most kids are great at hugging, cuddling, or simply sitting on your lap. The laundry can wait. Sit down and have a cuddle. You deserve it.

Give yourself permission to grieve

This is the hardest part. You’ve spent all day pushing through, but now your spouse or backup person is here to help and you can finally have some time to yourself. Wind down from the distractions you’ve embraced all day and give yourself permission to let it out. Cry. Dance. Shout. Go out to the diner for a big, fat piece of chocolate cake and sing your loved one’s favorite song as you drive home. Do what you need to do to let it out and let it go so that you can be the parent your child needs you to be. Because sometimes there’s no better way to honor your loved one’s passing than through fully and completely loving the ones they left behind.