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When Children Lose a Mother

The objective of this article is to highlight the particular difficulties with losing a mother.

By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.

When Children Lose a Mother

Summary: The loss of either parent is traumatic for children. However, since mothers are more often the primary caretakers of children, such a loss can be particularly devastating. Children are more apt to lose their primary source of nurturing. Extended family is very important, as is working to establish as much continuity as possible for the family.

Recently, a widower came to see me. His wife had died tragically the year before and left him with their five-year -old son. He was desperate for help with the boy. The boy’s maternal grandparents had been close to their son-in-law during their daughter’s illness and after she died they stayed close and cared for the boy during the week while the father worked. Dad felt pressed to be “independent” and soon met and married a beautiful woman with three grown daughters. She knew “all about child raising”- he was doing it all wrong-spoiling the boy–and, by the way, those grandparents were taking up too much of everyone’s time–spoiling the boy more–needed to visit less–and when did this father have time for her? Therapy tried to strike some balance and talk about the “best interests of the child”–unfortunately, it was unsuccessful. The father left therapy and placed the boy in as much out of home care as possible. I was very sad.

When children lose a mother, it is very important to have as little change as possible. It is best to keep them at home in familiar surroundings, close to friends and other family members. The children should feel as little possible that their world is crumbling. It may be that boarding school gets considered later-generally not before teens. However , it is better to “go away” when the time is right than to feel “sent away.”

Then there is the difficulty of finding the right person to run the house, care for the children responsibly, and of course, provide a great deal of affection. Where do you find such a person if relatives can’t fill the void? Employment agencies may help, school authorities, church personnel, or your local pediatrician.

Some solo fathers of school-age children manage without hired help. A relative or older child takes charge after school and all the children help with housework. This can foster a real “community”. Fathers of preschoolers may put them in group day care, and hire an afternoon helper.

You can’t expect to find the perfect person or to completely rely on anyone. Try to be on hand as much as possible because no one can provide the love,warmth, and interest that a parent can. Encourage children to stay close to grandparents and other relatives through letters and visits. The sense of belonging to a “clan” of aunts, uncles, and cousins has special value for children.

When Children Lose a Mother


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