Parenting after child’s death a tough challenge: Study

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - A York University psychology professor has said that one of the tough challenges a parent faces when a child dies is to learn how to parent the surviving children, and the task begins immediately.

From the moment their child dies, parents are faced with the two extremes of loss and life - the suffocating loss of a child and the ongoing, daily demands from their surviving children, said Stephen Fleming, co-author of the recently-published book.

“The challenge that parents face is this: In the midst of grief, how do you stop parenting the deceased child while you are simultaneously struggling to meet the parenting needs of the children who remain?”

Fleming, a psychology professor in the Faculty of Health at York University, and co-author Jennifer Buckle, a professor at Memorial University, did the research for the book when Buckle was a graduate student at York. Their research is based on in-depth interviews with parents who had lost a child and had one or more surviving children.

They found bereaved parents do not “recover” from the loss. Instead, bereaved parenting is an act of regeneration - picking up the pieces in the face of the devastation, and regenerating both a sense of self, and a sense of the family.

“Dads tend to be instrumental grievers. They go back to work, commit to working for the family, and they tend to overcome the fear of putting their children out into an unsafe world, sooner than moms do,” said Fleming.

“Moms tend to be more intuitive grievers, more focused on internal feelings, and they have an almost paralyzing fear that if one child can die, another could die as well. So, often, moms are dragged back into parenting, by the surviving children.”

The study has been published in Parenting After the Death of a Child: A Practitioner’s Guide. (ANI)

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