Overcoming Grief Starts with 3 Steps

Anne Keeton

Your relationship with your child began long before pregnancy or adoption: you envisioned what it would be like, you dreamed and you planned, imagining a healthy, smiling child who can easily navigate any challenges life may present. You didn't imagine a child with special needs.

As a parent of a child with special needs, whether ADHD or something else, it is natural to have conflicting feelings about it. These feelings are normal. You might feel optimism and pride on the one hand, but you might also feel frustration, confusion, and even guilt on the other.

In fact, conflicting feelings about a change in our expectations and plans is the very definition of grief.

Grief is a normal, natural, emotional response to the sudden shift of your earliest hopes and dreams for your child. In our society, we associate grief with death; but grief can be caused by many factors, including disappointment, abrupt change and the feeling that we have somehow veered off of an intended path.

Grief doesn't make you a bad parent, and it certainly doesn't mean that you don't love your child. It means that you are experiencing the same, typical emotions felt by many parents of special needs children.

Recovering from Grief

Recovering from grief is a skill set that anyone can learn, and it starts with three simple steps.

Step One: First, acknowledge your feelings of grief. What we know about grief is mostly unhealthy and unhelpful. Conventional wisdom such as “don't feel bad,” “give it time” and “be strong” does not resolve grief. Start by recognizing when you are grieving.

Step Two: Be willing to ask for help! You have to be responsible for yourself, your choices and your reactions, but that doesn't mean you have to shoulder the work by yourself. Dealing with grief begins with getting support, from individuals or groups.

Step Three: End the isolation, one of the symptoms of grief. Reach out and talk to your family, a counselor or coach, your minister, or someone who you trust to listen and help you take a proactive approach to overcoming your grief. Some coaches and therapists specialize in issues like ADHD, and Grief Recovery Specialists are trained to teach you the step-by-step method for moving beyond your grief.

You may have conflicting feelings in any choice you make as a parent, but remember that there is no perfect, permanent solution. As the parent of a child with ADHD, you will likely face setbacks in the future. But by learning to manage your grief, you can be better prepared to handle each unexpected situation as it arises.

It's time to stop asking if this is your fault, and stop waiting for things to get “fixed.” Grief Recovery allows you to let go of your original hopes and expectations, and replace them with new dreams. You can find solutions, get support … and ultimately be a better support for your child! A lot of times, your guilt or your fear can overshadow the needs of your child. Without your grief, you are better able to participate in your child's life, manage struggles and take satisfaction in your role as a parent.

In my experience dealing with a family member with ADHD, I consistently got frustrated and impatient, and it turned me into a person I didn't like. By going through Grief Recovery to deal with those emotions, I was able to resolve my feelings about what I thought things should be, or would be. It gave me the power to deal with each moment as it occurs, without facing a tidal wave of old emotions and old hurt. I can better navigate what continues to be a challenging relationship. I can genuinely love and appreciate my family member.

By resolving our grief, we let go of the child and life we expected … and embrace the child we have. By moving beyond our grief, we can take pride in our child's accomplishments, meet every challenge with courage, and experience the joy of being a parent.

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