They say becoming a mom changes you, but for anyone who hasn’t birthed, fostered or adopted a child, those words can’t even begin to encompass the experience. I’m not talking about the pain of childbirth or the endless diapers and plates of chicken nuggets. No, it’s so much more than that. Everything changes when you become a mom, and nothing anyone says can even hope to prepare you for it.
Even grief changes, in ways that I didn’t expect.
How does grief change when you become a mom?
1. It’s a Fact of Life
This is one of the hardest things to accept, especially when you’re young. The fact that you’re not actually immortal, that eventually your life will come to an end. Some of us experience a near-death experience that steals the illusion of immortality. Others come to the conclusion that they are, indeed, human after years of age and experience.
And some of us have children.
Being responsible for another life, especially something as small and helpless as a human child, changes your entire perspective. You can’t do the same stupid crap that you used to. You have someone else to be responsible for. I wasn’t the wildest and craziest person growing up. Okay, I’ll be honest — I was a bit of a square. I didn’t have that near-death experience to remind me that I, too, am mortal. What I had was the birth of my oldest child. Suddenly, I had to make sure that I was around for her.
Suddenly my life revolved around someone else and while you’re busy celebrating the birth and bringing a new life into the world, you start to think about death, how it’s a fact of life, and how it’s inescapable.
2. It Hits Harder
Another thing I’ve noticed is that after you have your first child, death hits harder than it used to. I can remember attending family member’s funerals growing up and even as a young adult. I’d be sad, but these events became a chance to hang out with family members that I usually only got to see on holidays.
Then I had my kids, and lost my mom. Suddenly everything hit like a ton of bricks. I found that there were times where I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t cook for three months and only ate when someone reminded me that it was necessary for survival. I took care of my kids, but I didn’t take care of myself.
Once you’re a parent, grief hits harder. Instead of a loss, it’s a bullet to the chest. That was something I never could have anticipated about becoming a mom. You feel everything more sharply, more acutely, and more brilliantly than you did before your little ones join the world.
3. You Hide Better
As a parent, when you experience grief, you also become an Oscar-worthy actor. You get really good at hiding how you’re feeling, even if you feel like a husk of a human being. I remember taking video a month after my mom passed away, laughing as my oldest ran like a crazy person in an inflatable human-sized hamster ball. I could smile and laugh and put on the masks for the kids, because they were supposed to see me as this immovable object. I was supposed to be SuperMom. I wasn’t supposed to break down and sob when I found a pickle-flavored lip gloss at the grocery store.
Hiding might seem like the perfect solution but make sure you’re taking time to grieve. I didn’t, for a long time. I’d bottle everything up and only let go when I was hiding in the shower or curled up in bed after everyone was asleep. You become an expert at swapping your masks at a moment’s notice.
4. You Start Accepting
A more positive thing that tends to happen when you have kids is that you start to accept your own mortality. You don’t look forward to it or anything, but instead of being afraid of it, you just start accepting it.
This isn’t a bad thing. Acceptance might be the fifth stage of grief, but to maintain your physical and mental health, we need to accept death as a part of life Believe it or not, accepting this inevitability will actually make you worry less. We don’t want things to end, but the fact that they do makes them that much more important.
5. You Get Proactive
Being a parent, especially if you’ve lost one or both of your parental figures, means that instead of letting grief or fear shut you down, it makes you proactive. By 2030, experts estimate that one out of every five Americans will be over the age of 65. More than ⅓ of millennials are already planning for caregiving and end of life care for their parents.
This isn’t an easy conversation to have but the last thing you want to do is leave your kids with a mess to clean up or an expensive funeral to finance. It makes you proactive. You set up life insurance and write a living will to ensure that your wishes are set in stone. You can even prepay for funeral services and a cremation or burial plot, locking in both your wishes and the current price for the service.
When you’re a parent, preparation and conversations about end-of-life care become proactive rather than morbid because it gives you the ability to control something otherwise uncontrollable, and allows you to ensure that your kids are taken care of, even in death.
Don’t Harden Your Heart
Don’t let grief, whether you’re a parent or not, harden your heart. Death is an inevitable part of life. It might take you a while to learn and accept this, like it did for me. Once you become a parent, it’s something that smacks you right in the face. Don’t shut it out. Use it. Grief tends to bring us together, creating more compassionate and loving individuals because as the old saying goes, you really never know what you have until it’s gone.