“I want to have a relationship with my mom, because she’s my mom,” fourteen-year-old Haley told Ann, the counselor.
Haley’s mom didn’t have custodial rights to her daughter because of a mental illness that on occasion made it unsafe for Haley to be around her. Haley lived with her dad, who didn’t allow her to spend any time with her mother—he thought he was saving his daughter from an abusive relationship.
But having no relationship with her mom was a significant loss for Haley, a loss her dad hadn’t realized was so profound.
“I recognize my mom’s not safe for me,” Haley explained to Ann, “but this is a big loss. Yes, she has these mental health problems, but that’s not my full experience with my mother. The truth is, she’s not safe to be with for about ten minutes a week, but we just can’t predict when those ten minutes will be. Is there a way that you can help me have a relationship with my mom so I don’t have to lose her?”
Ann helped Haley and her dad come up with a plan. Since Haley and her mom—who was normally a loving, affectionate, and encouraging mother—enjoyed painting together, they decided that a weekly art session would work to keep the relationship intact. Then Ann taught Haley how to look for signs that her mom might be about to have a mental health episode. If that happened, she was to cut the visit short. Her father would drive Haley to her mom’s house but then wait for her in the car, ready to take her home at a moment’s notice.
Haley’s father hadn’t realized that his desire to protect his daughter had also created a deep loss for her.
As you can see from Haley’s story, loss comes in many shapes and sizes. But the storms of significant losses have one thing in common: they can rock your child’s boat. We need to help our kids deal with the shock and grief that follow in the wake of significant losses—the kind of losses that all of us, young and old, are likely to encounter at some point in our journey. As parents, we want to equip our kids with a boat that won’t capsize when the storms of life hit.