Why Can’t I Bond with My Kids After My Husband Died?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,
I lost my husband a little over six months ago now. I am only 30. He passed away suddenly from cancer and left me with three kids to raise on my own. I am struggling to want to bond with my kids. I know I should spend time with my kids, and I do make it a point to spend all my free time with my kids. I tend to get overwhelmed by them really quick, however. They are 8, 5, and 4. I know they are still struggling with the loss of their dad, too. I try to take "me time" too, but I feel bad when I do. I want to know why I am struggling so much to bond with my children. Am I scared that I am going to lose them too? Am I scared they are going to remind me of their father? Am I angry for being left alone with them? Why am I feeling this way? —Widowed
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Dear Widowed,

I am so sorry for your loss. You are understandably grieving. You’ve lost your partner unexpectedly, and if that weren’t enough to cope with, you are also trying to take care of your grieving children—who are likely trying to make sense of an incomprehensible situation. Of course you are struggling.

You get overwhelmed because your reserves of emotional energy are depleted. Having enough to give to three children is challenging in the best of circumstances. Finding ways to give under these circumstances requires superhuman strength. Additionally, if you are feeling bad about taking time for yourself, that “me time” people recommend isn’t replenishing you but rather adding guilty feelings to the mix. I’d be surprised if you weren’t struggling.

Feeling lost and disconnected and sad and angry are absolutely natural responses to all of this. Grief is complex.

You ask if you are afraid of losing your children or afraid they will bring painful memories of your husband. You also wonder if your anger is a factor. The answers are inside you, but based on what you’ve related, in all likelihood yes—to all of it, and probably more. Your world has changed swiftly and dramatically, and not by any choice of your own. Feeling lost and disconnected and sad and angry are absolutely natural responses to all of this. Grief is complex.

The stages of grief—denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance—do not necessarily flow smoothly or quickly. Many people move from one stage to another and back again as memories and feelings are triggered. There is no timeline for moving through your grief and integrating it. Time will help, but so will finding the right kind of support.

If you haven’t already started working with a therapist in your area, I recommend that you find one for yourself and for your children, either together or separately. Having a safe and supportive place to work through all the feelings that come with such a loss and major life transition can help you heal and find your way back to your children … and yourself.

Best of luck,
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 9 comments
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  • Dean

    Dean

    March 26th, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    Were you not bonded with them before his death or do you feel that his death has made it more difficult for you to be with them?
    Either way it is good that you are seeking out some help with this.

  • lowry

    lowry

    March 28th, 2016 at 3:23 PM

    your kids need you right now too
    they have lost a father and they are young and they are probably looking to you to figure out how they are supposed to deal with this loss.
    i am not saying that you should ignore what you are feeling because this needs to be addressed…
    but really, they are so young, they need you now more than ever

  • Karla

    Karla

    March 28th, 2016 at 5:03 PM

    This has been a terrible loss for your whole family. I would suspect that the loss of your husband made you very fearful of losing another loved one. Maybe that is why you find yourself pulling away from your children because you in some way think that not being as close to them will help you not feel that pain if indeed something happened to them and you lost them. I don’t know, I’m not trained, it’s just a thought that I had.

  • vern

    vern

    March 29th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    I lost my wife at a much later age than you lost your spouse but I do remember for a while feeling like there was nothing or no one who would fill that void for me again. I am thankful that I eventually learned that this was not true, but I understand those feelings of wanting to be alone because nothing feels like it could ever make up for what you had and are missing so much.

  • Christa

    Christa

    March 29th, 2016 at 4:02 PM

    I really believe that you and your family should get into therapy together. I think that this would probably be something that is beneficial to all of you.

  • Addie

    Addie

    March 30th, 2016 at 5:59 PM

    This is such a terrible thing to have happen but you have to sometimes put your own feelings aside and do what is best for the children. Think about how lonely and afraid they must be to know that they have lost one parent and then to probably feel like they are losing another. You don’t want to be the cause of even more sadness in their lives do you?

  • Maye

    Maye

    March 31st, 2016 at 12:00 PM

    You can’t go around beating yourself up about this and shame on those who feel that it is their job to do just that.

  • Noreen

    Noreen

    April 8th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    This is so heartbreaking for me because as a widow I know that I relied on my children while trying to recover from my husband’s death and they relied on me too. We worked together as a family, as a team, and we got through it. It was nice to know that there was someone else out there who was feeling the same things that I was feeling and was experiencing that same shared loss with me. It was a horribly sad time but I think that it brought me and my kids actually a little closer together.

  • flois

    flois

    April 23rd, 2016 at 3:46 PM

    For a while you are likely to have both good days and bad days, and eventually there will be far more good than bad, but you have to be patient to get to that point.

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