Carolyn Hax: Helping mom and daughter, 4, through a loss

Carolyn Hax
Columnist December 15, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am recovering from my second miscarriage in a year. My surgery was earlier this week. I am still feeling shell-shocked and sort of exhausted, my conversations with people feel like out-of-body experiences. I have very little energy to work (I have a job outside the home).

I have a 4-year-old and am trying to figure out what is worse for her — my going upstairs to lie down and hide when I get home (I am still on pain meds), or play with her and risk bursting into tears? I am terrified that I am causing her emotional harm through my very shaky abilities to control my own.

Damaging My Daughter?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

I’m so sorry.

As long as your 4-year-old is in loving hands in your absence, it’s not going to cause her emotional harm for you to take the time you need to recover.

Kids from the youngest ages are exposed to the ebbs and flows of life for many reasons we can’t control, and so it’s helpful to keep that in mind when we’re looking at decisions we can control. Your decision between trying to rally or going upstairs to lie down is one of those, and since it’s a choice, you can arrange a lot of the variables to be in your daughter’s favor: good care in your absence, kind words when you’re present, and age-appropriate explanation that you’re not feeling well right now but you’re going to take good care of yourself and you will get better. She can actually grow from this experience, even while missing you.

Re: Damaging Daughter

When I was about 4, my mother suffered a miscarriage that kept her in the hospital for days. I don’t remember much of that time, except that when she came back home, her sister was with her and us a lot. I emptied the dishwasher for her (except for the sharp knives), and she hugged me. That’s really all I remember. I believe that she lay down a lot.

Whatever you do, your daughter will be okay. She knows you’ve been sick, so she knows something’s wrong, even if she doesn’t understand it. If possible, have other people around to help keep the kids occupied.

Anonymous

This got me all choked up. Thanks.

Re: Damaging Daughter?

There’s a column from some time ago about a similar situation, where it was pointed out by others who had been there that letting the child “help” was healing for both. The child was a little older — 7, I think — and so could bring drinks and such, but a 4-year-old can understand that playing by herself quietly helps when Mommy needs to rest, bring pillows, help pick up, etc.

Anonymous 2

Yes, thank you, I had been thinking of that letter myself.

Obviously there’s a risk of over-explaining, and over-relying on kids to help, but I also hear often from people who recount the painful childhood experience of being told absolutely nothing when the family was clearly in distress.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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