Preparing children for parent death
Jane responds to a parent's concern for her children when she dies: "I try to prepare them for my eventual loss, but I don't know if it can be done."
With this in mind, there ARE some things that I think that we all, as adoptive parents, should do-- regardless of WHAT our age is. Our children WILL need us on many levels and it is our job to leave something behind lest the unthinkable occur and we (or a spouse/partner) should die.
Here are some ideas:
1) Keep a journal even if you are not faithful about writing daily or even weekly. This is a gift we can leave for our children-- for it is a glimpse into our mind, hearts, and souls.
2) Write letters to your children-- at various touchpoints that will come in their lives: when they graduate from high school, graduation from college or a trade school, when they marry or commit to a partner, when they have their own first child, when you die and they are grappling with how to make peace with the loss of their mom or dad, when they get their first real job, etc..
3) Write a Grandma or Grandpa letter-- a letter to your grandchildren to be kept with your will in the event that you die.
4) Purchase or make a special gift for your sons and daughters for those occasions when you might not be there to celebrate a special event: a graduation, wedding, birth of a child.
5) Talk with your son or daughter about those items you want them to have and keep after your death-- what those things have meant to you and why you wont them to have them to remember you by, and to pass on to their own children.
6) Make videotapes not only of your children, but of you. Make one that they can view that tells of your hopes and dreams and unconditional love for them-- and what you hope that they have learned from you that will serve them in the future.
7) Designate someone to step in to substitute for you in the event of your death-- a woman or man whom your child likes and respects; who, in return, can and will make a permanent investment in your child. Talk with that person about the things you hope he or she would say to help guide your child, and those things they can and should say so that your child will still feel your guidance in their life.
8) Put yourself in your child's dreams. Talk about dreams-- how we can be with or hear someone in our dreams when they are not present in our lives. Talk about how we can turn to our dreams and try to plan TO dream so that we can feel someone's presence in our lives when we miss them or need them to be with us.
9) We have a family tradition that we borrowed from a Native American (New Mexican Acoma) tribe. When we sweep up our floors or carpets, we always leave a little dirt behind the door-- we don't sweep that out. We do this because we want to keep the footsteps of those who have walked in that earth in order to keep them with us in spirit. (we also have brought some Korean soil and Chinese soil home with us and sprinkled it behind the door-- so our kids can walk in their native soil-- the soil of their ancestors). We talk about this occasionally-- reminding them of all those they have known and loved who have walked through those doors and whose presence is still with us and that OUR spirits will always remain with each of them no matter what-- even after we die.
10) Explore the topic of death with your children. We can better handle that which we have faced together directly. We also read an occasional book about death and dying.
11) The death of a pet is a Teachable Moment-- an opportunity to grieve together and come through the tragedy with those we love. Loss is universal-- none of us gets to escape losing those we love. Talk about ways that being interconnected helps. Help your child recognize and claim his or her coping skills. Help your child see that while grieving is so very hard, feelings DO lessen and what is left are the sweet memories and the gains of having had that pet in one's life-- not just the wrenching sadness.
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Jane Brown is both an adoption social worker/educator and an adoptive & foster mother of nine children, some of whom are now grown. She lives and works in Arizona. She serves on the editorial board of Adoptive Families Magazine and writes a regular parenting column for the publication. She is the creator of Adoptive Playshops which is a series of workshops for adopted children age five+, their non-adopted siblings, and adoptive parents in which children are helped through playful, multisensory activities to explore growing up in an adoptive family and racial identity, plus develop skills for dealing with societal attitudes and beliefs about adoption and includes helping children resist and confront racism and bullying. She can be reached at: email@example.com or at: (602) 690-5338.