A Parenting Moment I Hoped Would Come Later

“She’s talking about her teacher.”

That was a text I sent to my husband, while he was at work. To the outsider, it’s a seemingly innocuous text, one to which you’d expect an “ok…?” response. But to my husband and I, it was full of meaning. I needed him to share the burden of whatever conversation with my four-year-old might follow. I needed him to know the weight I felt, even if he couldn’t be with us in person right then. I needed his prayers as I navigated a conversation I didn’t know I’d be having with my kids so early.

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s preschool teacher died unexpectedly, after a sudden illness. Only a week prior, my grandmother had died. In the span of two weeks, my daughter attended two funerals, totaling three she’s attended in her short life. She’s attended more funerals in her four years than I had in twenty-two years. I had no idea how to talk to my toddlers about death and I had kind of hoped I wouldn’t have to for a while. But the Lord had other plans, and I trust that His timing is perfect. So, here we are.

A First for Everything

Of course, I knew we would have to talk to our kids about death eventually. In fact, my daughter started asking questions about death long before anyone she knew had died. For what reason, I’m still not sure. The last time we saw my grandmother, she demonstrated some startling intuition when she asked me if “Memaw” would have any more birthdays. It’s like she already understood that her Memaw’s days might be numbered. We only saw my grandma a few times a year, and my kids loved her so much. I just don’t know if they truly grasped the significance of her death.

Though it doesn’t minimize the significance and impact of my grandmother’s death, the death of her teacher was different where my daughter is concerned. She spent hours with her teacher, four days a week. A vibrant, joyful lady, she was always waiting for the kids in carpool with a hug and “I love you.” She loaded them in the car at the end of the day in the same way. My daughter loves preschool. She loved her teacher.

It’s hard to know how to handle this kind of situation with a toddler. We’ve had a lot of firsts with our kids, but this first experience with true grief was one that I had hoped would come later. Yet, the Lord orders our steps and this “first” came neither too soon nor too late. If this is true—and I believe it is—then as her parents, we must steward this opportunity to walk with her through a hard situation. This is the first true trial she’s been through, but it certainly won’t be the last.

A Privilege to Steward

Parenting, in all its joys and challenges, is a privilege. It’s a joyful privilege to experience all kinds of firsts with our kids—the first laughs, the first words, the first steps, the first days of school. It’s also a privilege, albeit a weighty one, to walk with our kids through the more difficult firsts, like their first true sadness.

I was reminded of an article I read a couple of years ago, called “Much Will Be Required” by Tim Challies. Speaking of stewarding even suffering and trials for God’s glory, he wrote,

And so as we encounter times of pain and illness, times of sorrow and loss, times of poverty and want, we should not merely ask, “How can I endure this?” or “How can I get out from under this?”, though certainly those questions may be appropriate. We should also ask, “How can I steward this? What is my duty in this? What does God mean to accomplish through this?”

My own grief over my grandmother and the grief I feel for my daughter’s loss has ebbed and flowed over the last few weeks, but Challies’s questions are ones I seek to answer for both of us. I believe that it’s important to handle hard things with my kids now, while the stakes are still fairly low. As they grow and encounter increasingly greater challenges, I hope that how I stewarded hard conversations, circumstances, and tragedies in toddlerhood will build a foundation of trust with these things as they get older (though I know I can’t guarantee it). As a mom, it’s my responsibility to model for my kids how to grieve well, how to steward trials through faith and trust in the Lord, who ordains all things for His glory and our good.

A Grace for Each Day

Knowing how my own flesh desires to run at the first sign of discomfort, I so feel the weight of this responsibility. Grief is uncomfortable. I just want to push it aside and carry on about my days. Unfortunately, I just can’t run from it and must deal with it healthily for my own sake and now, for the two tiny humans the Lord has entrusted to me. Whether I realize it or not, they watch my every move.

I felt the burden of my own grief and at the same time, was trying to help my kids navigate their first true experience with death. It was through this that I was reminded that Christ does not require me to carry that burden alone. Somewhat ironically, this reminder came partially through my own writing. Just a few days before my grandma died, I wrote about the evidences of God’s grace that show up daily, even in difficult seasons. I had no idea that some difficult weeks were just around the corner for us.

February was a heavy month, but it was also an opportunity to experience His kindness and compassion in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise. Christ sustains me through each day and night and gives me rest. Not only that, but He loves my kids perfectly and is sustaining them, too. I am not sufficient for them, but He is. Each day holds an opportunity to point them to Christ’s love for them, demonstrated on the cross and in His resurrection.

As we come out of the fog of the last month, I am reminded that ultimately, the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). I am a person of hope. It is my responsibility and privilege to proclaim this hope to my kids in my words and actions. I pray every day that my kids become people of hope, too.