- Mental Health
Life without parents- How to cope?
As I think about the topic of "life without parents - how to cope", it is soberingly clear that there is not a simple "how-to" formula.
Factors that make a difference are the age of the person who is without parents, the reason that person is without parents, whether the person is still grieving the death of one or both parents, and the kind of relationship the person had, if any, with parents at one time.
When someone has had a great relationship and good parents losing them presents its own type of loss. On the other hand, people who have never had parents in their life have a different sense of loss.
My father died when I was 21 years old. That was an absolute shock that felt like a giant kick in the head. I was very aware that he would never get to know me as an adult and never get to see my children. Although, of course, we always move on after loss, I always felt short-changed to have lost him so young. (I was more than aware that many other people lost parents a lot younger than I was when he died, but that didn't alter my feeling short-changed.)
I had my mother until I was about 40. On the one hand, I was a little more prepared to lose her. On the other, getting used to not having her in my life may have been more difficult. After all, I had a much longer time with her in my life.
Even though I was good and mature when my mother passed away, since then I have had - somewhere in the back of my mind - the running thought that I no longer have either parent. As people do, I have gone on with my life. Still, I have to say that - on the whole - there is just a hint of sadness now that wasn't there before both of my parents died, and back when the world didn't seem a little bit broken.
While I guess I'm used to it at this point, I have to say that the way I coped after first losing each of my parents was to try not to think about them.
What about someone younger than I was? How are they to cope without parents? Over the course of my adult life I've had occasion to know several young people who faced the world without having their parents in their lives.
Some, more than others, felt enough of need for a mother figure or a father figure that they would seek out a caring adult, who could then offer some of the things a good parent offers. Surprisingly larger numbers of young people find themselves without parents in their lives for some reason. The world is full of people who have, however, found those "fill-in" adults they come to think of as parents. Sometimes an aunt or a grandparent will step in and act as parents.
Children and young teens, of course, really need someone who loves them enough to watch out for them. Older teens benefit from having a parent or two they're close to, and who offers support and guidance. Again, sometimes an aunt or grandparent can try to act as a parent. Sometimes young children are placed in foster homes in the hopes of offering them fill-in parents who will be good parents. Of course, not all foster parents are wonderful parents (many are), but children need to let their social workers know when something isn't right.
The truth is, whether we're four, fourteen, or over forty, it doesn't feel good not to have loving parents in our lives. For someone over forty, of course, there is not the issue of needing to mature. People who are grown up can live without parents. As I learned through the loss of my parents, losing a parent when one is mature feels a lot less short-changed than losing one when one is still just twenty-one. I also learned (as many other people must learn as well), that someone in his late teens or early twenties really can live without a parent. It isn't ideal, but people this age have their whole lives ahead of them, and they're just beginning to build those lives. Focusing on the building one's own life, and keeping in mind that the world is full of people who don't have ideal family situations, may be the best way for people this age to cope.
Young teens may find not having parents particularly difficult, because life for young teens is full of upheaval anyway. There's a whole lot about life at this age with which young people can be dissatisfied (or downright miserable), and not at least feeling grounded enough by having parents can be particularly difficult. People of this age really do need to have some caring adult (or several in the family) to try to "be there" for them. People this age who feel they have no "fill-in" parent should really talk to a school counselor about the situation. Sometimes there are ways to remedy the situation. At other times, a counselor may at least be able to offer support and tips for coping with a difficult situation. As with older teens and young adults, teens this age may find it helps to focus on what they want to do with their own lives, and to work toward achieving their own goals.
Since children younger than early teens are not likely to reading Hubpages I will not address the special needs of children this young.
With any negative situation in life it can help to keep in mind that most lives are not perfect. Some young people have their parents, but one or both of them is abusive or a substance abuser. People who do have very close relationships with parents can suffer more grief when they lose them. People who are young when they must face life without parents usually grow up a little faster in some ways. At the same time, people without parents may feel they have "been chosen" for unfair treatment. Trying to put the situation into perspective, and saying, "I will not let this take more from me than it already has" can help.
It is always important to focus on what you have, rather than what you don't have - and may never have. If you're young you have your whole future ahead of you. There are no words to express the vast possibilities that exist for each and every young person, provided that young person wants to find them. If you had good parents once but lost them keep in mind how fortunate you are to have had them once, and remember that you brought them joy. If you have never had parents in your life keep in mind that - whether it is ideal or not - each and every one of us is an individual and can live without parents if necessary.
If the situation of not having parents is fairly recent, tell yourself not to think about it for now. You can "process" it all later, when the loss is not so new. For now, get through the days by finding positive things to think about and by being with people who can make you laugh. (If you can't be around people who will make you laugh at least watch plenty of sitcoms that will make you laugh. Laughter helps nurture the soul, and it's far more important than many people realize.)
Speaking of nurturing the soul: Find things that are beautiful in life. This may sound shallow, but making sure you have beauty in your life nurtures the soul. That can be beautiful music, creating art, decorating a room, or enjoying a great Spring morning. The smaller pleasures in life can add up and help nurture the soul enough so that coping feels a little easier.
The thing about wondering how we will cope is this: There are times in life when we can't imagine how we will cope, or how we will get through a certain period of time; and somehow we just do. That's the thing about us, people. We're stronger than we tend to think we are.
Maybe, too, it can help to keep in mind that even people who have their parents in their life will one day, most likely, face life without them. I know there's a big difference between not having parents at forty or sixty and not having them at eight or seventeen. Still, the reality is that from the day we are born our journey is ours, alone. It isn't easy or nice to be without parents for the earlier part of that journey; but those of us who had our good parents when we were young can tell you that the job of parents is to help their children be independent enough to make the journey alone.
Finally, I don't know if anything I've said is of any help, or whether this will be, but keep in mind that none of us have been plucked from a cabbage patch. We all have parents. We are all the same in the way. Whether or not we have had good parents, or whether we have had our parents for a long enough time, are all a matter of individual situations.
Those times when a person is feeling as if other people have what s/he does not have, maybe it can help to keep in mind that not having parents in one's life does not mean not having any parents. Our parents' story - happy or tragic - is part of our story. It may not be possible to have our parents in our lives, but that doesn't mean that our parents' genes, story, and legacy are not ours. Maybe remembering this can help too.
On Grief and Loss
Sally - One Other Thing About "Tainted"
After I finished with my long response, above, I recalled your use of the word, "tainted". I don't know if I'm interpreting your use of it correctly or not; but it occurs to me that, in a way, that may be what was behind my choice not to "bother" having a big wedding after I'd lost my father. I didn't get married until six years after losing him, but I did kind of think, "Well, my whole family is wrecked. Why bother trying to have a 'normal' wedding if he isn't going to be there?" Ironically, perhaps, my mother did the opposite. Her mother died one week before my mother's wedding was planned. She wasn't planning a big wedding anyway, but she said she just thought, "Well, why should we cancel getting married as we planned?" (Her mother had been sick for a long time, so it wasn't like my grandmother's passing was a big shock or something nobody had "factored in".)
So, oddly, maybe, with a mother who had died a week before the wedding; my mother chose to go ahead with her plans. I, on the other hand, decided not to go with that big wedding years after losing my father. I think what the thing may have been was that my mother was in such grief she made her choice to go with that chance to do something that might be a source of joy and a new life as a result of that. I, on the other hand, was feeling the "after-effects" on my life, rather than the acute grief. My sister was born nine months after my mother got married, and started a whole new phase of life for my mother. (More aiming for the happiness, rather than letting sadness take more from her than it already had.)
I do wonder if you just feel like your "whole life" has already been broken so "why bother". It's something to think about, maybe. The thing is, though, people bring children into the world (or adopt them into families) all the time without grandparents or aunts and uncles. I never knew my grandmothers, and I just took it for granted. It was all I knew. Maybe when I was in my twenties (after losing both my father and my best friend within months, around 21), I DID feel that my life was broken.
By the time I got married at 27, I did feel like my "parent picture" was broken, as far as considering a big wedding went. I didn't, though, feel like my whole life was broken. Because I had come from such close, loving, parents (and extended family) ; I felt that my life was more than whole. It was "just that not everyone is still here any longer". I guess I felt that all the love I had to give to children had been given to me by my two parents. It was their legacy - and legacies are left by people who are no longer here. When I adopted my eldest son I left his first name as his birth mother had named him. I shortened it because it didn't match our family's ethnicity, and I didn't want him to feel "different" from us. Naturally, he got my husbands name as his last name. I got to give him (my first son) my father's name as his middle name. I saw his whole name as a way of tying together his birth, his mother and father (me and my husband), and the grandfather he'd never get to know (but who was at least half responsible for my being able to be the kind of parent I knew I could be). My son (who didn't share my genes) would, in his own way, be my father's legacy too. Later I'd go on to have another son and a daughter - all beautiful legacies of the two parents responsible for my ability to love and respect these beautiful little people.
I guess my point is that we, and our families, aren't "broken" just because everyone isn't here any longer. There's a whole lot more to families, wholeness, and selves than who passes away before whoever else.
For whatever all these words I've written on all the Hubs (and other stuff) I've written are worth; my mother and father are in each and every one of these words. When I'm no longer hear, maybe my future grandchildren will one day read some of the what I've written; and they will become a part of my parents' legacy, as well as my own.
We may feel "tainted" or broken after losing parents; but - once the grief is processed and over - we can realize that we're not broken because our parents no longer here. Instead, we can find that we are all the more whole because they once were.