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February 20, 2024

April 19, 2023

Overcoming Grief as Our Children Age: The Value of Acceptance and How to Be More Present

E:
169
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist

What You'll Learn

  • Why Presence Matters as a Mom
  • Why We Grieve As Our Children Grow Up
  • How to Be More Present as a Mom
  • Why Rediscovering Ourselves Is Important
  • Radical Acceptance and Overcoming the Grief of Our Children Aging
  • The Importance of Acceptance on Our Motherhood Journey
  • How Our Values Can Help Us Find Our Own Path in Motherhood

Between to-do lists, the mental load, and conflicting emotions, it can be very hard to know how to be more present as a mom. But it isn’t just worries about the future that keep us from being present—we also often find ourselves looking back on old memories and grieving as our children age, unsure of how to rediscover ourselves. 

Today, I’m joined by marriage and family therapist Bryana Kappadakunnel, founder of Conscious Mommy, to unpack why we grieve as our children get older and how to be more present as a mom. 

What Motherhood Was “Supposed” to Be

I never felt a drive to be a mom. It wasn’t something I sat around thinking of or imagining. Eventually, when I met my husband and got married, we decided it was the next step for us. But even then, I did not imagine having three boys. 

In many ways, becoming a mom has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. But in other ways, it left me feeling overwhelmed, isolated, lost, and unsure of who I was. 

Was I the career woman I had been before? Or was I only a mom? Was I someone who wanted to sit and play with my kids? Or was I meant for more than just this role?

It became difficult early on to stay present. I was consumed with those questions, along with new tasks, responsibilities, and struggles. I grieved my old life while spending each day looking forward to the moment I could finally go to bed. Sometimes it felt like I was missing out on what motherhood was “supposed” to be. 

I had to work very hard to train myself on how to stay present—something that, as a mom with ADHD, I still actively struggle with on a regular basis. 

And as my boys have gotten older, in some ways it has gotten easier, but now I find myself drifting back to baby memories or wondering what it might be like to have a little girl. And while I am happy and confident in my decision to not have more children, there’s still real grief there. 

As our children grow older, many of us experience this nostalgic-filled uncertainty or grief, whether we’re unable to have more children or we’ve decided to not grow our family anymore. 

But in our grief, we often struggle to stay present and connected with what we’re experiencing in the moment. 

I was excited to sit down with Bryana and talk about why we experience that grief and how staying present can help us move through it.  

Why Presence Matters as a Mom

Many moms want to be more present with their children, connecting more, sharing more quality time, and focusing more on them. But it can be very difficult to do that, especially in a society that does not put mom on the priority list. 

Bryanna believes in the importance of moms taking care of themselves. She pointed out that when we can make space for ourselves, we free up the capacity to actually connect with our children in the way we want to.

When we can make space for ourselves, we free up the capacity to actually connect with our children in the way we want to. 

She said that while there is no recipe for how to be a perfect parent, there are principles we can live by to help ourselves, which in turn helps our children—show up, be honest, be present, and be curious. 

The presence piece is so important. We often find ourselves lost in the future, worrying about all the things we need to do or how our children will turn out later in life. Other times, we find ourselves focused on the past, regretting choices we made or missing a previous stage of our children’s lives. 

Both of those tendencies are understandable, but they often keep us from enjoying the moments we have now with our children. 

Staying grounded in the moment can help us let go of the pressure, the expectations, and the ideals, carve out our own paths as moms, and connect with our children in the present. 

Why We Grieve As Our Children Grow Up

As Bryanna and I talked about the grief that often comes up for moms as their children age, she pointed out that we often feel ambivalent about the decision to have more kids—even if it’s the decision we are happiest with. 

We often feel ambivalent about the decision to have more kids—even if it’s the decision we are happiest with.

That grief can become even stronger if we struggle with fertility or no longer have the choice to grow our family. 

Part of the grief as our children age is connected to societal, patriarchal ideas that motherhood is a role that should fulfill us completely and that our primary value is being a mom. This can lead to an identity crisis as our children get older and start to need us less. 

We often step into modern parenting with these old world ideals subconsciously providing gender norms, shaping our identity as mothers. 

If we’re so consumed by motherhood that we don’t see ourselves as anything else, it can feel scary for our children to gain independence. We often look at our children aging and feel like time is slipping away, leaving us unsure about who we are now. 

We might celebrate and enjoy our children aging, but feel conflicted at the same time. Bryanna likened it to finishing a great book series—we just don’t want it to end. But she pointed out that viewing it as a chapter closing rather than an ending can help. 

How to Be More Present as a Mom

It can be difficult to reconcile the conflicting feelings we experience as our children age. Bryanna pointed out that being a parent is often full of paradoxes. For example, we might be overwhelmed and ready for bedtime, but then miss our children as they sleep. This feeling of grief along with celebration and excitement for the next stage can feel confusing. 

Bryanna also said that many of these feelings go beyond the experience at hand—they become existential. Children serve as a reminder of where we were before and where we’re going in the future. 

Children serve as a reminder of where we were before and where we’re going in the future. 

It can be helpful to build awareness—to see and acknowledge our emotions, even when they conflict. 

Bryanna said to think of life as a piece of art—practice looking and observing, noting your feelings, your experiences, and anything that comes up. 

Why Rediscovering Ourselves Is Important

One of the best ways to soften the grief and move through it productively is to rediscover who we are, beyond our motherhood role. Society might have told us that our highest contribution is being a mother, but the reality is that we all have many things to offer the world. 

We’re sold an illusion that motherhood should be completely fulfilling. For some moms, this might be true. But for others, we want and need more. We aren’t one-dimensional characters who fit neatly into boxes—there is more than one valid way to exist as a mom. 

We aren’t one-dimensional characters who fit neatly into boxes—there is more than one valid way to exist as a mom. 

If we can find creative outlets or rediscover hobbies or interests that mattered to us before motherhood, it can help us work through the difficulty of coping as our children age. It isn’t wrong to invest in ourselves and connect to other things that make us happy. 

Bryanna also pointed out that we don’t have to feel guilty if we look back and realize we did lose or neglect ourselves along the way. We can acknowledge what happened without judgment and just move through it. 

Radical Acceptance and Overcoming the Grief of Our Children Aging

There is a concept in therapy called radical acceptance. When we encounter something difficult, we often try to resist or escape the pain, but in doing this we end up prolonging our discomfort. 

If we can learn to accept the reality we are facing, we can acknowledge our feelings and focus on our needs in the here and now, rather than looking to the past or the future. 

When moms feel the grief of their children aging, they can either resist what’s happening, or work towards accepting these changes and holding space for these complex emotions rather then trying to fox them or push them away.

It’s okay to acknowledge your grief and sadness that a chapter is closing. It’s also important to remember that grief is a process that isn’t linear. We might feel ourselves cycling through denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance, and then jumping back. When we experience these things, naming and acknowledging them can help. 

Bryanna pointed out that moms often start to look back with regret, wishing they had done things differently. We might even find ourselves with one foot in the past, feeling emotional about our own childhood in the process. 

It’s okay to wish things were different, but we can do that without judgment or shame.

It’s okay to wish things were different, but we can do that without judgment or shame. Acknowledge what comes up and stay present with confidence, accepting yourself as you are. 

The Importance of Acceptance on Our Motherhood Journey

Accepting ourselves and the journey that is unfolding for us isn’t always easy. But it is valuable to be present—to let go of the past because we can’t change it and leave the future alone because we don’t have that much control over how it unfolds. What we do have control over is how we perceive what’s happening. 

It takes self-work, understanding, and practice to be able to stay present and embrace acceptance. But it provides so much possibility. Bryanna pointed out that there is no destination, no final stopping point on our journey as human beings, beyond death. 

But we’re not here to die—we’re here to live. That means that we are never done growing, changing, strengthening, or learning. 

Everyday is a new opportunity, full of new moments with our children

It’s also why presence matters so much. Everyday is a new opportunity, full of new moments with our children. We can acknowledge our grief without letting it rob us of those moments. 

Bryanna encourages everyone to take it all in moment by moment. Parenthood is such a wild ride that doing so would still keep us on our toes—but we would feel more connection, more peace, and more acceptance in the process. 

How Our Values Can Help Us Find Our Own Path in Motherhood

One of the biggest barriers on the process to acceptance and staying present in the moment is the societal expectation of what moms “should” be. 

We think we should do more. We think we should carry the mental load without struggling. We might even think we should have more children, or a certain type of family. It’s statements like “I should” or “I should have” that give us a clue that we aren’t accepting our reality and reaching into our past or our future.

Embracing flexibility can help us move past those “shoulds.” If you feel a should coming up, think about your own personal values. Does that “should” align with them? Or is it coming from someone else or something else? 

If it doesn’t feel right to you and your values, it’s okay to let it go. For example, you don’t have to sign up for every extracurricular activity if being present and connected is a stronger value for you. You don’t have to sacrifice your career if it doesn’t feel aligned with your values. 

Tap into your values and let them guide you—that will make it easier to unpack the expectations we have about motherhood and let go of what doesn’t belong. 

Working with a mom therapist can help you discover your values, let go of the pressures of motherhood, and find a path that feels right for you. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult with one of our mom therapists today!

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Tags:

Values, Presence, Identity loss in motherhood

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist

Conscious Mommy is where Bryana teaches parents to become the conscious parent they never had. Since 2011, Bryana has worked exclusively with families with very young children to navigate challenges related to child development, behavioral & emotional issues, attachment problems, and trauma. Guided by attachment theory and the neurorelational framework, her approach is unique in that she works primarily with parents by helping them discover their child’s nervous system and developmental needs. In this process, parents also learn how to regulate their own triggered reactions and discover more self-control and self-compassion. She also guides parents to develop vital skills in self-reflection & deconstructing familial cycles of guilt and shame, which aims to drastically shift the child-parent relational patterns.

Bryana also works with new moms experiencing perinatal mood or anxiety disorders. She uses a conscious- and mindfulness-informed approach to help moms realign their expectations with reality, deconstruct the guilt & shame they’re experiencing, and shift into the present moment, where depression and anxiety cannot exist. Bryana has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, has been licensed since 2015, and has an extensive number of advanced certifications & specializations in perinatal, infant, and early childhood mental health as well as conscious parenting. She is the mom of 2 young children, and lives with her spouse in Southern California.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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