His 9-year-old sister refuses to go. Yes, she misses her dad, but she doesn't want to be sad. Picture: Pexels

Washington - My middle child loves to go to the cemetery. He loves the wide open spaces and the funny statues. He loves to look at the gravestones and read the old-fashioned names. We hold hands and explore together. He loves to be there, even though, at 7 years old, he is much too young to have to visit his father's grave there.

His 9-year-old sister refuses to go. Yes, she misses her dad, but she doesn't want to be sad, and she knows she'd get "teary-eyed" if she went there. She also doesn't want me to be sad, and she certainly doesn't want me to cry in public, so she'd much rather avoid the cemetery.

I am their mother, their sole living parent, and so I make the decisions. But what do I do when I don't really know what I should do? Should I push her to go, knowing it would probably be a good experience to spend some time thinking about her dad and talking about his life? Or should I let her stay home, knowing that she might need a break from all the discussion of death that she's endured in the past few months?

When do I push my kids out of their comfort zones, and when do I pull them close and keep them safe and warm? It's every parent's dilemma.

I think I was probably like a lot of parents before my husband got sick last fall. I am a teacher, and I ran a decently tight ship at home. I tried to set limits, pushed my kids to attend activities they committed to even if they didn't feel like going, and made sure we adhered to a schedule - and definitely a bedtime.

But I am not the same parent that my children had a few months ago. Grief has changed me. I can't tell you how much television my kids watch on a daily basis, but I do know that they can all quote lengthy passages from the Disney show Jessie.

Right after my husband died, I got a lot of thoughtful advice from friends and family. Gently, many of them sent me emails that started with something like, "Here's a little thing I know about," and attached a link to a grief group or camp or counsellor. It was mostly helpful, but there was just so much information, most of which was about getting my kids to therapy and getting them there quickly.

I eventually found an outside grief counsellor who works solely with kids. She was knowledgeable, kind and warm. I think everyone felt better that I was getting help for my kids; I even saw my mother-in-law mention how "everyone was getting therapy" to a friend on her Facebook page.

But therapy was disruptive to the school day and definitely to after-school playtime. The kids resisted going for that reason. One day, my daughter finally said to me: "I don't want to go. I like the therapist, but I feel fine. Can we just stop doing all this stuff, Mom? I just want to have a normal life."

What's the answer here? I asked around, but I don't have any other widow friends with young kids. They exist, and I've met a few in my area, but none is one of my trusted people.

Before, it was easy to make a parenting decision, and when I did, my husband almost always agreed with me. At the very least, we backed each other up in front of our children and debated the decision later. 

But now there's no one to argue with over parenting. There's no one to back me up, either. There's just me, and it's as though I have to start from scratch.

Before my husband left this Earth, I wanted my children to be so many things: Good students, thoughtful friends, creative minds, amazing guitarists. I guess I still want all those things, in theory. But if I am honest, I want only two things: I want them to feel safe, and I want them to feel loved.

I'm still trying to figure out how to get my daughter to go to the cemetery. I push a little each day. But I also pull her close, tell her she makes me and her father so proud, and remember that she and her brothers just need to feel two things. Safe and loved.

The Washington Post