Last year we had a few tough family moments when our 19-year-old cat died. It was a moment that as parents we were both expecting and dreading. Our kids were nine and twelve years old at the time and they basically knew the cat all their lives.
Talking about it with friends I came to realize there is no handbook for parents for these things. It is a very uncomfortable place and people handle the situation in very different ways. In this article, I want to share with you some of the key lessons I learned during this time.
1. Be honest about what is happening
We had a 19-year-old cat, we knew the cat would not live forever. In the last year or two, every once in a while, we started talking to the kids the cat would not be with us forever.
In the last few months, when we went to the vet and learned time was going to run out soon, we let them know as well. We were not dramatic about it but we let them know.
We always had an open dialog about the subject with our kids. It was not always easy and we had moments were hard as a family.
2. Focus on enjoying the moments
The last few months were cool in many ways. Our son took care of the cat in amazing ways. It was painful for him when our cat passed away but he cherished this time.
The last few weeks were difficult because the cat was having accidents around the house. Our focus was to make the cat more comfortable so we banded together as a family. We made sure everything the cat needed was on the same floor and the kids pitched in to help us clean up messes.
3. Let them see how you feel
As parents, we often feel the need to be strong for our kids. For some of us, we do not let them see us being emotional. On the last day, when I called the vet to make an appointment to euthanize the cat, I was in tears.
When my son saw me that way, he was in shock and laughed. That single moment helped me see how much I shielded him from seeing me vulnerable.
4. Give them space to talk
After our cat died, my son was very upset. After all his efforts in the last few months, he was angry at life. We spent an hour together where all we did was listen to him and talk him through his feelings.
It did not make things better right away and it was not an easy moment as a parent seeing our son this way. Allowing him to talk about his feelings and helping him put words to them created a different kind of bond.
5. Trust they can handle it
This was the biggest lessons that I learned in this experience. By being honest and up front with our kids it created trust with them. The challenge with this point is that it does come down to your own capacity as a parent to handle the situation.
If you are unable to have uncomfortable talks in your life, you will be unable to do it with your kids as well. If you shield your kids from pain and discomfort they will never know you need these to grow as a person.
I shared these lessons from my personal point of view. My belief is that it is important for us to be conscious parents and leaders for our children. Sometimes, conscious parenting means becoming aware of our own limitations and overcoming them. Other times, it means having a clear intention around how we parent our kids.
The situation with our cat forced us to be very conscious parents. We worked hard to be honest and transparent with our kids without creating drama for them. Tell me how have you handled this kind of situation with your kids? What did you learn from your experience?
Steffan Surdek is an in-demand leadership development coach and corporate trainer. He has always been driven to expand the notion of leadership to include each member of the team. As a widely recognized principal consultant, Steffan’s work has a strong business impact, helping reshape business cultures and guiding them in becoming more collaborative and efficient. He is the founder of Pyxis Cultures, a consulting and training company based in Montreal, Canada.