5 Milestones that Unlock Grief for Teens

When tragedy strikes, leaving women and children alone and suffering from the pain of death, divorce, or desertion, grieving begins. Shock and denial come first and serve as a “buffer of grace” from the Lord. During this time, moms run on adrenaline, accomplishing tasks that must be tended to in the first few months – planning a funeral, dividing assets, etc. 

Children, even teenagers, feel the pain and miss daddy or their family as it once was; however, they often don’t have the maturity and perspective to fully comprehend the impact this will have on their lives. For this reason, moms often carry their own grief as well as the grief of their children. 

It is common for an adolescent to appear unaffected by death, showing little response, if any. Little children will tearfully miss Daddy one moment and then act as if nothing has happened the next. Teens respond in a variety of ways, from anger to isolation. Both responses cause the mother concern.

Significant milestones in life are often the first opportunity for dormant grief to appear. Understanding the potential for triggers and an eruption of unlocked pain will help to soften the blow.

5 milestones that will bring forth grief for teens and how to respond:
  1. Accomplishments: When children are left without an active earthly dad, they struggle with the fear of failure. Getting involved in outside activities is often a healthy way to work off grief. Keep in mind, however, that when game day or the school presentation comes, they will miss their father’s help or enthusiastic encouragement. Family and friends will help fill this void and are often the vessel that God uses for His “fathering.” Enlist others to help you cheer your child on and invest time in honing the skills necessary to accomplish their goals. 
  2. Driving: Getting a driver’s license is one of the first big steps towards independence. This is a challenging experience for both mother and child. Enlisting someone to teach your teen to drive will alleviate some of the initial stressors. Finding a mentor to help navigate the additional freedom that will come with a license is beneficial for all, including conversations about expectations regarding insurance, maintenance, buying gas, and even curfew. 
  3. First job: Work is part of life, and encouraging your child to get a job outside of the home has many benefits. From babysitting to cutting the grass for others, teens learn how to create a resume, apply for a job, interview, sustain employment, and steward their income. This is an exciting step for your teenager as they report to a new authority figure other than you. Even though a mom is able to cheer them on in this endeavor, your teen (especially sons) will feel the pain of not having the important affirmation and “atta a boy” from their dad. When appropriate, make sure to let your child know that their dad would be proud of them. 
  4. School dance: From Sadie-Hawkins to high school prom, many emotions are intertwined with a dance. Fathers play a huge role in teaching their sons how to ask a girl on a date, and for their daughters, affirming their beauty. This special event opens the door for upset caused by poor choices or potential rejection from not being ‘asked.’ A father/daughter dance, especially, puts girls in an awkward position. If she does not attend because she does not have a dad, she misses out on the fun and feels left out. If she courageously joins in, she is faced with the reality that her dad won’t be there to say,  “Dance with me.” Be sure to communicate with your daughter about what she might expect and make an intentional plan in advance. Mentors are crucial here. Invite an uncle or grandfather to fill the gap, or ask the dad of your daughter’s friend to “adopt” yours at the father/daughter dance. 
  5. Graduation: Kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, and college graduations are all opportunities to feel “less than” without a dad there to celebrate this huge accomplishment. At each level, proud mothers and fathers are there snapping pictures of their children. It is important to have intentional conversations with your fatherless child leading up to the graduation ceremony, discussing the potential for grief from the absence of their dad. Feel the loss with your child, wipe their tears, and turn the focus to trusting that God is sovereign and has a good plan for their life, written in a book before time began (Psalm 139:16).


Most kids battle with the fear of failure, rejection, and abandonment, these are only compounded when a father is not in the picture. The enemy will relentlessly lie, saying there is no hope and that they are doomed to join the ranks of negative statistics. Although it is challenging to grow up in a home that does not match God’s original design, your child is no less than others who have both parents investing in their lives. In fact, God promises to be a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). You may not feel His outward pat on the back when important milestones are reached, but He is there, ready to embrace His child. He is ready to remind them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and that He has a special plan for their life.