Many deaths come with a cascade of losses—the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of specific traditions, the loss of your relationship with specific family members. When your spouse dies young, one of the biggest losses relates to children. If you already have children, you’re grieving not just the loss of your spouse but the loss of your children’s parent. If you were planning to have children in the future—or were planning more children than you have now—you’ll also grieve the loss of those children you won’t have with your partner.
Raising Kids as a Young Widow(er)
Your kids will experience the death of their parent differently than you do—their relationship with their mom or dad is different from your spousal relationship, and the way the death touches their lives will be different. Kids often express their grief in ways that are unsettling to adults, so it can be helpful to seek out counselors and support groups that are age-appropriate. These people can help you understand why your kid(s) is acting in a way that doesn’t make sense to you.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you help your kids through their grief:
- Kids will grieve the loss of a parent even if they were too young to remember him or her;
- Kids don’t always understand the permanence of death, so they might say things like “I want to die so I can see mommy.” While it’s good to check with a specialist, this most likely isn’t a suicidal thought, it’s just a reflection of how kids think the world works;
- All kids grieve differently. Your children’s reaction to their parent’s death will vary not only by age, but also personality type.
- This will have a major impact on your children, but it won’t ruin their life or their chances for happiness. Many widows are concerned about long-term ramifications for their children—but in fact, research has shown that children whose parent died young have exactly the same chances for a good outcome as those from stable, two-parent families—and they are actually better off than the kids of divorcees.
If you’ve suddenly been thrust into single parenting, you might be overwhelmed with the practical aspects of managing your household, finances, career and children. First of all, make sure you look into Social Security Survivor benefits for your children, which can ease the financial squeeze. Now’s also the time to lean on family and friends for help. Raising children as a single parent is different, and while you can mitigate the challenges you won’t make them go away.
If You Wanted Children and Didn’t Get the Chance
Possibly the biggest secondary loss for many young widows is that they will no longer be able to have children with their partner—and it often seems like dreams or plans for a family died with their spouse. It’s true that you won’t be able to have children with your late spouse as planned, but for most people that doesn’t necessarily mean a childless future. If you’re in this situation, you can consider:
- Adopting or fostering kids;
- The possibility of having children with a new partner;
- Becoming more involved with nieces, nephews and/or the children of friends.
Losing your spouse absolutely changes everything about your family. The family structure that our society holds up as ideal—two parents with their biological children—is off the table for you. Despite what our culture generally encourages, however, real families come in all shapes and sizes, and you can have a happy home life as a single parent, as part of a blended family, with adopted or foster kids or without any children at all.
Working with a professional counselor can help you navigate some of the challenges related to raising children, working through their grief and/or confronting your grief about not having children with your late partner.
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