Parenting in Widowhood
by Cyndi Williams, LCSW
Parenting in widowhood is by far one of the most difficult parts of this journey for me personally, as well as for many wisters I have connected with and supported through the years.
Last week marked 9 years that I have been parenting solo. My daughter has now lived as long without her dad as she did with him. When the official date of that milestone came and went back in November 2021, I recognized the heaviness of that day but I didn’t bring it to her attention. On her father’s angelversary, March 16, she brought it up to me on her own and reflected how strange it is that her brothers still have 4 and 8 more years to go before they have lived as long without him as they did with him.
As we carried out our angelversary tradition of eating at his favorite restaurant for lunch, my oldest and middle sons shared that they had forgotten a lot of their own childhood as well. I know, buried deep beneath that protective trauma haze their brains have given them, there are so many precious memories of the happy, loving, faith-filled, joyful, silly, playful, and stable home that Joe and I worked so hard to provide for them.
The reality that their strongest memories of the past 9 years are of having one grieving parent hit me hard. They’ve been robbed of so much. I am not the mom who had dance parties in the living room, volunteered at their school for class parties, and came up with patient and loving alternatives to tackle issues like house rules, chores, and consequences. I have often been sleep deprived, worried about finances, or stressed from the logistics of meeting their needs by myself. I have yelled when I should have been patient. I have fed them quick, processed, or fast food. I have introduced them to men who in hindsight didn’t deserve to be even a small part of their lives. They’ve seen me cry so often, not just on the grief days but days that should be happy like weddings, babies, school accomplishments, and birthdays…because I shouldn’t be the only parent celebrating them.
We all agree this isn’t fair to our children, but what can we do to give them the best possible life they can have?
In 2013, I believed I couldn’t possibly be enough for them on my own. I have since come to understand that the greatest need of any child is to know they are loved, safe, and supported, and those needs are no different in solo parenting.
When you have to say “no” because of finances, let them know there is nothing you’d rather do than give them every desire of their heart but that you have to place their (and your own) basic needs first.
When you don’t have the energy to be everywhere at once and do all the things, enlist help from friends, family, and even the kids themselves with household chores, dinner prep, and shopping.
When they have events and celebrations, don’t be afraid to invite other family members and close friends. This will ensure you have support when emotions are raw and also give your kids a bigger cheering section.
Remind them at every opportunity how very loved they are. Let them see you cry and help them understand your grief and their own.
If there are parts of parenting that feel outside of your skillset, enlist an expert. An example of this in our home was science fair projects. This was Joe’s job, but after he passed away I had two more years of science fair projects. This was terrifying for me. I posted on Facebook and quickly had a volunteer who was excited to help.
Most importantly, wisters, be as loving and caring to yourself as you are to them. Read that last line again. You love them, you would do anything to keep them safe. You will never turn your back on them. You are enough.
You can do this and you do have help! If you’re reading this, the good news is that you’re an important part of a global wisterhood you can call on for advice and support. Connect with a local or virtual Modern Widows Club Community to find others you can walk with on this journey. You may be a solo parent, but you are NOT alone, and some day the things you’re learning right now will be a comfort and encouragement to another wister.
Cyndi Williams is a mental health advisor and contributor for Modern Widows Club, currently working as a mental health therapist at Sandhill Counseling and Consultation in St. Louis, Missouri.