Parenting After Losing a Spouse

By Julie Baumgardner

After losing a spouse, there is no question that managing your own grief, as well as helping your children through their grief, is a continuing journey. There are many parenting milestones, challenges, and decisions to face. Decisions you once made as a team are now solely yours to make, which can feel like a 1,000-pound gorilla sitting on your chest. Here are a few suggestions to help you in your new parenting journey.

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Julie Baumgardner President and CEO, First Things First

Know You’re Not Alone

Before you allow your mind to run wild with all that rests on your shoulders, take a moment to breathe. Although your spouse is no longer with you, it is unlikely you have to walk this road alone. There are probably people in your life who are willing to lend a hand with all those things your spouse did that you never worried about, like grocery shopping, oil changes, helping with homework, or paying bills. Give yourself permission to ask for help. Whatever the task, take people up on their offers of assistance, at least until you find your footing.

Provide Security with Leadership and Routines

It will also be important to remember that you are the parent. It can be easy to rely more heavily on your children, especially for certain jobs that seem gender-specific. But this can be confusing and scary for children, who are processing their own grief. Everybody might need to take on some extra responsibilities to keep things going, but children need to see and understand that you plan to provide for their needs.

Routines, rituals, consistency, and structure help children feel safe and secure, especially in times of loss. This isn’t about rigidity, but instead about creating an environment where they know they can count on certain things happening in a certain way during a time that feels very uncertain to them.

Encourage Healthy Healing for Your Children and Yourself

In the midst of finding a new normal, children need to know that missing their parent is healthy and expected. As you try to keep the memory of their other parent alive, you may want to start a new tradition in memory of the parent. Placing pictures of them throughout the house can help your children remember and also encourage conversations about their parent.

Probably one of the best gifts you can give your children during this process is to take care of yourself. Death leaves a huge hole in your heart, and life and carrying on is physically and emotionally exhausting. Sometimes parents feel guilty doing things for themselves, but these activities help fill your soul and allow you to parent your children well during this time of transition.

Accept Help and Foster Relationships

While no one can ever replace the parent who passed away, it will be important to find people who are willing to stand in the gap for your children. You are one person with a finite amount of energy and brain power. Anybody who has walked this road knows that parenting is exhausting, even when two parents with their unique gifts and perspectives are present. Finding people of the opposite sex in your inner circle who share your values, can say things you can’t say, do things you can’t do, and provide a listening ear is both healthy and wise.

When you have lived through a traumatic experience, it is often difficult to clear your head of the fog – but allowing others to assist you can help bring healing not only to you, but also to your children.

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