Tips for Widows and Widowers Raising Children

If you find yourself raising children as a single parent after losing your spouse, it's important to take care of yourself while simultaneously guiding your kids through their own grief. The following dos and don'ts can help.


Surround Your Kids With Adults Who Love Them

Woman hugging a little girl

KidStock / Getty Images

As the surviving parent, you are the most important adult in your child's life right now. But there are others who are willing to help you support and encourage your kids through this difficult time, and their varied experiences with your loved one will help your kids see a broader, more well-rounded picture of the person he or she was.


Create Structure

Dog sitting in a bathroom next to a boy brushing his teeth
Hero Images / Getty Images

Structure can be a huge source of comfort for kids. Do what you can to stabilize your routines, including your kids' nightly bedtime routine, so that they'll have a general idea of what to expect from one moment to the next.

Simple consistencies like serving meals at the same time each day can also help to create a stable atmosphere even while your emotions remain turbulent.


Slow Down

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away

Agnieszka Wozniak / Getty Images

You may be tempted to throw yourself and your kids back into your "normal routine," doing things like returning to work and school as soon as possible. To some degree, this is helpful.

However, you'll also want to take things slow and give your kids the freedom to opt out of social obligations or activities when they need some space.


Give Your Kids Choices

A father and son cooking in the kitchen.

Sam Edwards / Getty Images

So much of what has already happened has been out of your kids' control, so make sure that you allow them to make their own choices when possible. This may include simple decisions about what they wear and what they do in their spare time, within reason.


Ask for What You Need

Woman holding a casserole dish of pasta

 Armstrong Studios / Getty Images

Many widows and widowers are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, which may show up in the form of more casserole dishes than you and your children can eat. Don't be afraid to let your friends and family know if there is something else you need, or if you'd prefer for them to spread out their generosity over a period of weeks or months.

For example, you might say, "I appreciate all your help. However, what I really need right now, more than meals, is for someone to take Johnny to baseball practice on Thursdays." There's nothing wrong with being specific about your needs.


Communicate Your Limitations

A woman holding her mobile phone to her ear
Ron Koeberer / Getty Images

You may find that you reach a point where you just need everyone to step back and give you some space. This is natural, and it's perfectly okay to tell your friends and family how you feel.

For example, you could say, "I appreciate your calls, but I just don't feel like talking right now. Would you mind trying me again in a week or so?"

Let them know that you don't want them to back off permanently and that you do appreciate the effort, but you just need a little space.


Seek Additional Support

A man and two women talking in a living room
Hero Images / Getty Images

Consider speaking with a counselor or attending a single parent support group for widows and widowers through your local hospital or community center.

Sometimes just talking to someone who doesn't already know you is a relief. It allows you to freely express yourself without the concern that being honest is going to cause others to worry about you even more.


Give Yourself the Freedom to Make Mistakes

Pensive businesswoman looking away in conference room

John Wildgoose / Getty Images

You're not a perfect parent. We all make mistakes. Let yourself off the hook from the start and acknowledge that you're not going to get everything right, but you are going to get better over time at handling all of the things that are now your responsibility.


Hold Off on Making Any Huge Decisions

Street view of a home with a for-sale sign in yard
Sawaya Photography / Getty Images

You may be thinking about selling your house, moving closer to family members, or going back to school. While the things you're thinking about right now may ultimately be the best decision for you and your kids, you should avoid making any big decisions for the first six to twelve months.

Give yourself time to adjust to your loss and be sure that the changes you're envisioning do, indeed, reflect the decisions you want to make.


Don't Postpone Your Grief

upset man sitting on couch with hands clasped

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Finally, many widows and widowers fall into the trap of avoiding their own feelings. Shelving your own grief is one of the worst things you can do right now. Grief is a process you have to go through. And while there are patterns — like the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — grief is also notoriously unpredictable.

Trying to control the process will only slow your progression and rob your children of the opportunity to see that what they're experiencing isn't unusual or insurmountable.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.