8 Ways Parenting Changes When You’re a Widowed, Solo Parent

Last Updated on August 10, 2021 by Sarah Gallagher

I Didn’t Become a Widowed, Solo Parent by Choice

Being a solo widowed parent is unlike any kind of role you’ve played ever before. And this is why I wanted to be able to explain to you that I understand where you’re coming from, because these were the lessons that I’ve been learning as my journey as a widowed solo parent continues.

I am 44 years old. My husband unexpectedly passed away when I was 37 and he was 40.

Funny story: he couldn’t believe he actually got to 40, so there’s a “yeah!” there. But you know, he died. Sigh, life.

When he died, he left me alone with our two and a half year old son, and our not yet conceived baby daughter. So that’s my story, very briefly, but I’ll get more into it as we go along.

Our Stories Could Be Similar

The moment I became an only parent, when my husband was officially declared brain dead, the enormity of what that meant didn’t sink in, because there’s so much grief going on. There is my own turmoil and anguish about what’s going on, but at the same time, I’m split in two. I’m all emotion, but I’m also numb at the same time, as I watch reality as an outside observer.

It’s a really bizarre state to begin with, as you probably know.

My two-and-a-half year-old son and I were alone for a while. That’s something that I never wanted to happen. I never wanted him to be alone. Now that my husband is gone, it was just me now.

So, I did a lot of thinking. A LOT of thinking. Which, by the way, took a lot of effort with a fog-riddled brain. I was a only parent now, but my life was still mine. One year after his death, I determined that I was going to have the second child that we both wanted.

That following week, I went to a fertility clinic. I found a sperm donor that I tried to get as close to as match to my husband as possible: biologically, culturally, behavior wise, likes and dislikes, physical attributes. Everything I possibly could.

Surprise, surprise! I got pregnant on the first try. So I kinda became a solo parent twice over. The first time was not my choice, but the second time was. That’s my bizarre backstory.

I’m My Children’s Entire Family

There are some things that you only get to experience as an only parent. For example, one of mine is that I am my children’s entire family.

Okay, so there is my mom (Grandma), and I am fortunate to have two sisters in healthy relationships to visit. But, that’s pretty much the extent of our little family. My husband passed away. His mother and step-father died, as did my dad. Really when my kids are talking to their school friends, when they reference our family, they’re including themselves, their sibling, me at the center, balancing it all, with Grandma orbiting us. That’s just our reality.

Related post: How To Stay Sane When Solo Parenting – COVID-Edition

Only Parent Trying To Do It All

As a solo parent, you’re really trying to do it all. Even though it’s just me, I’m trying to do everything that I can while holding my job, my family, and myself together. If I parent my children differently than other families, it is likely because I found a way that works for me. Don’t judge.

I have always said when I grow up I wanted to be a kid, and I hold that true to how I parent. I have fun with my kids. If there’s a good guy and bad guy in most double-parent families, I have to choose which role I’d predominantly play. I try to make everything fun.

For example, when we decide that we want to have pancakes, we go all in. Out comes the flour and milk, on go the aprons. We turn the making of pancakes into a fun game. The best part is adding food colouring to batter that’s been separated into several squeeze bottles, a different colour for each. Then we’d use the bottles as giant paintbrushes and create these fantastic works of pancake art. So much fun.

Different Types of Moms

Being primarily the “fun mom” has its drawbacks too. Sometimes when the kids are too riled up, I realize that “fun” has to stop and I need to switch into “determined mom” mode. Which the kids can’t take too seriously at first because it’s not the norm. Which just triggers me to “angry mom” mode. That switch is what’s hard for them to understand. And hard too for the mom who wishes she didn’t need to play both roles.

Oh, did I say “both” roles, as in leading to there’s just two roles to play? That’s an understatement. They need to be both mom and dad, but also a teacher, a role model, a beacon of truth that your kids can hold onto. They need to be a taskmaster who delegates chores; a master meal planner who can create a menu that most likely will appeal to each of their tastes; and the social planner who arranges outings with other families with similar aged children, so their kids have a sense of a village around them for support.

That’s a lot for one person to do, and frankly it’s absolutely exhausting.

Imminent Mortality

Another thing that comes up as a widowed, solo parent is that you become hyper aware of your own imminent mortality. I couldn’t promise that I would go to sleep and would wake up the next morning.

Not that I was suicidal.

It was just pragmatic to say that no one really knows their end date.

My husband didn’t plan on dying. I’m not planning on dying, but what if I do? Right. So I am constantly worried about that.

Safeguards and Sense of Security

I have tried to have safeguards in place for it if something were to happen. For example, what if one afternoon I drop onto the street for no apparent reason? How are people going to know by looking at my wallet, that there are two kids waiting for me to pick them up after school or daycare.

I have pictures of both of them in my wallet, and on the back is a note stating my name, their first names, and the contact information for both school and daycare in the hopes that whoever finds the letter will contact them.

It also spreads over to how I interact with my friends. For instance, if a friend says that they need to postpone at the last minute, my first thought is, are they okay? Was there something wrong? Even though there’s no need to.

That’s my security perimeter scanner running in the background. It’s always going to be there when you’re the only parent.

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Balancing Fear With Actual Risk

I’m also hyper-vigilant over my own kids. I want them to be safe and not have a helicopter parent. However, at the same time I’m still very aware of every single moment with them. Because I don’t know when my time here ends, and I’m going to enjoy every single moment that I can.

That sense of dread is always in the background. Trying to monitor my fear while measuring it against reality is constant. One of the other things I do is when we leave the house, and I know we’re heading back after dark, I go around and close the blinds, and turn the lights on. So it looks like there’s somebody in there. Setting up safeguards to help keep my family safe makes me feel better.

Related Post: 5 Life-Changing Ways to Find Yourself After Losing Your Spouse (even if you’re not in counseling)

There’s No One to Check My Parenting

There is no one to check my parenting. I had to make the decision about my parenting style. I decided I was going to be the authoritative parent, with a healthy dose of permissiveness. I will let my kids try their own activities or experiments, as long as it’s safe. Or, if there is a splash of danger, they adopt a contingent that when they get to a point where the rewards don’t outweigh the risk, they have to stop.

I’ve been told by other people that what I do is very different from how other parents do. It probably is because I, again, don’t have that advantage of two people working together. So I do the best I can.

It’s better for me to have a loving family unit as best as it can be. Sometimes, I have to remind the kids that indeed I am the authority here, but it’s how it works for us. People may judge, but as they’d love to tell me otherwise, it is my decision on how I am going to parent my kids.

Creating Family Memories

It’s important that my kids don’t look back and feel that something was missing, dead father aside. We are often out puttering in our garden, or going to the local outdoor pool, or even just hanging out on the couch playing video games.

I work hard on creating a community. I try to involve ourselves by hanging out with families in the neighbourhood with kids roughly the same age. My kids get to see how the neighbour’s father interacts with them. Oftentimes, there are games where everyone joins in. It has become a very comfortable, neighborly vibe.

One-on-One Parenting Time is Tricky

I have both a son and a daughter, who both want my attention as reasonably close to 24/7 as possible. They will both talk to me at the same time. Sometimes one will notice which incites them to  yell at their sibling to be quiet because they were talking first! Most of the time, it’s both of them talking at me at the same time, which is very confusing.

Both kids want to spend time with me as a solo parent. I find it very difficult to have those individual one-on-one times with them because we are doing everything all together all the time. Which isn’t enough when they need individual time. We used to have semi-regular mommy-son dates, and my daughter is old enough now to enjoy one too. We haven’t had any since the beginning of Covid, though now things are opening up so it’ll be less of an excuse. Still, it’s hard to schedule them in.

But when they do happen, they are special times because the kids know they are not a common thing. If they can get me to themselves for an hour or two, it’s bonus.

Making Our Family Whole

It’s bittersweet, really.

I am very grateful for the family I have. I’m very grateful for the fact that I have my son and my daughter with me. I am so very grateful that I moved forward on my decision to go out and complete the family we dreamed of.

My daughter.

Even though she’s not biologically my husband’s, she is in spirit. I consider both my children to have the same Sky Daddy.

Still, I feel some phantom pain of what our family could have been, if Mike hadn’t have die. However, this is going to sound very bizarre, if he hadn’t died, she wouldn’t be here.

I’m not saying that he should have died, or that this was the purpose of his death, because that’s ridiculous. There’s no purpose in dying. It’s just stupid and it shouldn’t happen, but whatever.

If he had lived, and we had our intended second child, it would have been wonderful and it would have been great and it would have been fantastic…but that wasn’t our timeline.

The point is he died and after he died, that’s when I decided to have my intended second child on my own. I took it on myself to complete the family we wanted to have.

She would not be here if he was still alive, which is a really bizarre, complicated way of thinking things.

You’re Enough

Being a widowed, solo parent isn’t anything I originally signed up for. But, I’ve committed myself to being the best, widowed, solo parent my kids could ever hope for.

If you’ve identified any of the points that I brought up there, comment below. If there is anything in there that you do that you resonate with, put it down.

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