I got a note from a reader the other day that made me pause. Yes, I get a number of public comments and private notes, and I’m used to answering them. But this one, from a fellow young widow, really made me think:
I know my husband would want me to find love again. He wouldn’t want me to spend the next 40-50 years alone (I’m a young widow). It’s only been 7.5 months. I’m not anywhere near ready to let someone else in. The thought of it just upsets me. But, I think it’s a possibility in the future. However, what I really struggle with is potentially letting a new man be the step-father to our child. My husband only got to be a father for 1 year. It breaks my heart thinking that another man would get to raise our son. That’s the part I struggle with. That’s the part that makes me want to stay single forever, or at least until my son is grown. I struggle with how unfair that would be to my husband…that fatherhood was taken from him and was then given to someone else. I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome those emotions.
I replied and wrote something about how it’s really hard to imagine the future when the grief you are feeling is still so raw. It was the best I could come up with at the time. But as I reflected on this, I realized that there was a lot more I wanted to say.
Because I know a lot of widows – in person and online – who find themselves in this exact situation: newly grieving and newly single parenting.
First, I need to note this: her situation is really, really hard. It’s really hard to be in the first year after losing a spouse and it’s really hard to single parent. Doing both at the same time is no walk in the park….to say the least. When I think back on that time period in my life, I can only remember feeling bone-crushingly tired every single day. Even getting up to get a cup of coffee in the morning felt overwhelming.
So it’s not surprising to me that this reader is “not anywhere near ready to let someone else in.” Of course she isn’t! I don’t know anything about her life but I do know that my life felt pretty damn impossible that first year. Sure, I was trying to date at the tail-end of that year, but really, it was a total shit show. I couldn’t see any sort of future and I just tried to make it to 8 pm every night so I could fall into bed.
But there does come a time when you wake up and can see the outlines of a different future. It’s different timing for everyone, but it usually happens. And as this reader noted, there are a lot of complicated feelings surrounding dating when you’re a widow. But there are even more complicated feeling when you are a widow with kids.
Once I started dating, I found that I would very quickly move from “do I want to kiss this guy?” to “could he be a father to my children?”
That made dating really difficult. I’m not a total idiot, so I didn’t say these sorts of things out loud on a first or second date. I didn’t want to scare everyone away. But damn if I wasn’t thinking them.
I learned how to talk less about my kids when I met men without children. I didn’t hide their existence, but I didn’t make them my focus of any discussion. I learned how to temper my stories about my kids even when I was chatting with someone who did have kids, because usually the men I met didn’t have their kids all the time. (Young widowhood is decently rare and most of the fathers I met were divorced.)
But here’s the clincher: unless a man showed some interest in my children, I never really found him attractive. I couldn’t. My kids aren’t some lawn ornament that I have hanging around the house. They are a part of what makes me who I am. So if someone didn’t like that I had kids, well….they honestly weren’t someone that I wanted to get to know.
But what about the next question that the reader above wants to know? How is she supposed to imagine letting a different man be a father to her son?
What I want to say to this reader is, “don’t worry, it will be okay,” which I know is probably the least helpful thing of all time. So instead, I’ll say this: you’ll likely only get to that point only when you are ready for it. And sure, some widows never get there. But others do. And getting to that place is a process.
But through that process, at least for me, I found that there were all sorts of things that happened that got me to a point where I could imagine letting another man fully into my life. In other words, I didn’t just arrive at “you could be a father figure to my kids!” I got there gradually. First, there were the natural filters I put on dating (as I discussed above): I knew I’d only let a man meet my kids if he passed all sorts of “tests” first. Does he like kids? Does he seem interested in the stories I tell about my kids? Does he genuinely like me? Does he think hanging out at a 3rd grade basketball game sounds fun? And on and on. The answer to every single question doesn’t have to be yes (even I don’t really like third grade basketball games) but the general answers need to be “yes.”
But second, there is the emotional work that you’ll do to get yourself there. First, you’ll get to where you want to date, then you’ll get to where you want to date someone who is good for you, then you’ll want to date someone who is also good for your kids, then you’ll start thinking about how it would look if he got to meet your kids….and on and on.
My point is, it’s a process. Of course you can’t imagine someone else parenting your children at the beginning of that process! You just aren’t in that emotional space yet. Trying to imagine a reality that is so far from your current one can seem impossible.
But it can happen. I’m not saying it should happen or it will happen. I’m just saying it’s possible.
And as for the worry that finding someone else would be unfair to your late husband? I get that, I do. But what I can tell you is this: your children will always have their father in their hearts. You will keep their father alive for them. And wanting more love for them is not selfish. If I know anything about good fathers, it’s that they want their children to be loved.
That may mean being loved primarily by you. But it could also mean that someone else fills the role of father someday.
It may be impossible to imagine now, so I think sometimes it’s easier to just not think all the way forward in the future. Instead, you can sit with the knowledge that if you ever want to date again, it’s a possible option for you to do that. And if you ever meet someone great again, making that person an integral part of your life is a possible option for you and your children.
If that means your children know the love of more than one father, that’s a pretty special thing. If it means that they feel fully supported by their bad-ass single mom who never remarries, that’s an amazing thing as well.
You can’t picture the future right now, and that’s okay. Someday, that picture will come into focus and it may be a totally different image than one that you can imagine right now.
But that’s okay. No matter how it turns out, your kids will be loved because they have you.
**This column is merely my point of view and is for informational purposes only. I am not a therapist or medical professional, and thus my thoughts should not be a substitute for advice from these professionals. Please get immediate help if you feel like harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.