Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I Know About Losing a Wife and Becoming a Single Dad

This post has been rattling around in my head for awhile now. I make life and parenting mistakes everyday. I have, however, learned a few things in the last 5 months. Some of them are small. Some of them are pretty darn big. All of them are important at some level.

1) Be present

I think this is the most important thing I have learned as part of our whole life transition. When Sophie is around I do my best to be there for all of her emotional, physical, and whatever other needs she may have. That means listening to what she has to say. Discussing things with her rather than "yesing" her. Being available to her when she needs me. The last thing in the world I want her to feel is alienated. Just like that old EF Hutton commercial, when Sophie talks, daddy listens.

2) Put the phone/pad/game down

I am still working on this one. We are so consumed by our technology that we miss the world that is right in front of our faces. Do we really want our kids to grow up with one of their most poignant memories of dad (or mom) being him spending endless hours staring into his phone? Put the phone down. Have conversations with your child. Do a puzzle with your child. Read with your child. I think this is particularly important for kids that have lost a parent. They already have half the parenting attention as two parent children.

This goes for your child too. I have gradually cut back Sophie's screen time to get her engaged with other things. No longer does she get her iPad near bed time. No longer does she get her pad when we are driving around town for any reason. I want her using her brain to play and think and reflect. Sure there are exceptions to this but overall this has been a massive change at our house.

3) Ask for help (or at least be smart enough to accept it)

I am terrible at asking for help. It always makes me feel guilty. I have made it this far because I have had friends and family who insisted on helping me and being there for me. Simple as that. When Holly passed I had to make a lot of decisions quickly that had to do with Sophie. I was fortunate to have two friends in Chuck and Zenia who basically walked me through the whole process of getting Sophie enrolled in a new school near them. They offered to have their kids walk Sophie home after school and watch her for me until I got off work. Reflecting back on that, I am not sure what I would be doing now if they had not led me down that path. Accept help when it is offered. You will need it.

4) Change as little as possible

When a child loses a parent their whole world goes into a tail-spin. Everything they have ever known about their family structure changes in a heart beat. The last thing you want to do is continue to change the other things in their life that are familiar to them. At times it seems like *everything* has changed for me. The reality is not much has changed in our house (if anything). We still spend a lot of our weekend outside. We are planning on going to the pumpkin patch this weekend. We read the same books and watch the same movies. What she knew before she lost her mother is very much the same thing she knows now.

5) Talk openly about the parent they lost

This has probably been the hardest thing for me, but also probably the thing I have done the best. The evening Holly died, I sat down with Sophie and had a conversation with her about mommy going to heaven and that she would not be coming back. It was the hardest conversation I will ever have in my entire life. No question. Since that day I have never shied away from talking about Holly and using her name. Her death is not some great secret to be hushed up in fear of upsetting Sophie. Holly's memory will live on in stories and jokes and oral history.

Kids are smart. Communicate with them. Don't think you are doing them any good by not talking about their lost parent. You aren't. You don't want them to feel like they cannot talk to you about it. Encourage it (it is hard, trust me). Talk about them. Let your child know it is okay to talk about them. Do your best to celebrate the memory of that person. In the end it will only help your child learn to reflect on the parent they lost in a healthy way.

6) Circle the wagons

What I mean by this is bring your family together. Let your child know that there is a group (large or small) of family members out there that love and support them. In our case that means we are still making trips to Texas to spend time with Gee and Paw Paw whenever we can. We Facetime with them as frequently as possible (which is not always easy!) My dad moved from Oregon to Colorado to be close to us. Bryna and Ross came to stay with us this summer so Torin and Sophie could spend cousin time (and the parents could drink). Sophie went with Mike and Sharon to the Fahey family summer beach cabin trip. Spend time with family.

In our case it also means spending time with Chuck and Zen and their family. Their kids treat Sophie like she is another sibling. She is loved in their home and loves being in their home. They aren't blood but they are every bit as much family as we have.

These are just my random thoughts on the whole thing. I am still learning as I go and trying to find a new baseline in our life.


  1. Some quality advice there, in what is sure to be a time of huge emotional challenge.

    Being open and honest with your child is hard, but oh so helpful and good for the long road.

    I would add never fear getting upset around your child, and always allow a child to see your grief. I'm not saying indulge in it, or deliberately expose a child to your pain, but people often think it's best to take a child out of a room when a parent is upset, but it just leads a child to worry that something is wrong, and it must be to do with them if they aren't allowed around. Hope that makes sense and is useful.

    Change isn't all that bad either. Routine is important for a child, but surrounds and methods aren't as much. I found too many grief triggers in repeating what we'd done as a family. Never wanting to forget, but not wanting to be reminded of who we were missing, and what they were missing out on every moment of every day.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope the blog helps you along your journey. Mine did/does for me.