Parenting is the hardest job in the world. So much rides on everything you do, every decision you make, and even who you are. The future of the tiny humans who call you mom or dad rests on your shoulders. The pressure is insurmountable.

Widowed parents know the stress and anxiety of parenting better than anyone. I am a widowed parent to my three year old toddler. I have been parenting alone for the last two years, since she was 13 months old. I guess in some ways it might be easier for me because I’ve always been a “single” parent to my toddler. I never knew what it was like to co-parent a toddler. I lost my husband when she was an infant, I never had the chance to settle into a parenting routine because by that age the routines were constantly changing. And on top of that, I’ve been a widowed mom for twice as long as I was a married mom. I haven’t had anyone to rely on to help raise my little girl in so long that I don’t really remember what it’s like to share the responsibility.

Being a widowed mom is a lot like being a single mom… except there’s an entire added dynamic of anxiety and emotional trauma that is directly intertwined with all aspects of parenting. Every time your child reaches a new milestone or does something fantastic, it is met with happiness and pride. But for a widowed parent, it is also met with sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, frustration… any number of emotions that make the good times bittersweet. And then there’s the lows. No parent experiences ONLY the joys of parenting, you also have to fight the battles that come standard with every child; and fighting these battles can be especially difficult for the widowed. We are reminded every time we enter another battle (be it large or small) that we are alone in this. And that this was never our choice.

When my child throws another tantrum on the floor because she said twelve times that she was done eating and I had the audacity to clear her plate before she was apparently finished, I have to brace myself not just for her emotional breakdown, but for mine too. Because with every tantrum, every sleepless night and far too early morning, every time her feelings get hurt because I forgot that I promised her last night that she could wear her Minnie Mouse socks today but now I can’t find her Minnie Mouse socks and I have betrayed her trust in the most atrocious way a mother could… I break a little. Because every single time this happens, it agitates the open wound that I was left with when my husband died and those emotions spill out. The loneliness, the heartache, the broken feelings, the anxiety of doing this all alone. Am I doing it right? Why does it always feel like I’m doing it all wrong? What is wrong with me? I am a broken parent and my kid drew the short stick when she was left with me. Why me? What did I do so wrong to deserve this life without him? It’s all just too much.

I recently filed a preschool application for my daughter for the magnet school lottery in my area. The moment I hit “apply” I got an instant surge of excitement and hope that my daughter will get a spot in one of these schools. I coasted that high for about 60 seconds before I got another surge. This one was dread. Yes, I want my daughter to get in more than anything, but I’m not ready. Her daddy never got to see this moment. Her daddy will never see her first day of school, he will never celebrate her good grades or send her off to her first school dance, or take her to the father/daughter dances. He will never coach her lacrosse team, never teach her to drive, never watch her graduate. He will never do any of these things because he didn’t live long enough to watch her walk or quit drinking milk from a bottle. He didn’t live long enough to hear her put words together into a sentence, or learn to play with other children. He only knew her as an infant and now there is an entire lifetime of achievements and firsts that he will never get to be a part of. There is a lifetime of mistakes and broken hearts that he will never help to heal. She will never turn to her daddy for advice, he will never walk her down the aisle, they will never share in their own special bond that is completely theirs. Because everything she will know about her daddy will come from me.

At the same time, I can never turn to him for help. When I’m too tired and stressed and in desperate need of a break then that’s “too bad, so sad” because there is no one coming home to give me a break. There’s no one to bounce ideas off of, there’s no one coming in with new ideas. No one to help enforce rules or to celebrate with. There’s just no one. I’m alone. It’s all me. And with every high I am reminded that he will never get to see these moments and celebrate them, I am reminded of how much life was taken from him when he died. And with every low, I’m reminded just how alone I am and how much I wish he were here with me, if for nothing else than to just tell me itll be ok, and that I’m not fucking it up. Because it sure feels sometimes like I’m fucking it all up.

The truth is, my child is happy. She’s smart and funny, she has a great personality, she’s adorable and lovable, and she’s an all around great kid. But despite that, and no matter how much I try, I still sometimes can’t help but to feel like I’m totally fucking this up.

For the widowed, grief and parenting co-exist. Parenting with grief is so hard and so emotionally draining that it seems to leave so much less of you available to your child. The good times hurt. The bad times hurt more. You try to give everything you’ve got to your kids, but widowed parents seem to start with less to give because so much of their emotional energy is drained by grief. It all hurts. But what I have found is that just because we start with less to give, that doesn’t mean we give less. We in fact give just as much or more, but we have less to give ourselves. It’s a battle we will always fight, a balance we will always struggle to achieve… but our kids will be ok. As long as we keep fighting for them and loving them through it all, they will be ok. And so will we. It takes strength to be a widowed parent, and there is no one stronger than us.

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you. This puts my scrambled brain into such a beautifully written and honest truth of what my life is like. -Widowed mom 5 – ages 3, 5, 9, 12 and 16.

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  2. Thank you – your beautifully written piece puts together exactly what my scrambled thoughts can no longer do… this is just perfect. (I’m raising 5 – ages 3, 5, 9, 12 and 16 years. It’s been almost 4 years.)

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  3. My husband went into the ICU when our daughter was 18 months and passed when she was 23 months. She’s 2 1/2 now so I relate to everything you right.

    And about the Minnie Mouse socks (or was it Mickey Mouse), if it makes you feel better, I can’t remember the last time my daughter had matching socks on. I call it a win that she has two socks on period.

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  4. I’m a widowed mum of an 8 month old. My husband passed away almost 5 months ago from cancet. Thank you for putting into words how I am feeling. My future seems so overwhelming to me right now, but I am trying to remind myself that I am already doing this.

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  5. Thank you so much for this entry. I am a widowed mom now for 16 months with a 3 year old son and 10 year old daughter.
    This, well all I can say is Thank you!

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  6. Beautifully written. My dh passed away when I was 32 weeks pregnant with our son. I’m glad that he knew he was going to have a son and carry on his name. But every moment (good and bad) is met with a sadness.

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  7. In a way I envy single moms, because they don’t have any idea the emotional rollercoaster ride being a widowed mom is, every day is a new twist and turn. It’s so draining and I find myself just barely keeping my head above the chaos of my emotions. This explains that perfectly. Thank you. I’m a widowed mom to a 7 year old for 2 years and 9 months.

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  8. Thank you for that. You put every widowed parents feelings into words. God bless all of us on this journey we didn’t choose.

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  9. I was widowed when my daughter was 23 months. She’s now 10. Everything you said rings true, and it’s harder when you realize all the “firsts” kids do, dad won’t be there. Enrolling for school every year, and filling out the forms, leaving “father” blank, still kills me every time. It doesn’t become easier, but less raw. Having nobody to share the responsibility of raising a child is the hardest for me. I do love the bond that we share though, and often throw in tidbits about her dad for her to know. It’s a terrible club to be apart of, being a widow. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it from friends and family, when I need to shuffle after school activities and my work schedule. It’s made me take down my wall when you realize you really can’t do everything by myself. Hope other widowers will share your child’s accomplishments with other family members that love them, it’s helped me.

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  10. Thank you so much for your writings. It gives words to what I feel, and comfort that I am not alone feeling this way. My husband died when my children were 13, 15, & 21. I am raising teenagers on my own. I feel outnumbered and really try to be a great parent, but they miss their dad, and I can’t replace their dad, I miss my husband and the love and security I used to have. I just try my best and hopefully some day they will realize what an extraordinary effort I put forth each day to have them grow well rounded, successful, happy and content with life. Its all a work in progress. Some days its one step forward, others, two steps back…

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  11. Thank you for your response, I have been a widowed mother of 3 ( 6,8,13) for 4 1/2 years. I have been able to brace myself for the common “firsts” or things I expected as best as I could so my kids didn’t have to see the hurt in me. I think I have come to realize the hardest ones on me are the little things you don’t think about. The other day the children and I were at a play place and they were having a blast. I noticed my youngest daughter (6) had found a place and was just sitting watching it all. When I asked if all was ok she just looked at me and said “mom, I wish I had my daddy here to play with like those kids do”. I didn’t know what to say or do and I tried not to break but those are the moments that I struggle with. Your writing truly is how I feel each day. Knowing there are others out there that have and are making it through (because we will never “get over it”) helps me to keep pushing and remembering the importance. Again, Thank You .

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  12. So emotional reading this. I recently lost my fiancé on the 27th January 2017. I have a 10 month old son and it’s so hard as he’s not going to have any memories of him

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  13. Thank you so much for putting this out there. I lost my husband almost 4 years ago when our two boys were (7)&(6). It was a very unexpected event that we did not see coming. Its’ been a long road indeed especially since all of our family lives 2.5 hours away. The support group is small. Yet, God continue to gives, provides and strengthens. My younger is severely ADHD, ODD and suffers from is father’s lose. I know our live could be much worse, so I try to keep my eyes on the blessings. It’s not just elderly ladies that are widows!!

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  14. Insightful indeed . My wife was diagnosed with cancer when my oldest was 3 , my youngest was 12 weeks ( it’s how we found out ) .she died when they were 5 and 18 months , now I work 2 jobs to pay the medical bills and try to be a daddy and a mommy . I love them more than anything , but it’s not real easy sometimes . Thanks for posting .

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  15. My husband was just diagnosed with a terminal illness. The realization that the end is near and my son will be fatherless is devasting. I am trying to drink him in, so I don’t forget. I am not ready to let go. It’s not fair. It’s too soon. This is not the way our story is supposed to end.

    Liked by 1 person

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