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.