After I was thrust into the world of single parenthood when Kris died, it did not take long before my level of respect for all single parents, regardless of how or why they got into that position, rose through the roof.
Trying to be the mom AND the dad to three girls and one boy is crazy hard!
The sad part is that I had it relatively easy compared to many. At the time Kris passed away, three of my kids were in college and my youngest was a sophomore in high school. They were all capable of taking care of themselves. They could drive, make their own meals, do their own laundry, earn money working, and clean up after themselves. They didn’t need a “Mr. Mom.”
What they really needed was the emotional and mental strength of their mother to help them through body changes, first dates, and roommate relationships.
In the tag-team parenting style that evolved over our 26 years of marriage, playing the emotional supporter was her strength. I was more of the practical advocate, helping them with sports and schoolwork. We each were comfortable in our roles and we allowed each other to flourish in them never thinking that some day one of us would need to play both parts.
Another aspect that Kris was so good at was creating memories and traditions. She knew how to make the kids feel special during birthdays and holidays. I never realized how much time and effort she spent considering and acquiring the perfect gifts. Then there were the decorations and the food. During the holiday season, it felt like our home could have easily been a set for a Hallmark Christmas movie. I pitched in by following directions and overseeing cleanup, but Kris was really the driving force behind the magic.
Trying to immediately recreate all that Kris did as a parent was impossible. I felt compelled to try, however, because I thought it was what my kids needed and wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t practice doing some of those things as much because Kris did them so well. As a result, I wasn’t, and am still not, very good at them.
Our emotional vs practical supporter roles are not unique. When we ask moms what they worry about the most for their families if they were the one to die first, a common answer is "emotional care for the kids."
We encourage you to consider the different roles that you and your partner play in parenting, grandparenting, and keeping your household running. If you suddenly had to take over those roles, which ones would you struggle with the most? Whatever it is, take some time to practice. Maybe swap roles with your partner for a month and see how well you do. If you feel like your kids depend on one of you for a particular type of support, encourage your kids to go to your partner more. Encourage your partner to be more proactive in that element of your children's lives.
Grieving is hard enough as it is. Suddenly having to play the role of two adults only adds to your burden. But preparing and practicing, even to a small degree, will go a long way in helping you learn how to survive a new normal when that time comes for your family.
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.