Dating a Widower with Minor Children (Part 1)

Last week I asked readers to contribute their experiences about how they handled the dating a widower when minor children (from him and/or her) were involved in the relationship. I received a bunch of good thoughts ideas that I hope can help those who find themselves in similar situations. This week I’m posting four responses from women dating widowers. Next week I’ll post experiences sent in by widowers. (If there are other widowers out there who still want to contribute, please email me.)

For those who comment on these posts, keep in mind that each family and child is different. What works for one family/child may not work for yours. Some of the ideas below take opposite approaches to the same issues. The purpose here is to share ideas—not tear down what’s working for someone else.

Finally, please note that just about all of those who sent in emails requested to use pen names or post anonymously. All names below are not the contributors’ real names but characters names on LOST. :-)

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From Kate

It is much easier to talk to the children about their mother than it is talking with the W. With the W, we have romantic feelings and it can be hard dealing with the love he had for her.

I have brought up their mom once in a while and asked how they were doing with it. Usually the answers are very matter of fact and not emotional (it's been a year since she passed) I would not over due the topic, just kind of 'check in' with how they are doing.

I’ve learned not take things personally that the children want to hold onto. For example W daughter can't sleep without her mom's blanket; she keeps her picture by her bedside with her mom's wedding ring. Near it, she has an old hairbrush. I made the mistake of saying she needed to get rid of it not knowing it was her mothers. She didn't like me bringing that up.

I am in the process of making a big photo album of their mother from when she was little to when she died so they have one place with all the pix (instead of the scattered in boxes, albums, etc.) This way, as they age, and wonder for example, "what did mom look like at prom?" they can just look at this one big book.

The men can get overloaded easily especially those with small children. No offense, but it just seems women can multi-task better. If he seems to get overwhelmed with all of the roles he has, it is kind of natural for girlfriend to just jump into whatever role he needs filling (cook, mother, sitter, etc). Be careful with that. It is so important that he DATES you, takes you out alone. It is crucial if this relationship is to survive, to have time alone without the kids.

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From Sun

My W (now husband) had four children when we married—all under the age of 12. I had two girls under the age of 7.  We took them all with us on the second date (he had something already planned with the kids.) Later he called and asked if my girls and I would to go with them—after consulting his kids, of course.  About every third date included all of the kids, and when he asked me to marry him, it was contingent upon our children's approval--which they all gave, after we answered their questions. We each talked about it with our own children, without the other one of us there.

Their mom had passed six month before from a 20-month battle with cancer.  They stood around us as we took our vows--and his kids helped clear space for their new sisters in their home.  After we had been married about 5-6 weeks, LW's mom called my husband at work and asked what the children were calling me.  He told her that they were calling me by my first name (which my 3-year-old was now doing, also.)  She said, "That will not do.  If she is the mother in the home she needs to be referred to as such.  Ask them to call her a form of "Mom."

DH told me about the call and at dinner that night, we asked the kids if they could find a respectful form of "Mom" and "Dad" that they could feel comfortable with. We told them wouldn't mean "You are my birth mom.  It would mean "You are the mother in this home."  He specifically told them that they didn't need to use the same term as when they referred to their "real" parents. That was the last time any of them referred to either one of us as anything but "Mom" and "Dad".  I think that made a huge difference in the way they saw us as a family.

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From Juliet

In my experience with a widower with children, the kid is pretty clear on if they want a new parent or not (the older one didn’t, the younger ones very much did). Respect that. Don’t ever tell a child they have to call you ‘mommy’ now (my son still goes back and forth on it years later. It’s fine. The relationship matters more than the title.).

If you’re a parent, you’re parenting a kid who lost one already, and they’re pretty worried about losing you too, so you need to be consistent and reassuring at all times. You’re there. You’re going to look after them. You’re not going to leave them. Ask them if they want to be adopted, don’t tell them they have to be adopted, if they’re old enough to understand that – otherwise you and your partner have to decide for them.

Communicate: what do you hope to get out of adoption? A stronger bond? Reassurance of your permanence for the child? The former in laws to go away/learn their place/whatever? Legal rights and responsibilities (especially big if you want to be sure you retain care of the child should the widow(er) you’re married to die themselves)?

If you’re not the parent to the child emotionally you’re a step-parent. Co-parenting is always important, but it seems like expectations of backing each other up and making joint decisions are clearer when you’re both at the same ‘level’. The widowed parent really has to step up here, so talk about it before it happens. You’re an adult and it’s your household as much as it is anyone else’s, and everyone needs to treat each other with mutual respect. You’re an adult on their side who is not their parent. Be kind. Make few rules, and try to keep them neutral – things you need for your home, not ways the kid needs to be. (‘You have to do this because I say so’ goes over badly. ‘House rules: no music other people can hear two rooms away‘ sounds better. ‘Stop being so introverted/extraverted’ is a loser however you say it)

Big choices are up to your partner, their parent, and you wish them well but stay out of it when it’s not a crisis or something that really affects you directly. Agree with your partner when the child is not there about what your contributions – time, energy, money (activities! college!) will be. The kid has been through a lot, and they can use more kind, even tempered adults who want things to go well for them. They will ask you for things and need support from you that they would never ask for from their parents as they become adults.

Parent or step-parent, in-law or feelings, these kids aren’t just ‘til they’re 18. They’ll have kids, they’ll call freaking out in their 20s, they will count on your home as the backup when things go wrong for most of their lives if you form a good relationship. Don’t go in if you’re counting the days ‘til you can have your widow(er) all to yourself without those pesky children from the previous marriage. Don’t go in if you can’t bear them talking about and loving their late parent (and wanting pictures of her in their room, say, if you don’t have them around the house otherwise). As time goes on, there’s less of this, but you have to be pretty completely okay with it.

Little kids want to go over their memories, and they get conflicted about loving you and the deceased. You need to be someone they trust to talk about this, so you can help them work through it being okay to love both, and to be sad about their lost parent and happy about their relationship with you at the exact same time. Bigger kids don’t like that their parent is less and less a part of the milestones of their life, and they need to talk about that sometimes, and it may be hard to talk about with the surviving parent - someone they resent a bit for moving on and starting again with someone new. I have the ‘I didn’t know your mom, but I know she would be so proud of the adult you are becoming’ talk every few weeks. It’s not much, and I wish I had more to offer, but it’s something and I think it would be very tough for the teenager if they didn’t feel like they could seek it out.

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From Claire

Four years ago I became a widow after a loving and successful 23-year marriage. We had 3 kids, two boys 21 and 17 and a daughter, 13. In March of 2007 I met a W online. By this time I had been widowed 10 months with no idea or desire to date or marry again only a desire to support and be supported by others in my shoes. He widowed 5 months after a very loving 13-year marriage. He had 2 young children both under the age of 9.

In the beginning of our friendship we talked about the issues of bringing our kids through the grieving process all the while trying to grieve ourselves. Not a fun or easy task at all. As time went on we learned much about one another and eventually agreed that we would "meet" in April. It went very well. The next month the W drove to my home with his 2 children to spend a long weekend with my daughter and I. (My boys were away in college). Both of us were nervous about meeting each other's kids and having the kids meet one another as well. Being spiritual people, we prayed that the initial meet would be successful and although we hoped for the best we prepared for the worst. To say it was fabulous is an understatement. W’s kids bounced out of his van and hugged me with tight squeezes. My son embraced the W and accepted him immediately. That weekend was magical filled with, what an outsider looking in would think was, normal family behaviors. After that weekend we met every other weekend and we all vacationed together. We married soon after.

By the third month the newness was wearing off and little scuffles between the kids began. Now our parenting skills and discipline skills needed to kick in. Being a teacher, a mother and the chief of discipline for years in my house, it was quite natural for me. For my W it wasn't so. He was a dad, the bread winner, and his eldest was merely 9. Now he was thrown into being the "dad" to a 14 year old daughter. All of those nights of long discussions on parenting and discipline issues began to play back into my head. He was clearly a fish out of water and it showed. But as the weeks marched on he battled his anxiety and slowly pitched in and tried. Our family was becoming a "real" family. The 2 youngest called me Mommy and my kids began to refer to W as Dad. Here's the key...all unprovoked. In their time they did it. We both had laid the law that the ONLY requirement we had of them was to RESPECT us as their parents. They did...above and beyond!

Today, I have adopted the younger kids and thereby am their Mommy. They were asked two years ago if this was something they wanted and we proceeded. We all live together in a very large, new home that is OURS. We still have those days where we are down or sad and yes the process of grieving is still happening and will continue to happen for years to come both for us and our children. The only difference is that now we handle it together and we support each other and our kids the best way we know how....with love, acceptance and understanding.