Widower Wednesday: Guilt, Boundaries, Consequences, and Parenting

Several weeks ago I asked for major issues when it comes to dating widowers with minor and adult children. As I've been reading (horror) stories about issues girlfriends and wives of widowers face on a daily basis when it comes to the widower’s children, it’s become apparent that most of these cases have little to do with the children’s grief and more to do with widowers abdicating their parental responsibility.

Before all the widows and widowers out there jump on me for not understanding what it’s like to be a widowed parent, let me explain what I’ve seen and how I’ve reached that conclusion.

I’m a father of six young kids. I’m not a perfect parent by any means. But as I reviewed my parenting skills over the years, I became apparent the times I’ve let my parental responsibilities slide the most is when there’s been a lot of stress in my life such as job loss, moving, financial issues, and bad jobs.

During these times it was easy to let the kids get away with bad behavior or let other things slide (like not doing their daily jobs or homework) that I normally would have come down on them for because of the stress and guilt I was feeling. It was hard for me to feel like being a parent when I was more worried about finding a new job, whether we had enough money to pay the bills, etc. If the kids were happy (or seemed happy) then it was one less thing I had to worry about.

Yet it was during these times we had the most behavioral issues with our kids. At the time I thought it was because they were feeling the stress that Mom and Dad were feeling. And that may have played a small role in their behavior but the bigger issues what that Dad wasn’t enforcing boundaries or consequences when he needed to.

I see similar patterns in the emails and comments from GOWs and WOWs when it comes to widowers and their kids. Most of them mention that the widower is coping with being a single parent along with other stresses in their life. Many of them mention that the widower feels guilty about not having their mom around or not being there for them like they want because, as a single parent, they have more duties and responsibilities to juggle. And as a result, they’re less likely to lay out clear behavioral boundaries and enforce consequences when one of their children crosses the line

For example, every time the GOW visits the home, one of the kids might make rude or insulting comments to the GOW or tell her that their dad is just using her for sex—many times it’s done right under the widower’s nose. When confronted with the bad behavior, the widower will make excuses for their behavior or say that he’ll talk to them about it. Yet each time the GOW visits, the bad behavior continues.

Kids aren’t stupid. They learn early on how to exploit their parent’s weaknesses. If they realize they can call Dad’s new girlfriend names and insult her without fear of punishment, they will do so over and over again. Lack of parenting—not grief—is the main reason behavioral problems like this continue unabated.

The first thing the widower needs to talk to the kids and tell them what is and isn’t acceptable way to treat the new woman. Then he needs to spell out the consequences if they treat her badly. Finally he needs to follow through and enforce punishment if they flaunt the rules. Generally their behavior will change rather quickly if this happens. And, yes, this strategy also works for adult children who are no longer living at home.

It’s not easy to be a widowed parent and I don’t envy anyone that has that burden thrust upon them. Were Marathon Girl to pass on tomorrow and I unexpectedly found myself a single parent of six young kids, I honestly don’t know how well I’d handle that responsibility.

But death of a spouse, job loss, financial difficulties, or any of the hundreds of bad things that happen to people every day can’t be an excuse for parents to abdicate someone from being a mom or a dad to their kids.

Stuff happens.

To everyone.

Even non-widowed people.

When stuff happens, parents of all stripes have to stop making excuses, dig in and still be the great mom and dad they were before things hit the fan. It may not be easy, but in the end it will be worth it.

More on children, grief, and parenting next week . . .


On a similar note, Annie left a link to the Christopher Titus video below in a comment a few weeks ago. Forward to about 34 minutes in and catch his take on bad parenting. It’s a riot--in a sad sort of way. (Please note that I try to keep this blog family friendly that his comedy routine does contain some coarse language. It’s not excessive but if that’s not your cup of tea, you've been warned.)