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Adapting to Life as a Widowed Father

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Family at Graveside
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My friend Seth lost his sweetheart to cancer when his oldest child, a girl, was twelve. With five children devastated at the loss of their mom, and with Mike's demanding job, parenting that family, while himself grieving at the loss of his wife, was particularly demanding. As a newly widowed father, Seth confided his fears and doubts in his close friends. What would he do now? How would he raise a nearly teenaged daughter alone? How could he balance the demands of a job and career and the demands of children who were adapting to a world without their mom?

Like every widowed father, Seth was confronting a new reality in his life, created in the wake of the tragic death of the love of his life. Seth came to understand the need to reach out for and accept support, to communicate effectively with his children and to put the family first.

After talking with Seth and other widowed fathers, the following advice would seem to be helpful for a newly widowed father.

Take the time to grieve as a family. The grieving process after the loss of a mother and wife can take a long time, and literally cannot be rushed. You and the children need to work through the stages of grief as they come and hang on to each other. Just because one of the grieving family members is ready to move on does not mean that all of them are ready to do so. Allow time to heal the wounds and take the time you need.

Seek counseling if needed. Especially for children, the process of grieiving and learning to cope without a mother can be tough and complicated. The feelings are really complex - they might feel guilt for Mom dying, they might miss the warmer, more nuturing side that Dad has not yet developed, and they might be angry with God or nature for taking their Mom. Sometimes, connecting with a good family therapist and taking advantage of his or her professional training can yield big dividends. Check with your employer about resources that might be available through an employee assistance plan (EAP).

Accept help when offered. There are few things more tragic in a family's life than losing a mother and wife. As friends, neighbors and extended family members offer help, be willing to accept it graciously and allow others the opportunity to serve you and your family. An offer for babysitting while you take some time for yourself can be a welcome relief and should be not be rejected. Some may offer food; others money. Some may offer to take care of the yard for a while or fix your car. Learn to be a gracious recipient of the service of others.

Maintain family traditions. Traditions are among the things that bring stability to a family. They are predictable in a time when there is so much chaos. So, maintain your family traditions even after your partner is gone. Decorate the Christmas tree on time; don't ignore the tradition just because you don't feel like doing it. Take some time in the summer for a family vacation, even if it has to be modest to be affordable. Whatever those traditions are, hang onto them as a family.

Get organized. Many of the family routines may have been Mom's responsibility and now it falls to the widowed father to take them on. The more routine tasks can be "automated," the easier the transition will be. Getting organized for things like laundry, shopping, and cleaning will help ease the transition of a widowed father to single parenting and will take some of the stress off of daily life.

Maintain your personal health and balance. Many newly widowed fathers neglect their own physical, mental or emotional health while going through the transition. They rightly focus on their own children, but they may be driving themselves into trouble if they don't exercise, eat right and make time for spirituality. Consider exercising with the kids, or getting up a little earlier than the kids do for a little meditation, pondering or spiritual focus. A little investment in your personal strength will help you bear the burden of single fatherhood and grieving a bit better.

Join a support group. In most areas, there are support groups for those who have survived the death of a spouse. The funeral director or your local clergy may be able to suggest a resource for finding these groups. If your partner was a cancer victim, almost every cancer hospital sponsors a survivors support group. Taking some time to connect with others going through a similar situation can really pay off big. Some of these dads even get together for playgroups during the week or on weekends so the kids can play and interact while you connect with the other dads.

Don't rush the dating thing. Being a widowed father is more than a full-time job, especially when it is early in the process. Dating too soon after the death of your wife can cause some complications in the process for your kids and for you. You will certainly need social interaction and some with women, but pursuing and getting into a serious relationship too soon can have serious consequences. Take it slow and then move cautiously.

If you are a recently widowed father, know that you will find lots of support and help as you are open to it. Following your heart, seeking and accepting help and good advice and taking the process slowly and naturally will allow you to move through this most difficult of situations and transitions in a more positive way than you might otherwise.

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