The Hardest Part of Being a Widowed Parent

by Suzannah Kolbeck
Originally Published: 
A blonde girl looking angry at her widowed mother.

Dealing with financial worries and plumbing and the stupid fucking computer and discipline and The Teenager’s crushes is really hard. The practical parts of being solely responsible for the life of another person is sometimes crushing and requires huge sacrifice, but that’s not the hardest part of being a widowed parent.

The hardest part is the realization that no one will ever share my child with me on a cellular level. No one will ever look across the room when she does something amazing and feel the same kind of pride I do. No one will love her the way I do. The only other person who was there THE WHOLE TIME is now in a box on my dresser. The only person that shares the birth story (and, well, the conception also) is no longer alive.

I am not currently dating anyone because I am a hermit, but in the event that a miracle occurs and I suddenly become less critical and judgmental and meet a dude to date, he will not understand that when I say, “I just want to poke her in the eye!! What a jerk!!” he is not really allowed to say, “I know! She’s a total jerk!!” Dane could say she was a jerk and get away with it because underneath there are all those little cells that make her part of us in a very physical way, a way that prevents us from meaning too deeply what we say when we call her a jerk.

When she is being 100% teenager, a new man might be tempted to criticize the way she thinks, acts, or dresses, but he won’t have the right to do that. To be clear, no one really has the right to do that, but some dude thinking he can waltz in here and insert commentary should probably just waltz right back on out of here. It’s hard enough raising a strong female child without some strange man complicating things with unsolicited advice and opinions. The job of being The Boss of Someone has only two positions, one of which is currently filled by me and the other by the memory of a father’s booming voice and unconditional love.

Some Random New Guy will never know what it feels like to parent through the sudden, accidental death of the other parent, and in that way he will never truly know The Teenager OR me. It will be hard to find someone who understands what anguish looks like and even harder to find someone who can begin to fathom experiencing that emotion through their child. And if I do happen to meet another person like this, they will be wading through their own painful morass.

A stranger, some new dude, just won’t have those cells that bind my deceased husband and me to our child. Holding a potential partner to this standard is not fair, and it adds a level of pressure to the courtship that even a dead spouse has a hard time competing with. It’s also not grounds for a sustainable relationship, knowing that the person you are with may just be biding their time until The Kid is out of the picture.

Newsflash: The kid is NEVER out of the picture. Maya Angelou said that having a child is like consenting to have your heart walk around outside of your body, and I can’t find a better explanation of this type of love. The Kid may be off at college or out in the world, but they are forever a part of you in a way that is real and true and inexplicable. When someone insults The Kid, they are insulting you, even if you are the healthiest, most non-striving parent who is not living through their child. And the insult is not a flesh wound; it’s deep, slow to scab, easily re-opened with the smallest conflict.

Does this narrow my dating pool to the rivulet of widowers who happen to have children? My only child might enjoy siblings; has requested them, in fact, should I decide to start dating again. I have heard rumors that widowers are prime dating material, as men tend to marry in haste (and repent in leisure?) after their wives die. Thinking about parenting someone else’s children right now, especially younger children, makes me vaguely ill and engenders sympathy for any future partners of mine.

For now I navigate the single waters of boys who want to take The Teenager to the movies, mechanics who think my gender makes me a moron, and the ever-present plumbing issues on my own. I am trying not to ponder too deeply the newly-complicated rituals of dating, changed as they are since the last time I was single and ready to mingle. Maybe if I focus on the ultra-complicated and messy parts of dating as a widow, the little stuff will work itself out. Like actually leaving the house to increase my chances of human contact in the first place.

Or maybe I’ll just stay in.

Related post: 5 Things Men Should Know About Dating a Single Mom

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