Dating a young widower with a small child
July 4, 2011 12:48 PM   Subscribe

What should I be considering and aware of when beginning to date a young widower with an very young child?

In the last month, I've began dating a fantastic man, and I feel like it's a relationship that definitely has the potential to go somewhere awesome. However, I have some concerns about jumping into a relationship with him that have nothing to do with his personality and everything to do with his circumstances.

He was widowed a little over a year ago when his wife committed suicide following her struggle with postpartum depression. He has a fifteen-month old child that he adores.

The man I am dating appears to be handling these incredibly stressful circumstances with grace and optimism. However, I am still apprehensive about entering a relationship with him -- at the risk of sounding callous and awful, I'm concerned about the amount of baggage he must be dealing with.

So, I have the following questions:
1) What should I be aware of/what challenges might I run into when dating someone who has lost their spouse to suicide?

2) What should I be aware of about dating a young widower with a child? I am in my mid-twenties and he is in his early thirties.

3) If you or someone you know have dated someone in similar circumstances, what were the keys to your success?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would take it very slowly about meeting his child. The kid doesn't need more people who pop in and out of his/her life. If he doesn't want to do family outing stuff, don't push it.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:58 PM on July 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Be really sensitive and watch for trigger terms in your own speech. Eggshells basically, until you are closer.
posted by Splunge at 12:59 PM on July 4, 2011

I haven't been in your shoes, but if I was, I would probably ask my boyfriend:

-How did you learn to cope with your wife's passing?
-Who helped you through your difficulties? How?

-Are the child's grandparents/uncles/aunts still involved in the child's life? (To what degree?)
-Do they know you are dating someone new? (What was their reaction?)
-To what degree will I be expected to interact with them?

-What role do you see me playing in your child's life?

And I would ask myself:

-Am I ready to be a de facto co-parent?
-Do I want to help raise child who isn't my own?
-Would I prefer a less intense relationship?
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:01 PM on July 4, 2011 [11 favorites]

I don't usually recommend blogs, but this one is written by a man whose wife died right after having their daughter. I believe the daughter is three now, and he is either dating or in an established relationship.
posted by pinky at 1:16 PM on July 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

-What role do you see me playing in your child's life?

Yeah, no. Not unless you were planning on ending the relationship now. This is totally overbearing for a relationship that's just started with such a sensitive background.

As the father of a four year old, anon, if I was single under such circumstances, the main thing I'd need from a partner is respect for the fact that my child's needs are going to take priority, and that may well mean last minute changes of plan and times when I wouldn't be available, because a small child who's lost their mother is going to take priority a lot of the time.
posted by rodgerd at 1:17 PM on July 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

While his wife died after childbirth, this blog (and book) gives great insight into young male widowers with toddlers. He is now dating and discusses it. I'd recommend reading some of the older entries.
posted by k8t at 1:46 PM on July 4, 2011

I would guess he might be very eager to remarry, so this could be a much more serious relationship than with other guys. With respect to his child, you would be her mother, so be sure you are on board with that. If you don't think you could love her and treat her equally to any children you might have, then don't get into this. At the same time, don't have unrealistic expectations (eg, that you are "saving" him and his kid and everything will be movie-like.) This kind of situation can work, but you have to be much more adult and mature than in other settings. It is an instant family! If you're not ready for it, that's ok, doesn't mean you are a bad person.
posted by yarly at 1:47 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Becoming a stepmother is (in my opinion) one of the hardest roads a woman can choose. Being a stepmother to a child who lost his or her mother can often be harder even than that. Even in the worst divorces, you and your husband can share a common enemy - when the kids get rough (which all kids do, even with their bio parents under the best circumstances), you know that there's someone in the house who's 100% on your side. When the mother has passed away, however, you don't always get that strength. After all (as even some of the commenters above have shown), it is understood from the beginning that because the child lost his/her mother, it gives their needs a trump card over yours. Which is not a problem in and of itself - most kids' needs come before their parents', that's just part of what being a parent means - but it can be a problem to always come fourth in a marriage of three people. You will have all the downsides of being married to a divorced father - kids who are learn to use your not being their "real" mother as a way to get at you, well-meaning strangers who question your judgment because you're not "really" a mom, and even intervention in your childrearing choices from the ex's parents and relatives - while their biological mother becomes a de facto saint, because she never made any of the mistakes all parents made. Add in the possibility that your boyfriend never found closure in his own relationship with her, and may still have feelings for her, and that despite that you may have a hard time removing any photos of her from the house because it's the child's mother and he/she will want them, and there becomes very little space within your own home for you to call your own.

I know that sounds really bleak, and obviously that's not the way it works for plenty of successfully remarried widowers. And I think that the fact that the child is so young and that the mother killed herself are mitigating factors in your favor - you at least won't have the baggage of the child never getting over the loss in the same way as women do whose stepchildren are older. But when it's bad, it can be really bad, especially if you're unprepared.

The only advice I can give is to make sure your boyfriend is really over his loss, and that if things do get serious, that HE understands how much he is asking from you. That he needs to be your partner and supporter if you're going to take on so much responsibility. That his late wife comes last. And I highly recommend joining a forum for second wives / stepmothers that includes a dedicated board for wives of widowers - the sooner the better - partly because they have seen it all and have lots of tips for coping. And partly because there will be times where you need to vent your frustrations and will not feel comfortable doing so to your boyfriend, because it would be putting him in an impossible position of feeling like you're asking him to choose between your needs and those of his child, or making it seem like you regret the relationship. And those times you need a safe place to let out what's hurting, or you'll explode.

Feel free to Memail me if I can help in any way. I hope this didn't make it sound too bleak - obviously not all situations are identical and there are lots of happy endings out there. Good luck!
posted by Mchelly at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and be prepared to have difficult emotions regarding his wife. You might react in all sorts of ways you don't think are appropriate or shareable with him (like jealously and resentment) but like everything else, you have to communicate openly & accept your feelings & understand where they come from. A dead wife can raise all the same feelings as an ex wife, except worse, because you can't really blame anything on her.
posted by yarly at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

If I were in your shoes I'd be concerned about the following:

- How involved are the grandparents/extended family, especially the child's mother? Best case scenario (like in that blogger's), they'll be supportive of the guy's dating someone. But these are people that you're going to need to win over.

- He's been solo parenting for quite awhile, so it might be hard for him to hand over the reins to you as time goes by and you all get more comfortable in co-parenting. But meanwhile you need to be sensitive to how he's parenting and let him be the parent and you follow suit.

- What role is the memory of mommy going to play in the child's life? With the blogger that's been mentioned, there are photos all over the house and they talk about Mommy a lot. (And his girlfriend is called "Brookie"... sort of a sweeter nickname for her real name Brooke.)

- On a positive note, you know that he is a good father. That's a great quality in someone that you're dating!
posted by k8t at 1:52 PM on July 4, 2011

It's just the start of things, take it slow and talk a lot. I'd personally be emotionally preparing myself to not get too attached too quickly, be a little emotionally guarded, and to expect that I can't count on him for much.

I would be upfront with him in a calm, gentle way. I would be honest and tell him I like him, I think he's a fantastic person but I don't know how this will play out given his situation, I can't pretend I understand exactly what he's going through. I bet at times he's going to be still dealing with a lot of grief and emotions over his loss and the unexpected situation he's in with his child. I know his child will come first at all times. And so there will be times when our plans get cancelled or changed, and there's a lot of potential in these situations for hurt feelings, but I will do my best to be calm, rational, empathetic and understanding. Not a free pass to be inconsiderate and treat me like a doormat of course, but I'll try hard to be easygoing and forgiving.

Does he like to talk? Is he the kind of guy who can be honest and upfront with how he's feeling on things between us? Or is he the kind of person who will shut others out when he's feeling down or stressed out? How does he feel about the possibility of growing close to someone at this time? What does he want in a relationship right now?

And talk to him about what you want too, be honest. You're in this relationship as much as he is.
posted by lizbunny at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2011

To counter mchelly a bit, step parenting a fifteen month old child could actually be much easier than older kids. She will know you as her only mother, which is very different from the typical step situation. If you ever felt like you could adopt, or fell in love with some little guys you babysat, then you could do this. You and her dad would be coparents, so the issue of his putting his kids needs ahead of yours wouldn't be such a big deal, because you'd both be doing that.
posted by yarly at 1:59 PM on July 4, 2011

I wouldn't be too worried about the kid drama, either - I don't remember not knowing my stepdad, who married my mom when I was four and who was hanging out with me around when I was around 3. It was my stepbrother's relationship with my mom (they met when he was 7) and my relationship with my stepmom (we met when I was 8) that were difficult.
posted by SMPA at 2:38 PM on July 4, 2011

Ok, I've been through this. My sister committed suicide - most likely caused by a combination of postpartum depression and lying-cheating-husband-syndrome. She left behind two small children.

Her husband has since married the other woman.

I have a shaky peace with them on the basis that she better stay for life and be a good mother to those children.

My advice is that unless you're willing to commit for life to not only this man, but his child, you should end it early and certainly not get involved with the child in any way. The kid is probably looking for a new mom and it would be cruel to play that role and then leave him. He's probably going to have all kinds of abandonment issues and need some serious love and care.

Also, don't forget that you'll be competing with a dead woman. It's not like he's divorced and has closure on his relationship. His wife died.
posted by Raichle at 3:23 PM on July 4, 2011

What I would worry about in your shoes, if you are interested in one day having children, is that this guy might be really reluctant to have more kids. I know if my last experience with childbirth had ended with my partner depressed and killing themselves, I would not want to risk that again.
posted by lollusc at 9:10 PM on July 4, 2011

Anonymous, my husband and I started dating when he had been widowed for a bit less than a year, and that was something like 13 years ago. when I was the age you are now. One thing that was strange for me: it was tougher up front, because we dealt with some pretty heavy issues right away.

If you're comfortable sending me a note, please do so, or perhaps add an anonymous email address to this via a mod. I'll be glad to share more but would rather do so privately.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:48 PM on July 4, 2011

Another take--which may or may not be helpful or relevant:

My father killed himself when I was five. My mother had been dealing with his untreated depression (and his various other difficulties) for many years at that point, and while she certainly never wished him dead, there were ways in which his absence was a relief for her. She never told me any of this until quite recently, thirty years after the fact. So although there's nothing to suggest that your boyfriend's situation is that similar, dealing with a severely depressed person has its own sets of challenges that I would guess he is still dealing with as well as dealing with her death.

A fifteen-month-old won't have the kind of memories of her mother that I do of my dad, and because you'd be there from the start, she might not start by treating you as horribly as I treated my mother's boyfriends. But I can imagine that she might later be pretty angry because you're not her real mother, because, well, that's the kind of thing that it's easy to blame everything on if you are a kid.
posted by newrambler at 2:38 PM on July 5, 2011

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