Helping a newly single parent with young kids
September 17, 2023 3:23 PM   Subscribe

A young member of my non-immediate family died very suddenly a few weeks ago, leaving behind her husband and two pre-teen children. Mrs. Gefilte and I are trying to figure out how best to support them through the coming months.

Without going into too much detail, the death was quite unexpected. The remaining family members have moved out of town shortly after the death due to husband/dad's work - they have some close family not too far from where they're living, but still about a 2 hour drive.

We are trying to figure out how best to support them in practical ways. Being a newly-single dad with young kids is, of course, a terrifying prospect. Would it be helpful to go spend some time with them in their new home? Should we set up some regular help for them, like house-cleaning? (Thankfully we are in a position where we have some flexibility in terms of being away from home and providing financial support.)

Has anyone been in this kind of situation before? What did you find most helpful, either from the perspective of the supportive family member or the newly-bereaved single parent?
posted by greatgefilte to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If they live somewhere that has it, meal or grocery delivery service giftcards.
posted by praemunire at 3:27 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

I became a single mom when my daughter was 9 and her dad died at 13.

Offer to take the kids on outings outside the home. They’re a bit too old for the pumpkin patch, but think haunted house, the mall, movies, holiday displays, anything. Offer to take the kids to shop for clothes, double points if any of the kids needs a bra and you get it. Kids can be gifted with gaming consoles or other (non-phone) distraction machines.

It helps to know which jobs were mom’s jobs and which jobs were dads jobs. If moms job was holidays, offer to holiday. If dad wants one, or if he is neutral but the kids want one, offer to do Christmas tree procurement, setup, take down, disposal. If moms job was handy person, extend a standing offer to assemble furniture. Etc. The unusual jobs that are suddenly your jobs are kind of hard.
posted by shock muppet at 3:39 PM on September 17 [7 favorites]

How well do you know the kids? If they don't know you well tread very softly. They just lost their mother and moved to a new town and school? That's a lot. Don't expect them to be super-enthusiastic about your visits. Try to visit regularly, like a couple of times a month if your schedule allows and it's not too far. Building a relationship with kids that age takes time and patience. It's unclear from your question how far away from you they are.

Unless you know them really well it could be an imposition to spend time in their home. Stay at a hotel nearby, maybe one with an indoor pool so the kids can come and swim, something my grandkids that age would love. If you're unfamiliar with their new town find out as much as you can about it so you can offer to take them bowling or skating or hiking or whatever.

Yeah, a weekly cleaning service could be good as well as a weekly pizza delivery or something like that.

It's good of you to offer your help and the family will benefit from support from extended family.

And yes, if either or both kids are girls they very much need an auntie or granny at that age.
posted by mareli at 4:19 PM on September 17 [9 favorites]

Setting up a mealtrain and offering to deliver meals and to be the point person so they don't have to deal with all of the logistics. Mealtrains have a doordash gift card option for folks who won't be able to cook a meal. Just see that you're not local... if possible find a point person where they are to help coordinate.
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 5:25 PM on September 17

Former single dad of a young daughter here. If either of the children are female, Mrs Gefilte can definitely help with things that a young girl won't want to talk to Dad about or do with Dad no matter how cool he is.

Other than that, think about some things that you are capable of and willing to do and offer to do those specific things. If you ask 'What can we do to help?' you'll most likely get 'Thanks, we'll be OK'. It's easier to accept something specific that has been offered than to ask for help, even in response to a general offer.
posted by dg at 8:31 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

In terms of financial support, I like the idea of regular house cleaning (every other week may be a good trade-off between cost, cleanliness and time spent prepping for the cleaners). No matter how they split the housecleaning before, a single parent is going to be stretched thin and will appreciate having this thankless job taken off their hands. Just doing it once or twice may or may be feel worth the effort of hiring and explaining but if you can offer this for a number of month, I predict it will be very gratefully appreciated (but of course, ask first) Bonus if you can help research who they should hire. I strongly preferring hiring an individual or two person team where the owner doe the actual cleaning along with a partner or employee.
posted by metahawk at 10:28 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Has anyone been in this kind of situation before? What did you find most helpful, either from the perspective of the supportive family member or the newly-bereaved single parent?

Offer to take the kids on outings outside the home.

THIS. The kids are often forgotten when one half of a couple dies. I don't know why. Maybe because, as adults, we understand or empathise with adult grief more? Maybe because we think if we support the remaining parent, the kids will be supported? Or that grief is a 'parenting moment' that we leave to the remaining parent?

I lost my dad suddenly at 13 and was an older sister to an eight year old. Because mother funked, the people I most wanted to spend time with (besides Dad, duh) was non-immediate family members who spoke very fondly of my father. But hardly anyone invited me. Grief is so personal so they leave you to it.

I was parentified quickly after Dad's death due to mother's funking and having a younger sibling who I naturally cared for. I wish other adults had seen me as a child myself who also needed care and distraction instead of an 'almost-adult' who could pick up slack.

Take the kids out.
posted by Thella at 12:44 AM on September 18 [7 favorites]

There is usually a lot of help immediately after a death, then it tails off. Think hard about what level of commitment you can sustain, and visit, bring a meal, take the kids out, buy school stuff, go to museums, movies, that stuff. Take them for ice cream and ask how they're doing and really listen. Then take the dad out for a beer or coffee and listen. If you did that every month or 2, it would be a big help.
posted by theora55 at 10:18 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

How close are YOU to them travel-wise, for strategic purposes?

Conceptually, you might think of the next two months as "immediately after" with a different set of needs than the "dust settling" period after that in which everyone involved is forced to carry on with normal life just as the shock wears off and both the grief and the new reality are a constant punch in the face.

Figure out between the two of you how much time/money you can and want to commit, and then go see them and take him aside and say what you're willing to do: "hey, how about for the next two months we 1) pay for a housekeeper that does laundry 2) come up for the day every (or every other) Saturday or Sunday from 9-6 and you can give us jobs and/or we can take the kids out/hang out with them while you get some you-time 3) we do Wednesday Night Zoom Movies (or Minecraft or whatever Kids These Days like) for a couple hours so you can breathe a minute? In a couple months when you know more about what your routines are like, we can re-plan."

Also, just ask, but in a constructive way. Say "we want to support you in helpful ways, and we'd like to take some of the burden off you right now without interfering with the stuff you want to be most involved in. You may not know right this second what you need, but we're not just asking this once and running off, we would like to be in regular touch with you to see how we can help."

A lot of touch-base contact evaporates after about a month, so you can focus on that timeframe as a good spot for your help to kick in. You might also ask if he'd like a public-facing spokesperson for managing offers of help and maintaining the big list of helpers and communicating with them. One of the hells of a loss like this is having to break this news over and over, having to talk about it when it's not a good time to talk about it, and having to provide comfort to people who are often much further away from the loss but have their own personal stuff making it hard for them. Also in the fog of grief and sudden single parenthood, it is very easy to forget truly helpful stuff like "oh, my sister is a probate lawyer, please call her" or "my insurance guy would be happy to help you sort out all the paperwork and stuff, tell him I sent you" or "I'll take your kids to school with mine this year, call me this weekend and we'll make a plan." It will be a minor inconvenience for you to maintain that spreadsheet and text with various people, it will be exhausting for him to do all that.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:56 AM on September 18

« Older Working with my broken brain (literally!)   |   Who's a good optometrist near Seattle? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments