Widowed Mom Feels Overwhelmed
Q: I am a widowed mom with an 11-, 13-, and 15-year-old. Last year we all grieved the loss of a husband and a father. I had lots of help filling in the holes and getting through the change in my life. Now as a single working mom of three, I realize I have to bring the kids along to help out around the house. I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and realize I’ve done too much for them. Do you have any ideas of how to do this smoothly?
A: First, I am sorry that you and your children have had this loss. Now that the frozen meals delivered by friends have been eaten, and living on a budget may be changing your previous lifestyle, it is probably more important than ever for the four of you to work together as a team. Starting with agreement on what needs to be done each week, when it would work to do it, and how to communicate when it will be done (like laundry, putting the trash out, cooking, grocery shopping, etc.) will make a big difference in successfully taking on new roles. Hopefully, the children can take on the roles they enjoy and help the family at the same time.
As a guide through this transition, get support from the outside. Choose a good friend who can check in with you each week about how your new program is going. When you share your experiences with someone else, it not only helps you stay on track, but creates an opportunity for that friend to have someone to share successes and obstacles. We get energy, resolve and a sense of community and support that helps parenting.
Have the kids reacted to your requests negatively? They might be struggling with going from very little involvement in chores to needing to understand the steps, and learning step by step from watching you. Having a checklist for wash, trash, cleaning up after a meal, or picking up their rooms could be useful. Let the children develop the checklists.
Some teens have an allowance for weekly chores; others earn money for doing specific tasks such as mowing the lawn or washing the car. Many families like the house to be clean for weekends so friends can spend the night or the kids can go spend some time with friends. Either way, it can be an incentive for them to take care of business before playing.
You state that you are overwhelmed, and there are several good reasons including the fact that suddenly you have become a single parent. According to research, being a single parent is one of the risk factors to being overwhelmed. Other risk factors include income reduction, reduced emotional support, reduced self-care, and struggling to develop new routines and realistic expectations of yourself and your kids.
Knowing this means that you must ask for support and set attainable goals for yourself. It means that you must accept that you are not in control of everything that happens. Watch for signs that you may need professional help. Experiencing emotions such as irritability, resentment, and emotional withdrawal might be a clue. This could lead to depression, loss or increase of appetite or sleep, and feelings of inadequacy. Negative or overwhelming thoughts might also be part of this. Often we get stuck in these emotions, forgetting we already have skills to help us change.
Hopefully you have learned some stress management techniques that have worked for you in the past. Almost all people profit from good sleep, healthy nutrition, exercise, and having time both with and without the kids. Many people find meditation, journaling, and being part of an exercise team (working out, yoga, walking, running or bicycling) to be extremely useful. Don’t forget, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your children.
It is critical for all of you to notice, together, the things that are working well. Resilience comes from focusing on what we can do and what is going right.
You and your children will gradually make the needed changes. You will keep clear about your expectations of them, and they will learn that you mean business. Having logical consequences for not helping, and lots of support and praise for things going well will help all of you. Make sure you keep talking to each other and supporting each other through each step. Good luck.