The loss of a spouse has a cascading effect on every area of life, and re-establishing a social life as a widowed parent can be challenging. We have written a number of blog posts on how to cope with grief in its many phases and managing the secondary losses related to the death of a loved one.
In this post, we begin to explore the social aspects of widowed parenting. We touched on this last week, but we can begin to see some of the challenges that widowed parents may face as they embark on re-entering life.
To give context we are referring to the stage of grief where the widowed parent has begun to settle into their ‘new normal’. At this point, they have become accustomed to living without their spouse, though it’s a hard transition. They have begun to move forward from the acute mourning stage of grief.
Furthermore, the widowed parent has begun to adapt to the new routines and possibly returned to their work or vocation. However, in this new normal there have been plenty of shifts in their wheel of life, including love, family, and social life. But the reality is that their social life may be non-existent.
If they previously had a bubbly social life in the past with their spouse, the likelihood is that they cannot simply slot back into this social aspect. It will be different because life now is different.
Getting socially involved as a widowed parent
There will be a ‘re-entry’ needed. ‘Re-entry ‘is a term I picked up from Christina Rasmussen’s book ‘Second first’s’ where she discusses the re-entry process to help a person break grief’s spiral of pain, so you can stop simply surviving and begin to live again.
Bear in mind that this will look and feel different, in fact, the re-entry may not necessarily be in the same social spaces that the widowed parent and their spouse would have frequented or would have been present in.
The sole purpose of re-entry to social life is to regain some aspect of balance in the widowed parent’s life. Being a widowed parent can be very lonely, especially once you have settled into a ‘normal’ routine, or into the mundane day-to-day tasks of being the sole caregiver to your child/children. The widowed parent has to do all things and be all things.
Although many friends and family members are willing to help after the funeral, as time passes they too begin to settle into their new normal. You may also be thinking that ‘how can you be lonely if you have your children /child?’ You are not actually alone, or, ‘God is always with you’.
Whilst that is true, the loneliness of regular companionship can be deeply and depressing. The visits reduce and the phone stops ringing. I can certainly attest to this, in this season of my life I could go days without interacting with a person except for the greetings of ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ on the school run. I felt as though I was merely existing for the routines.
From experience, the solution is not to isolate oneself or to simply replace your spouse. The solution is to rebuild a social network whether it be online or your locality.
For me, the loneliness was crippling. I was looking for a social network but felt fearful about meeting new people. I wanted a fresh start, but didnt know how. Equally, I had no desire to go out and felt anxious in new social settings. But due to having children, I would find myself in these settings.
It would typically be birthday parties, at times I would happen to get into a conversation with a new person and during this time the question may come up, “So what does your husband do?” “Is your husband here too?” or any question that refers to my husband’s existence. My response would always be received with shock “He’s dead” I would reply.
Despite this not being a great conversation talking point, I have great friendships now that have started like this. These new friends only know me as a widow, which is strange when I think about it. But on the flip side it is also refreshing as I don’t feel the need to return to the old me to maintain the friendship.
7 reasons why widowed parents disengage from their friends/family members
You may already have a social network, but after the loss of your spouse/partner, you may find it hard to connect with your family and friends. Here are seven reasons why widowed parents are disengaged from social networks
- Grief Triggers
You are used to your social network with your spouse/partner and you are afraid that you will find it too emotional or triggering to engage in the same way as you once did. This fear is absolutely okay, it is important to acknowledge those feelings. It is also beneficial to your network to communicate this to them and potentially alter things to help you re-enter back into that social circle.
Being fearful of doing the things that you once did is valid. Being anxious about living a life without your spouse is also valid. Acknowledge these feelings, but try not to be governed by fear. You still deserve to live a good life even though your spouse isn’t here.
- You are no longer interested or your network doesn’t address your current need
It may be that your social circle all had spouses/partners and you all would discuss family and children. It may be that you feel in this season you are no longer interested in those discussions or events around this topic. This is Okay. Feel free to channel that energy somewhere else.
- People are afraid to ask you to events
The reality is that people may be mindful of your situation and feel that you may be uncomfortable in that setting and may choose not to invite you. Or if your spouse was the life of the party and you are generally not, you may not be at the top of the guest list. This may be hurtful but try not to take too much offense to this or spiral into ‘If my spouse were here..’ unfortunately your spouse isn’t here and life is now different.
If you are a widowed parent, the likelihood is you may not have an unlimited amount of childcare in order for you to pursue your social interests. So my suggestion will be to open up with people you trust about the need for childcare. This may allow them to be able to support you. Alternatively, you could create a new network around your children.
- Others presume you have adequate support
Some people who may not have been in your immediate network may want to connect with you more socially, but they may believe that you already have adequate support. So be sure to express your need for support, to alleviate any presumptions.
- You don’t express your loneliness
In the aim to accept the life that you have, you may just decide to get on with it without expressing your loneliness or desire for a social network. This in turn will mean your pain remains and nothing new may happen. Please speak out about how you feel, where you need help and where it hurts to those who you feel safe to share with.
Tips to help widowed parents reconnect with their friends and family
I hope these tips on how to make widowed parents feel more connected to their social network of family and friends resonate with you. I also hope you are able to use them to begin to support you as you emerge from grief and re-enter life. Remember that re-entry is not just about rekindling your social network yourself.
Everyone has a part to play, but you must also be accountable for the role that you play. If you feel isolated, you can do something about it. Here are two further ways in which you can play your part in re-activating a social life.
How to make widowed parents feel more connected to their social network of family and friends.
- Say Yes!
I know this sounds silly, but in your season of grief, you are most probably used to saying no or that you can’t attend something for one reason or another. Actively try to say yes and make adequate arrangements such as childcare, or transportation etc. Say yes to something you’ve really wanted to do, but doubted your skill or ability. Just give it a go!
- Explore new things!
Try something new. Think about something that you have always wanted to do and never gotten a chance to. It could be a new activity, sport, hobby or something outside of your normal routine. Go for it, there’s nothing more exciting than trying something new for the first time.
You can re-enter social life at a pace that is suitable for you. Generally speaking, men tend to do this in the first 2 years after losing a spouse/partner and women, 2-5years after. It is not a race. Go with how you feel, the depth of the loneliness is a good indicator.
If you are feeling really alone, it is a good sign that you are missing a social network. Loneliness in widowed parenting is inevitable at times, but overall you can still have a great social life after loss.
I suggest joining the Balanced Wheel bereavement support group if this post resonates with you. There you can meet people who have experienced loss similar to yours.
We would love to hear about your experiences. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Abimbola is passionate about working with families to build resilience. She founded In Every Season, which aims to provide resources for those navigating through life’s various challenging seasons and help them sustain a healthy family dynamic. She also authored My Sisters Are Not Good At Wrestling, a children’s picture book on grief that will provide comfort and hope for children and adults.