This was an email I recently received from a reader named Shirley:
“I am 72 years old, and have been on my own for five very lonely years since my husband died. One day, after seeing all the commercials showing happy couples who found each other on online dating sites, I decided to take a look at what this was all about.”
“I met a few nice men (of the right age) but one in particular really is someone I could see myself starting a relationship with. I am not looking to jump into anything serious like marriage, but I think it would be so nice to have someone to go out with. I miss that companionship. The problem is that my son and daughter are totally against it and I have purposely held off on meeting this man because of my kids. He is very patient and understands, but I can’t expect him to wait forever for me to sort out these issues. I know they are just being protective, but I am not a child. What can I do?”
Well Shirley, this is not an uncommon problem (believe it or not!). Let’s take a look at why you find yourself in this situation, from your kids’ point of view.
The death of a parent oftentimes makes the kids’ relationship with the surviving parent even stronger. The roles can completely reverse because your kids feel the need to parent and protect you through this stressful time in which you are all adjusting to life without your partner and their parent – the one who took care of you before.
They likely see your marriage with your late husband as something almost sacred. The idea of you even wanting to consider a relationship may be (in their minds) a betrayal to their father’s memory – especially the idea of any intimacy between you and someone else. They may also be worried that a new relationship will occupy too much of your time normally spent with your family and that they would ultimately lose their mother to a stranger.
They will worry that you will become prey to the crazies and scammers on the internet. That nice little nest egg that you and your husband took a lifetime to grow together could be gone in a heartbeat if someone wants to take advantage of you. It’s not just your heart that could end up broken. They might worry that you could become totally dependent on them financially if this were to happen.
These are all legitimate concerns that children have, but the truth is that they probably just aren’t ready for you to meet someone, even though you are. Their protectiveness is natural, but it is your job to ensure that you and your future happiness are not smothered by it.
First you need to show them that you are competent. And you can do this, assuming you have managed practical details (finances, home and car maintenance, medical visits, friendships, food and shopping etc) capably and responsibly since your husband died.
Then you need to explain to them that no one could ever replace your husband and that you feel some companionship would take away the overwhelming feeling that you are facing your own mortality and the resulting loneliness that you have been feeling since he died. They need to know that all their lives you have been concerned with their happiness and now this is what you need for your happiness.
You need to promise them (and stick to it) that you will be on your guard about giving out any personal information or money, have them take you to meet him for the first time (if he is a good guy he will not only understand but appreciate their concern for you), and reassure them that any relationship you would ever consider would never exclude your family and certainly never interfere with the special time that you spend with them.
Your family has been by your side for a very long time and their protectiveness is natural and motivated by love. If you are having a very difficult time making your argument, try eliciting the help of a respected family member, long time family friend or even your family physician. An outside opinion may help them see the bigger picture.
Remember this is completely uncharted territory for your children to see you with someone other than their father. It may take some time, but these tips should help ease the tension with your kids so that you can begin dating and start enjoying your life again. Good luck Shirley!