Love With Skin On It
Does it feel like your child is hanging on by a thread
after the death of your spouse?
When I think about my children growing up without their father, I am reminded of a story I heard many years ago. One cold night when the winds were howling and lightning was illuminating the cloudy skies, a young boy continued appearing at his parents' bedside. Each time he expressed his fears, his parents reminded him that God loved him, and sent him back to bed. Within minutes the child would find his way back to their bedside. Again his parents offered words of comfort. "God loves you, go back to bed." On a final trip to his weary parents' side, their words were met with a firm answer from the wee little guy. "I know God loves me, but I want love with skin on it!"
I cannot count the number of times that my children have been reminded by relatives, friends, and strangers that God has promised to be a "Father to the fatherless." We claim that promise as a family and thank God for who He is, but honestly, there are multiple times when my children want "Love with skin on it!"
My husband saw his role as husband and father as the most important job he would ever have. He changed his career focus and gave up important positions to spend time with his children. Just before he died he told me that he had given up participating in risk sports out of fear that he would somehow disable himself, and not be able to meet his children's needs.
For years I have looked around me at women who were choosing to be single parents, and I wondered if they realized what a profound statement they were making to their children. When our family picnicked at the park, I watched as my children ran between my husband and myself playing games that engaged both dad and mom. Frequently, in sharp contrast, there would be a father alone with his children, spending a few weekend hours to make up for the fact he was no longer living at home with them. Watching that was painful, and both my husband and I vowed that TOGETHER we would bring our children up in the security of a two-parent family.
The realization that our desires would not become reality was devastating. It is sad to be with my children alone at the park. Sitting by myself at my son's piano recital serves as a reminder that his father is not there. Trying to catch balls thrown by my kids with my husband's mitt only emphasizes the fact that I am trying to fill in for their dad. My vain attempts at "filling in" for my husband are nothing compared to the loss of invaluable truths that should be imparted to my children through their father's wisdom. How do we as single parents attempt to make up for such a loss?
While trying to compensate for such a loss, I am constantly searching for ways to keep my husband's knowledge, wisdom, and love for his children alive. On a daily basis I am faced with imparting to my children the truths that my husband held so dear. I see my search as life-long. When my children reach adulthood, they will need their dad's wisdom equally as much as during their years growing up.
One approach I have taken with my children is that I use their father's authority and guidance when speaking with them. If I am explaining why we as a family do something a certain way, I do not speak from my own authority, but on behalf of their father. I am very blessed because my husband left me with a wealth of knowledge regarding his desires for us, and I am able to clearly tell my children what he desired for our family. Even if your spouse did not verbalize everything that was important to him, I believe you can see patterns in his life that will help you instill in your children what your spouse desired for them.
Frequently, when we read together as a family, I read from authors their father respected. As we read I will point out things I see that their father appreciated. When we listen together on Sunday morning as our pastor preaches from God's Word, I whisper to the children that those same principles are ones that their father cherished.
As I home school my children, I remind them that daddy was the one who introduced me to the concepts that we are using. I am following his wishes in the way I educate them.
Dad remains a central part of our daily conversation. Sometimes, for my children, that means talking about the fact that dad preferred Fords to Chevrolet and diesel to gasoline. Even though I find those facts insignificant, my children repeat them over and over making them an important part of their lives in an attempt to feel their father's presence.
Our daily schedule, although much more complex due to his loss, is still consistent with the way my husband organized our family. Things that were important to my husband remain part of our daily activities. Sometimes that has meant disciplining myself to do them, even if they no longer feel comfortable. I remember trying to read to my children immediately after my husband's death. I struggled to get the words out because the memory of my husband reading for long periods of time each evening with our children was so painful.
Some widows/widowers are privileged to have a thoughts their spouse has written down for them and their children. For the many spouses who do not have that available to them, I encourage them to write down what was of importance to their spouse. Creating written as well as visual memories is an important thing for our children. There are times I know my children sense I am either too fatigued or emotionally tired, and do not approach me to talk about their dad. At those times I find them sitting on the couch with our books that combine his pictures with his words.
When I see men around us who exhibit a similar character trait to my husband, I point it out to my children. When someone comes to our home to help us with a chore we cannot accomplish alone, I remind the children of the great help their father was to the widows in our church. When we see strangers stopping to help someone in need, I remind them of the times their dad came home with extra people in his truck because they were stranded and had no place to go. Even though their father is no longer here to lead them by his example, who he was can continue to be illustrated through others to his children.
Our goal is not to create an idol for our children, but to help our children absorb the true sense of who their parent was. It is important for them to understand their parent's weaknesses, as well as their strengths. Our children will not have the opportunity to hear from their parent's own mouth the pitfalls for them to avoid. Sometimes our children's personalities resemble closely those of their parent who is now gone, and they will need to know how that parent turned his weakness into wisdom.