Sometimes one of the hardest things a caregiving adult child can deal with is a parent taking an interest in a potential new spouse after their mother or father dies. While it is natural for life to go on, as children we find it hard to see Mom or Dad as anyone but part of the couple that raised you.
Lucy is on the horns of such a dilemma right now. Take a look at her story and see if you agree with my response.
I have been watching out for my 86-year-old father since my mother died a couple years ago. He still lives in his own home but I do his laundry and take care of anything else he needs.
Now he has found a lady friend. He wants to spend time with her instead of me and my family. I was so shocked when I found out. I didn’t think he would ever be interested in anyone besides my mother. He says he wants us to meet her, but I don’t think I want to. He shouldn’t be with anyone besides my mother.
What can I do to make him see that what he is doing is wrong? He acts like a young man in love, but he is 86 years old! Is she after his money? How can I convince him that he should spend his remaining years with his family instead of some lady that I don’t know?
Lucy O., Boston, Massachusetts
You sound like a loving, caring daughter, and I’m sure your father is proud of you.
There are some things you should consider.
First of all, his love for your mother hasn’t changed. He still loves her, but your mother is no longer alive. But your father did no die -- he is alive and well. He has all the feelings everyone else does, whether they are aged 20 or 100. He had a wife and companion for many years, and now he lives in an empty house. No one else is there fulltime for him. He is probably lonely.
He also needs the company of someone in his own age group. He needs to talk to someone who lived through some of the same struggles he has lived through. He needs to talk to someone who listened to the same music he did when he was growing up. He needs to talk with someone who saw the first television come into his area. There is a common bond with people who lived through the same cultural and societal situations. People like to think back over their lives and talk to someone else with some of the same memories. This is all very natural.
If your father and his new friend decide to live together or get married, there are other benefits you will see. She will take care of him when he is sick. She will do his laundry. She will be his companion when everyone else is a couple. She will be there to brighten his nights. That will leave you free to enrich the lives of yourself and your family. You will be able to spend time with your father, but you won’t have to drop everything to care for him when he is sick or needs something.
The wedding vows say, “til death do you part.” That vow was fulfilled when your mother died. Your father is not dishonoring your mother or their relationship. He is simply going on with his life and trying to find happiness.
Quite often children in the same situation as yours react the way you are. Try to stay calm. The problem is your feelings, not your father’s. Think of it this way: If you had a very good friend who was married but then her husband died, would you want her to grieve over her husband for years and years? Or, would you want her to find happiness with another man? I know you wouldn’t want her to be lonely and grieve for years over the loss of her husband.
Many couples that marry after their first spouse dies honor their first spouse in many ways. They even hang pictures of both ex-spouses in their home. They don’t stop loving them. They simply find another person to love, also.
Why don’t you call your father and tell him you would like to meet his new friend? Find a neutral place to meet, such as a restaurant or park. Be nice when you meet her. She isn’t trying to take your mother’s place. She is making a place of her own. She will never replace your mother, and she knows it. So does your father.
And remember, the fact that your father is dating her and acting like he is in love does not mean this relationship will last. It may, but it may not. If you push them to break up, you may only be pushing them together. When you meet her, try to act happy about it. That way your relationship with her can develop according to how her relationship with your father develops. If he stops seeing her, then you also can also stop associating with her.
I'm sure you want your father to be happy. He may need someone as a friend and companion to find that happiness again. Please don’t deny him that happiness because you are having trouble accepting it. There is nothing wrong with him seeing her.