Returning to School as a Widow
Weighing the option of additional education
One of the most common difficulties facing the newly widowed Solo Mom is a lack of adequate income. If a now-deceased husband was the breadwinner, there is the immediate lack of that steady income with which to contend. And even if both of you worked, your income is now effectively cut in half.
Although there may have been a small insurance policy available through a job or a trade union, it is likely that it has covered only the cost of burial. It is not designed to replace lost income for the long term. Even a lump-sum life-insurance policy may not provide long-term financial stability to a widowed Solo Mom and her kids. Household costs rarely decline and seem to be on a continually upward trajectory.
For those reasons, many Solo Moms consider returning to school in an effort to improve their long-term job prospects. This can be a daunting task, and breaking it down into smaller components may make it just a bit less overwhelming.
Consider the cost of a program. If there is a local school that offers a degree program in your field of interest, go ahead and make an appointment with a financial aid officer. Be sure to explain your individual circumstances and concerns. Ask specific and pointed questions about the school’s job-placement success rates. Do meet with the officer personally so that he or she understands how much your commitment means to your family.
Consider specific forms of aid for which you might qualify. Look for credible resources online regarding available aid for widows. See what you qualify for, and advocate for yourself so that you can rec eive the maximum possible assistance. You can download the book Filing for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to find out about federal-aid options. Make use of professional or trade organizations, and see who can help. For example, if you are a military widow, you may qualify for services beyond financial assistance for school. Some military programs may offer subsidies for child care.
Support and logistical issues
Activate your networks of friends and family. Let your friends and family know that you are considering returning to school. Advise them that you may need to call on them for assistance. Some Solo Moms may struggle with having to ask for assistance. Please know that many in your circle will welcome specific requests for help. People care about you and about your children.
Ask for specific kinds of help. Often, in a crisis, people do not know how to respond. Being given specific ways to help is often a welcome. Delegate “asks” for assistance according to the circumstances of those you are asking. For example, if you know some stay-at-home moms, ask whether they could cover you in the event of a snow day. Depending on your relationship, some might help even in the event of a child’s mild illness. Consider asking a close family member or friend to develop a schedule on a website such as Lotsa Helping Hands.
Make lists. Anticipate the logistical needs you may face. These include things like carpools. Consider opportunities to undertake reciprocal arrangements with people. For example, in exchange for an afternoon carpool, offer to take the Saturday-morning dance carpool.
Make as many freezer meals as possible. Depending on the ages of your kids, they may also enjoy the opportunity to make simple meals to be helpful. Show them how to make basic meals safely. If they are old enough, they can be in charge of “breakfast for dinner” once a week—scrambled eggs and whole grain toast is both economical and nutritious. Work with your kids to show them how to do this. Take a look at magazines such as Real Simple, which often feature recipes for kids.
Emotional and psychological considerations
Try to give yourself a break. Rather than feeling guilty or focusing on the time away from your kids, focus instead on the powerful message you are sending your kids as you take time for rest. You can be a great mom as well as a strong role model—and to do both you need to honor your limits.
Develop a schedule in which you touch base with critical players. Make a list of people who support you, and make a point of keeping these people close. Also keep tabs on the critical people—teachers or therapists—in your child’s life. Contact them, and ask if you can speak to them on a regular basis to keep tabs on how your child is adjusting.
Join ESME as a Sister. Register with ESME to be matched with someone in a position to provide support.
You can do this. We are with you. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but in seeking these opportunities, you are stepping up to a challenge foisted upon you with both dignity and grace. You are setting a powerful example and will ultimately create the opportunities you seek to improve both your own life and the lives of your children.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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