What would happen to your children if you died?

Finally, after weeks and weeks of schedule conflicts, I was able to go to my men’s group this evening and was surprised, taken aback, and finally thankful for the topic of discussion: death and grieving.

We talked about different experiences we’ve had with death and especially about how children deal with the loss of a parent and how we as other parents in the community can help them and the surviving spouse, validating their own feelings without dictating how we believe they should be behaving, and helping them get through their personal experiences.

(my comment about “how we believe they should be behaving” refers to well-meaning, but inappropriate comments like “I’m sure you must feel terrible about the loss of your Mom” and other projections of emotions onto other people. Different people — and different kids — handle grief differently. Supportive means “I miss your Mom.” not “I’m sure you miss your Mom.”)

The topic that most resonated with me, however, was one that Linda and I talk about once a year: who would raise our children if we died?

I guess it’s a bit morbid, but as a loving parent, I think it’s my responsibility to plan for all possible scenarios to ensure that my children have the best possible childhood and life. Death’s not morbid, after all, just part of the journey of life and, depending on your views, another rung on the ladder or revolution on the circle of life.

If one of us dies, then the other can carry on raising the children, hopefully with some sort of help (a live-in grandparent? An au pair? Another single parent who would merge families?). Not easy, and emotionally I’m sure it’d be devastating – something I don’t really even want to contemplate, honestly – but still, not as bad for the kids as if the unthinkable happened and both Linda and I were killed or died.

We talk about our different friends and family members, asking ourselves whether we believe they could create an environment for our children that would be true to our own philosophies, values, beliefs, outlook, and so on.

Even mundane issues like their approach of discipline are a big topic in this annual conversation because I’d rather come back from the dead than know that my kids are going to a household where they’d be hit, spanked or otherwise physically disciplined for bad behavior. That’s just not in our value-set and not something I want my children to ever experience.

Then there’s the issue of “energy level”: it’s one heck of a job to keep up with three young, healthy, creative kids, and as the years go past, they’ll doubtless be more self-contained, but more active too. Saying that a grandparent could step in if we weren’t around is clearly folly in that regard; they’re exhausted just watching us run around with the kids, they wouldn’t survive a week! 🙂

And then we kind of stall out. Who would we trust to continue on our holiest, most important life mission, raising our children into self-confident, happy adults?

How does your family wrestle with this topic?

6 comments on “What would happen to your children if you died?

  1. This is a subject that really starts a heated discussion between my husband and myself, and why we haven’t had our will done yet. I don’t agree with the way his sister and our brother-in-law raise their children but he sees no other logical couple to leave our son with. Neither of us see a good reason to leave him with either set of grandparents, especially his parents. My only suggestion is friends of ours that have just recently started a family and have been together since high school, whom we have been friends with since then. He believes that the burden is to great to even ask and that over the years we have grown too far apart. We are a fairly young couple but if we can’t ask family, shouldn’t it be okay to ask someone (a couple) to raise our son when financially he is all set. Granted, and extra child, especially a child that isn’t yours, can be a burden. But I feel that all children are special. And I feel the couple that I want to raise him will have enough compassion, understanding and share in similar parental views as we do. Do you think that I should press the issue with my husband, and ask the couple to see if it would be an option for the future? I just see his family as untrustworthy and I don’t want my son to pay the price. The have already showed their true colors to me and the treat him like crap. I don’t want to leave my son to someone like that.

  2. I recently (February of this year) had to face this after a nearly fatal incident with my heart. Being a single mom, and not fully trusting my son’s father to make good choices, I have asked my sister and her husband to take my son, and have it in my will that these are my wishes. I’m sure if his father fights it, he will win, and there lies my dilemma. Do I want to put my son through that kind of fight when he’s just lost his mom?
    His father regularly smokes pot, something I do not approve of, and I know that if he had him in his permanent custody that my son would be encouraged to do the same. So I think that in itself is reason enough to, at least, let my son know that I believe drug use is wrong, and that even after I’m gone that he knows how strongly I feel about it.

  3. We have discussed this topic as well. We are very fortunate. My brother and sister-in-law are raising two wonderful children. While you can never be sure exactly what happens at home. They have two of the happiest, sweetest, well behaved children. These two truly love each other and both love our little guy. We would have my husband’s parents manage the funds, so they would also be involved.

  4. A few years ago, there was a number of family deaths including my dad (the kids grandfather), an uncle, a cousin, and a gerbil.
    The kids incorporated death into their playing for awhile. They had funerals for different stuffed animals and a few times, they had funerals for each other including eulogies.
    Then there were a few bar mitzvahs and they switched to re-enacting them. All healthy I guess.

  5. This is a tough one. With your lifestyle I think you would be better off finding someone who understands and lives what you want for your kids rather than just having family take care of them for family’s sake. Doesn’t mean the kids are any less loved by family – it just means some families are SO different that it wouldn’t work.

  6. The decision about who to leave your children with is perhaps life’s most difficult and intimate decision.
    To Joy: You mentioned that your son’s father might not be trusted to make the best decision for your son if you were gone. You could try to set up a trust for your son. We did this and it is easier that we thought. We did it through an estate planner attorney, and the total cost was about $1,500. Our attorney had ideas for how to word things, then mentioned that the wording can say that such and such will not get their portion of the inheritance (can be life insurance money) if they contest any part of your will. Sometimes even a relatively small amount of money being left to someone who known to act irresponsibley can convince that person not to go against your wishes.
    There is no way to totally control the situation, but a saavy attorney might be able to help you troubleshoot.

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