I’m in a situation that I never thought I would find myself in — not necessarily a bad one, just different.
Four years ago I started work as a nanny, looking after four young children after school. The family had recently tragically and suddenly lost their mom, leaving only their dad. All of their extended family is on the other side of the world; they stay in touch but are unable to provide the support they would like to.
Over the years I have grown to really love these kids. I am in my early 30s, and while most of my life I have struggled with being single, I now appreciate where God has me: unattached and able to love these kids in a way that I couldn’t if I were married and had my own children.
Only recently I have realized how much my care for this family extends to their dad, too. For most of the time I have known him, I never imagined him ever being in a relationship with another woman because he is so loyal to the memory of his beautiful wife.
I suppose I have found myself loving someone else’s kids, partnering with him in raising them to an extent, and enjoying a great friendship with him. I always imagined that I would do that someday, but with someone that I am actually married to. It seems unnatural to not love someone like that.
So I have found myself feeling attracted to him. I really like being around him; I care about him deeply. I have no idea if it is reciprocated. Oh, and he is 20 years older than I am, just to make it weirder.
One struggle I have is the awareness that who I am has a big part in the culture of the family; I don’t want the memory of their mom to be lost in that. I don’t want to be mistaken for replacing her in any way — in the kids’ lives or their dad’s.
I guess I would appreciate some perspective from someone who is not emotionally tangled in this.
Thank you for writing. In another day it was quite common for one spouse to die young, whether from illness, in childbirth, or in war. In such cases, it was common and even necessary for the remaining spouse to remarry, both for their own well-being, as well as the care and nurture of the children.
I think one reason the idea of this widower marrying you — the woman who is caring for his children — may seem strange, is because in our day, life expectancy is much longer (on average) and young children more often than not make it to adulthood with both parents still living. Of course that’s not always true, but it is far more common in the age of modern medicine. Where children are left without a mom or dad, whether for reasons of death or divorce, there are countless safety nets in place to pick up the responsibilities of the deceased.
Bach had 20 children, seven with his first wife and 13 with his second. Teddy Roosevelt had his firstborn, Alice, with his first wife, Alice, who died of a kidney disease just two days after their baby was born. His second wife, Edith, bore him five children. For countless American settlers, the death of husband or wife set off a search for a spouse to take the place, and continue the work, of the deceased. It was a very practical need to have husband and wife, father and mother, in each home. We’ve lately come to devalue the roles of fathers and mothers with the decreasing understanding of God’s design for family and an increasing reliance on government programs and assistance to cover the gaps created in the absence of a parent.
In another day, it would make good, practical sense for this dad to marry you. The question is, “Does it make good, practical sense now?”
To answer that question, I recommend you start where every woman considering marriage should begin, and that’s by assessing the man’s spiritual state. Is the father of the children you’re caring for trusting Christ for the forgiveness of his sins? Is he a member of a biblically faithful church? Is he growing in spiritual maturity and regularly taking part in the means of grace and life in the body? If yes, then he may be a strong candidate for marriage. If no, then no matter how much you love his children, if you are going to obey Christ and follow Him faithfully, you must not marry him. We know without qualification that believers are not to marry unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14).
If he is a believer, then he may be God’s provision for you of a husband, just as you may be God’s provision for him of a wife. This is where it is extremely important, and helpful, to have the wisdom and input of faithful, mature believers who know you and him.
What does your pastor think of the potential of this match? Is it something you’ve shared with an older Christian woman in your life? (Titus 2:3-5) It’s important to have the support and encouragement of other believers you trust as you try to assess the potential for this relationship. You need the objective input of people who know you. Is this a real possibility, or is it wishful thinking born of familiarity and love for his children? Are the two of you a good match? Would you be better together for the kingdom than you are apart?
Widowers remarry. Often. Especially when there are children still at home. To marry again isn’t dishonorable to the deceased. If a widower remarries, his first wife will always be a vital part of his life and story, even as the second wife would grow to be that, too. I suspect it would be somewhat like losing a baby to miscarriage and then finding yourself pregnant again. The new baby fills you with joy and love and even helps lessen the pain of loss. You would still miss your child who died. But the love you feel for your new baby would in no way diminish or dishonor the baby who is gone.
You’re in a difficult position because it sounds as if you’ve grown to care deeply for and even love these children, and I suspect they feel similarly about you. There is great risk in raising the possibility of marriage with their dad because if he does not reciprocate, or if he does but you realize you are not a good match for marriage, the children stand to lose you and thus face more heartache.
There is another risk, however, that I’d like you to consider. It’s possible that you’re falling for a man you would otherwise never even consider a possible husband — he’s 20 years your senior — precisely because you love his children so much and may already in some ways be filling a wifely and motherly role in his home. Before you raise the possibility of something more with him — before you “define the relationship” — I believe you should discuss this with a wise Christian pastor, mentor or friend. If your circumstances are pushing you toward an unwise match — and a 20-year age difference has the potential to be unwise — it would be best to end the relationship, by ending your service as their nanny, before you become even more emotionally entangled.
While a 20-year age difference is not impossible, it’s essential that you think clearly and wisely about your relationship with their father, both because you are still young enough to marry and form a family of your own, and because the longer this goes on as it has been with no resolution, the more heartache all of you may face. Without clarity, you are at risk of occupying the role of wife and mother, at least emotionally, for this man and his children, but without all the benefits and supports of marriage. In the end, that will be unsatisfying, maybe devastating, for all of you.
I pray God will give you wisdom.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.