Prepare Financially for Life's Unexpected Losses
- Tuesday, August 23, 2005
As a financial planner I’ve worked with many widows over the years. Some of those widows were well prepared to handle their finances, but most were not.
After working with widows and the unique financial concerns that come with their situations, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how to advise them. But, recently, I met three widowers that drastically changed my perspective when it came to giving financial advice to families where the man is the primary financial provider. Below is the story of one of those widowers. The other two stories are remarkably similar to his:
John was 39 years old. He was living a good life. He was a deacon in his church, had a beautiful bride of 15 years and two fantastic children. He ran a small business that provided him with a very good income and allowed him to devote much of his time to serving others and spending time with his family. Then, tragedy struck. Jan -- John’s wife -- lost her life to a drunk driver. John's life and the lives of his children were turned upside down.
John was (and still is) a great father. However, in the wake of tragedy he soon discovered he made a terrible mother. When Jan was still with them, she was home every day when the kids came home. John couldn't be home by 3 pm when the kids arrived from school because of his business obligations. After the loss of Jan, however, it wasn't long before John realized that the children needed him to be home more often. Without parental supervision, they made poor choices, and they began getting into trouble around the neighborhood.
Psychologists explained the children’s behavior as quite normal when faced with the loss of a parent. Now John faced a very difficult decision -- the way he saw it, he had three choices.
1. Keep working and run the risk of his children getting into things they shouldn't be. John had always worked until now, and figured he needed to provide financially for his children.
2. Stop working to be there for his children. The only problem, albeit a very large one, was that this solution left his family with no income.
3. The third solution seemed to provide the best of both worlds: he could run his business out of his home. Unfortunately, he quickly discovered that this wasn't the perfect solution after all. John found it difficult to run his business full-time and focus full-time on his troubled kids. Changing the location of where he ran his business didn’t make any difference.
His solution was finally made clear after he checked his eldest daughter into a rehab center: he had to stay home and fully focus on his grieving children.
Now, I'm certainly not qualified to comment on the psychological damage that is created when a child loses a parent. However, I have observed that the mother’s death is often the most devastating to the family unit. I believe there are usually several reasons for this. Not only are mothers frequently the relational and spiritual nurturers of their families, but they usually offer stability by running the household and keeping everything in order. This tends to be true even in households where both parents work outside of the home.
Generally, if a man tries to combine running and organizing a household while working, it doesn’t go well. My wife had gall bladder surgery a few months ago, and I became father and mother to our three daughters (all five-years-old and under). Let’s just say I made it, but barely. According to studies, a man’s brain is less capable of multi-tasking; his left and right sides of his brain literally do not connect as well as a woman’s brain. Combine this with the fragility of grieving children and you can see why John made the choice he did.
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