Planning for the Worst Case Scenario? The Plight of the Only-Child Parent

(Young Thomas and His Mother by Mary Cassatt)

One thing about having children and being a military family is that there is a lot of pressure to think about worst case scenario; or maybe that’s just me – maybe I’m the only one who feels this kind of pressure. In this instance, I mean what if something happened to both parents?

I know that this problem does not exist solely in the vacuum of military life; it is something that all parents should give some thought to, morbid as it may be. If something happened to you and your co-parent tomorrow, who would raise your children in your stead?

Ideally, I would want my children’s future guardians to help my children through their grief, give them the room to process all the emotions that will come with losing their parents and having their lives upended.

I want those future guardians to talk about us with them, help them remember us, tell them memories of us in our years before the kids came along. Talk about the things we believe in, communicate our hopes and dreams for them.

Remind them how much we loved them. Tell them about how I was a teacher, before I stayed home to raise them, and my plans for returning to education. Share with them stories of their father’s service to our country.

I also want them to love and care for our boys as if they were their own children. I don’t want my children to be shuffled to a new family where a permanent schism remains, where they always feel like outsiders.

I would hope that these future guardians will take care in supporting our kids in continuing education, support them in pursuing their dreams.  Help them explore their strengths and passions, encourage them through their weaknesses, show them how to cope with defeat and failure. I want them to encourage the sibling bond between them, help them realize how the boys can support each other.

Who knows us this well to take on this role in the event of our passing?

I can’t help but wonder if either my husband or I had siblings if they would be a natural choice to raise our kids in the event of our untimely deaths. Any family members we might consider for this grisly honor are located on the other side of the country, and therefore, are mostly strangers to our kids. So in addition to the loss of their parents, our children will also be faced with moving away from all of their friends, the house they know as home, all of their familiar sights and sounds.

It means leaving the military community, the one place that might be able to help them cope with some of the aspects of their lifestyle.  It will mean traveling across the country (possibly the world) to go live with people who don’t fully understand their lives to this point. Our kids really only know us and our parents.

But do you saddle your parents with the responsibility of raising your children if something happens to you? I guess our ideal situation would be that both of our parents would work together to raise the boys in our absence. Though since our parents live 3 hours apart (in the best of situations), it would mean lots of transit for our kids; it doesn’t seem like a very stable situation, but I honestly don’t see any clear solution.

It breaks my heart to think about these things; to think about who should raise my children when I am gone.  I know it’s something everyone should think about, but I also know that few people ever talk about this.  I don’t have any easy answers.  How does anyone make this choice?  Does anyone have an easy time making this decision?  What is your contingency plan?

Christine Madigan
Christine is currently the HBIC of W and D Enterprises, aka a stay-at-home mom to two handsome and lovable tyrants. Before that, she worked tirelessly in the thankless job of teaching high school students. She's married to a hot and helpful man and can't believe she's 30 because she thought she'd be way more mature by the time she turned 30.
  • Blahblee

    I don’t have children, can’t speak to how to plan for this, but I can say that military and diplomatic families whose kids are often uprooted and change schools and countries frequently develop a thick skin and the kids have strong, long-lasting bonds with other kids in military/diplomatic families.

    • Jen Pink

      Definitely my experience as an Army brat.

      In the event of both of our deaths, our kids will go to their uncle. No clue what we’d do without that option. My parents, unless they’re not around anymore… and then? I don’t know.