I am going to ask something terrible of you today. I promise it is for a good reason. I want you to make a warm cup of tea or coffee, curl up in your favorite chair, and imagine one of the worst things you can… Imagine that something happens that leaves your beautiful child/children without you. Would your loved ones know what you want for them? I know this is a terrible thing to imagine; it is one of my worst nightmares, to be honest with you. However, I do know that while life can be joyous and beautiful, it can also be unfair and cruel. I know that sometimes sweet children are left alone in this world without their parents to shelter and protect them. I know that it is very important to make a plan while we can and to discuss that plan with our loved ones.
So let’s start by taking a nice, warm sip of that tea or coffee. Now imagine your child 5 years from now; what do you want for their childhood? How do you see yourself parenting them as a young child, a teenager, and a young adult? If you had to select someone else to take your place, who do you feel would be best suited for that role? It is important to consider a multitude of factors here, such as character, values, financial stability, and whether they are up to the task.
Try to select a guardian that you feel shares your values and has a parenting style you are comfortable with. As you envision who you want your child to become, think about if the person you have chosen is likely to teach them the principles and skills necessary to get to that point. Second, while it may be an easy task for you to select a family member or friend who shares your parenting style, you also need to consider financial stability. If you don’t have the means to set up significant financial resources for your children, it is important to remember just how expensive it is to raise kids. Is the person you are considering in a position to financially accept responsibility for your child’s future? Lastly, it is important to consider whether the guardian you have in mind is up for the task. Are they already overburdened with their own large brood? Are they young and healthy enough to accept the task of caring for your children for the long run? Are they in a place with their own career or relationships that will allow them the time needed to raise your child?
Do you have someone in mind? Maybe you have even already selected a backup guardian? Congratulations, now comes the hard part. For me, making a plan was difficult, but finding the time to have these often awkward conversations with my loved ones was even more difficult. How could I ever convey to them what I would want for my son’s future should it not include me? How could I ever explain why I chose them to care for him in my absence? And on the contrary, how could I explain to my loved ones why I did not choose them?
The truth is, no one will ever raise your child the way that you will. I already know this to be a fact. You see, I will never be able to raise my son the way his father and I would have together. It still breaks my heart to admit. It is still important to find the time and the courage to sit down with the people you love and tell them what matters to you. Tell them what you want most for your child’s future. For me, I felt it was important to have these conversations not just with my son’s potential guardians, but the loved ones in his life that I ultimately did not choose. When talking to a potential guardian, ask them if they agree with your values and vision for your child’s future. Take a moment to see if they have any concerns, and if they would be willing to take on the responsibility. These conversations are extremely important, after all you don’t want to spend so much time planning a guardian for your child only to have them unable to fulfill your wishes. Allow them time to think it over; don’t forget you are asking them to take on a huge responsibility.
Now that you have all the hard work behind you, the next step is to make it legal. I found it very helpful to consult an attorney to ensure that all of my concerns were addressed, but if your kids have no unusual needs and you have basic financial plans, there are various do-it-yourself methods for establishing a will. Be sure to do your research and get all the necessary forms signed and notarized according to the estate laws in your particular state.
No one wants to think about leaving their children behind without them, but making a plan for their future can be a huge step in easing their grief should something tragic happen. Taking the time to think through these issues and discuss them with your loved ones can help everyone move forward knowing that they are making the decisions you have thought through and agreed to.
And if you’ve made a will to set forth your child’s guardianship, I’d love to hear your advice too. What concerns did you consider? What did you find the most challenging part? It’s such an important topic, so please share your insight in the comments below as well.