Mom Runs a Funeral Home

Welcome to the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Jennifer Budd Wright

I have a job that always sparks conversation. One that usually goes like this:

"What do you do?"

"I am a funeral director."

"Reeeaally?... Have you ever watched Six Feet Under on HBO? Do you do everything? Reeeaally?"

I was raised in a funeral home, so I find my work perfectly normal. I am very good at what I do and I am a hard worker. I think women tend to be more empathetic and I have been told that I have the ability to put people at ease. Burying a loved one can be a very stressful time in a person's life and I have seen it all. I love my job. I love helping people. I love the hectic pace of running a deadline-driven small business.

There are challenges in my hectic life, however. I am in a business where I am on call every night and every weekend, which makes any real planning or social life difficult. I almost have to leave the state or country on vacation to get two consecutive weekends off. In addition to my full work week, I am an adjunct professor at Mercer County College, where I teach funeral services.

I have, as you could imagine, a million stories about people at their most vulnerable and at their most human. You would be amazed at all of the resentment, jealousy and petty bickering that can come out during funeral arrangements. Having to deal with people can sometimes be very stressful. People expect you to be available at any time of the day or night and they expect you to be at the funeral home whenever they find it convenient. I guess that people don't understand that I may have family commitments or personal obligations.

Because I am always working at very strange hours, time management becomes very important. Often I simply do not have enough time to eat or sleep. In addition to managing a small family-based business, teaching, helping out other funeral directors and serving my community, I have a husband and three kids; 5, 3 and 6 months. Often, because of my husband's work schedule, I have to take all three kids to the "fun" home to get some work done. I would always tell my five and three year old that any deceased people that they happened to see were "sleeping." A few months ago, as I was setting up flowers for a viewing, I again said that "the lady" was sleeping. My three year old looked at me funny, walked over to the row of folding chairs, pulled the chair right up to the casket, climbed on the chair, looked down and said, "Mom, this lady's not sleepin'. She's dead!"

Jennifer Budd Wright helps run the Paul W. Budd Funeral Home located in Woodbury, N.J. She lives in neighboring West Deptford Township with her husband and three children.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  December 12, 2006; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"I would always tell my five and three year old that any deceased people that they happened to see were "sleeping." "

Nice. And when they have anxieties about sleeping, you'll know how it started.

Posted by: Dead isn't sleeping. | December 12, 2006 10:02 AM

Since the three-year-old seems to have doped out the real story, why are you being so pre-emptively accusatory?

Posted by: mamie | December 12, 2006 10:10 AM

Dead isn't sleeping....I thought that this was a nice guest blog. If anything, it tells us that children have the ability to understand more than what we give them credit for.

Posted by: montgomery village | December 12, 2006 10:10 AM

What an interesting report. However, I wonder why she has to be on call every night? What would happen if you were not available at night? Wouldn't clients wait until the morning? I would think that seeing so much death might make the writer seek out more balance. Life is too short to be at work all of the time. This topic reminds me of yesterday's--the idea that people should constantly be at work, even when you're at home.

Posted by: Vienna | December 12, 2006 10:13 AM

Thanks for the laugh today! Your 3-year-old's comment is a good reminder that our kids are more observant than we think they are.

It's difficult for any small business owner to find "balance", but particularly when ALL your clients are highly emotional and going through a difficult time. It sounds like you're doing a great job.

Posted by: Momof2 | December 12, 2006 10:18 AM

Would you really want a dead body sitting in your house until morning? EWWWWW!!!!

Posted by: TO Vienna | December 12, 2006 10:22 AM

I'm amazed that, by 10:20 in the morning, there are only 5 comments.

Come on, folks. This woman took the time to tell her story. Take a few minutes to respond!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:22 AM

Sounds like the families who come to your funeral home are very lucky to have you there for them. It sounds like a really taxing job, but you are really doing such good in our world... I think that would make finding balance a little easier.
Happy hoidays to you and thanks for sharing. And of course, I love the story about your 3 year old. We can already see with our 9 month old how much she knows... can't wait to hear what starts coming out of her mouth by the time she's three!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:26 AM

"Often I simply do not have enough time to eat or sleep."

Jennifer, if you don't have time to eat or sleep, then you've definitely got a time management problem AND you're not going to function very effectively when you stress your body like that.

There have to be things in your schedule that you could scale down. The teaching, perhaps? The helping other funeral directors? Can your family business afford to add staff? Sounds like you need it desperately.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:27 AM

As somebody who has recently really gotten into "Six Feet Under" (not having HBO) I can only imagine what it must have been like growing up in a funeral home.

At least with your family you don't live there! Too funny on the 3-year-old. Yep, they are definitely smarter than we make them out to be.

I won't ask if your Mom is anything like Ruth in the show... ;-)

Posted by: librarianmom | December 12, 2006 10:28 AM

It's okay that there aren't a ton of responses today. Sometimes it's nice to just read a story and reflect on it. Not everything has to bee commented on (let alone torn apart as many of these postings do). That's what this story did... just made me think about life a bit more... and that's a good thing!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:29 AM

Great guest blog! You really do a compassionate and caring job for your clients. I don't understand why you're always on call, though; I wouldn't expect to necessarily see someone in person at all hours. I guess the problem is what happens when someone dies in the evening or later, and needs to be taken somewhere...that's a dilemna. I'm glad there are folks like you willing to be there when needed, but hopefully you can find better balance for your family.

And your 3-year old...they do understand more than we give them credit for, don't they?

Posted by: Soup | December 12, 2006 10:30 AM

I also have a 3 year old and am constantly amazed by the things he says so I can relate.
I can't imagine what it must be like working in a funeral home and being reminded of death all the time. Constantly being reminded of how fragile and temporary life is must make balance seem even more important.

Posted by: fabworkingmom | December 12, 2006 10:32 AM

My cousin was a funeral director or whatever they are called. Anyway, they are on call at all hours of the night. Maybe you have to get to work on the bodies as soon as possible for some reason?

Anyway, he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into another car after being up all night at the funeral home. They were all killed instantly and some of his family blamed work on the crash, I blame his inability to say no on the crash. At some point, no matter what your job is, you have to say no if you feel that you can't get the work done and also secure your safety/work life balance.

Posted by: scarry | December 12, 2006 10:33 AM

The reason there aren't a lot of comments was that the Post had problem and you couldn't post a comment until around 10.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:33 AM

Your 3-year-old's comment at the end was priceless! It gave me a much needed chuckle. I can only imagine what that must have been like to have your child "out smart" you. Great blog, thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Melissa | December 12, 2006 10:34 AM

This post raises a good question--do all types of careers and motherhood mix? Do some mix better than others? Suzanne Venker wrote a book called, "7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix."

Are there some careers that you just shouldn't have if you're a mother? Are there some careers that work better than others?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:34 AM

---The reason there aren't a lot of comments was that the Post had problem and you couldn't post a comment until around 10.

The IT tech must have been working a flexible schedule today - maybe hunting in the woods :) !!!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 10:37 AM

I see a lot of commonality between this story and the perils confronting any woman with small children running a small business. It is great to hear her story. I have a friend with a card/gift shop business. She definitely puts more time into it than she anticipated. Any comments from anyone else running a small business?

Posted by: dotted | December 12, 2006 10:44 AM

Maybe the author can clarify being on call? I would think that it depends where you die - if it is in a hospital and expected - they have only a couple hours to get the body to the funeral home. If it is s sudden or unexpected death I would think the deceased would go to a county coroner first.

From what I understand most funeral homes are family businesses. I read that it is has just been the last 10-20 years that there has been franchizing in the industry. Given that this is a family business that the author grew up in I trust she can handle questions from her children. As adults we try very hard to hide so much from our children, but death is a part of life and kids are amazing when it comes to concepts that we adults think are too complex for them.

This was an interesting article and the author is aware of her balance issues. I'd rather read about "different" careers and the issues the parents face than the Wharton Business school graduates and their nanny problems.

Posted by: cmac | December 12, 2006 10:44 AM

What a great story, it is amazing what kids understand.

I also think it is great to hear from someone who is running her own business and committed to doing so, even in the face of challenging hours and demands. It sounds like Jennifer is really good at what she does and finds it rewarding; her kids will grow up learning not only about the skills her mother has but about being an entreprenuer and running a business, and seeing that everything doesn't have to be the standard office job working for someone else. I think that's great.

Posted by: Megan | December 12, 2006 10:52 AM

Thierry - I think your comments are rude. I find it refreshing to have someone with a career that is a little different.

There is a lot to be said for being self-employed. It sounds like you've got a flexible job, your kids can come along in pinches when something needs to be done. It's just a fact of service-oriented jobs that the hours can be erratic.

The sleeping bodies thing sounds a little like us and Santa Claus. Once they figure out about Santa then you can either keep the euphemism up or let it go.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 10:53 AM

I don't see how this story 'doesn't relate' to most of what is discussed here - just yesterday there was ample discussion about whether certain professions can or cannot be done on flex time, etc. Here is an example of a job that *literally* cannot be put off to accomodate flex time and the author commented honestly on the related pressures that puts on her sense of balance (or lack thereof). For all of the discussion here that circles around the different types of professions out there, from blue collar to white collar and everything in between, I think this is an excellent description of a work experience that I, for one, had never thought of in the context of the balance issues it presents.

Thanks for posting it - I'm fascinated!

Posted by: Mpls | December 12, 2006 10:56 AM

Great story! Ignore Thierry - anyone who can't see the parts in this story that many readers can relate to (balancing a career that has several components? running a family business? negotiating the tricky details of explaining one's job to small children whose comprehension levels are set on constant change mode?) is being purposefully obtuse.

I appreciate Jennifer's willingness to share her story and give us a glimpse of a busy and fulfilling life. Standing O.

Posted by: pastryqueen | December 12, 2006 10:58 AM

I am sure that there are no small number of doctors and lawyers out there who spent their youths studying at a table or in a back room of Mom and Dads' restaurant or store.

Watching your parents work and working with them is a great way to grow up.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 11:00 AM

"Nothing to argue about today.
This is one story that 99% of readers cannot relate to. Boring and irrelevant."


What an arrogant statement. Not to mention completely WRONG.

It was an interesting, thought-provoking article that offered a peek behind the curtains of an industry we don't often get to learn about.

Guess you're not entertained unless there's some sort of "ooh-la-la" going on.


Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 11:09 AM

Jennifer - good for you. I know from experience that a compassionate funeral director and good funeral home is hard to find. We are so removed from death that it totally freaks most people out. It is a great, great, meaningful and important service when done properly. Frankly, I think this would be a career that many women would be good at. Keep up the good work Jennifer, what you do makes a very big difference to families even if you don't always hear it!

I also think its healthy for children to see the natural life cycle and not be so afraid of death. Its all part of life and we all end up there eventually.

Posted by: moxiemom | December 12, 2006 11:09 AM


I hate to say this, because it may just fan the flames, but this Thierry person seems to be a troll, and as such is best ignored.

Posted by: BonnySwan | December 12, 2006 11:14 AM

"deadline-driven small business"


Posted by: Jeff | December 12, 2006 11:17 AM

Thierry, I found the article very interesting AND relevant, because it's about balance. Did you find it boring simply because it doesn't give us anything to argue about, as we love to do so much?

I loved your story; thanks for sharing. And it seems like your kids will have a healthy, well-adjusted attitude toward death when it comes to their loved ones. So many kids don't know how to deal, but you have an opportunity to teach them about death with compassion and understanding. Good for you! Though your 3-year-old's comment is certainly a reminder that kids aren't as naive as we'd like to think they are!

Posted by: Mona | December 12, 2006 11:19 AM

"7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix."

Cut me a break. Whoever wrote that should be shot. It's a generalization about certain careers and makes assumptions--including that mothers are the only parent responsible for their children. Books like that do not add to the discussion of work-life balance and only provide excuses and justification to women to bag their careers. Pure junk.

With regard to today's blog--I agree with RoseG. What a great example to your children. My sister started her (then small business) just before getting pregnant with her first child. She had to work 24/7 to make it work. Many small businesses cannot afford to have employees. For the kid's first 6 months, she brought the baby to work and hired a sitter to watch him while she worked. She continued to breastfeed too and could spend time with him all day long. Both of her kids have a really good understanding of how her business is run and love visiting her at work (both are now schoolage). My sister now has over 100 employees and went from making $0 to grossing over $10 million a year. She now makes her own hours and either her or her husband pick the kids up from school and drop them off. Works very well for them.

Thanks for the story. Very cute

Posted by: working mother | December 12, 2006 11:20 AM

Wow, working mother, that's an awesome story about your sister. It's so nice to hear other people's success stories - a good reminder of what you can do when you're not stuck in a certain mindset.

Posted by: Megan | December 12, 2006 11:25 AM

Today's topic has changed slightly from balancing life to, well.. um... balancing death?

Kids can be brutelly honest, as the King sporting the newest fashion learned a long time ago. They know a lot by the age of 3, and it amazes me how many 6 year olds still believe that a fat guy in a red suit will fly around in a sled pulled by reindeer and give toys to children all over the world. Two more weeks! If they can believe that, they can believe anything, so be careful what you tell them.

And Jennifer, telling your child that a deceased person is "sleeping" is a nice way of describing it.

Posted by: Father of 4 | December 12, 2006 11:26 AM

Well, I'll say this for Thierry... they certain got the discussion going!

Posted by: 215 | December 12, 2006 11:32 AM

OK, sorry. I find it boring, but you find it fasinating, ok, good for you!
I surrender!
I surrender!
I surrender!

Posted by: Thierry | December 12, 2006 11:35 AM

Ah! The Frenchman has surrendered.

As expected. :)

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 11:38 AM

"deadline-driven small business"

In parts of the U.S., the funeral business is highly competitive and some folks are on call 24/7 because they need to be on the same schedule as death.

Posted by: Liz | December 12, 2006 11:43 AM

I find the job fascinating, but the working with the families part, not the working with the deceased part. I am curious about the hours. I would expect the family to call the funeral home in the morning. Obviously, the body needs to be kept cold (in the hospital?), but I thought that could wait until morning, too. I'm clearly naive about this business. Can you be trained to work the "front room," but not the "back room"?

As far as telling a 3 year old a dead person is "sleeping," that kind of freaks me out. Have any of you parents had to tell your 3yos about death yet? When is the appropriate age? It seems like a much more important thing to be truthful (age-appropriately) about than, say, Santa or the Tooth Fairy.

Posted by: atb | December 12, 2006 11:45 AM

Speaking about fairy tales, Santa, and death ...

My daughter asked me yesterday if Santa Claus will ever die (and just when you think you've got all your bases covered on how to answer the questions on where babies come from, how will Santa know where to find me, etc)

Posted by: LGB | December 12, 2006 11:50 AM

"Suzanne Venker wrote a book called, "7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix."

Oh, yeah, the book where she argues that only women are inherently capable of caring for children. That's certainly a scholarly work I would take seriously.

Posted by: Lizzie | December 12, 2006 11:53 AM

LGB, a friend just sent me a funny, but extremely twisted email forward featuring a photo captioned "How to save some money this Christmas." The photograph was of a child crying in front a tombstone reading, "Santa Clause: 1836-2000." Someone must have been reading your daughter's mind ;)

Posted by: Megan | December 12, 2006 11:53 AM

atb, we have been addressing this issue since both my grandmothers have died in the past 3 weeks. I have a 2.5-year-old and a 4.5-year-old. We told them both that their grandmother was very, very old and her body just stopped working. We specifically did not say anything about sleep. But our 2.5-year-old has been fighting sleep ever since the girst grandmother died, even waking up at night to announce she doesn't want to sleep, and she's scared. It's very hard on all of us.

Our 4.5 year-old told me yesterday that she doesn't want to be alive anymore. Her rationale is that if you are alive then you have to die someday, and she wants to live forever.

Clearly we are not handling it that well. We have gotten some books about death out of the library but our 4.5-year-old says they are too sad to read. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Neighbor | December 12, 2006 11:57 AM


Re the question of overnight availability --

I volunteered in a hospice center for a while, and I can tell you that, just like hospitals, funeral homes are a 24/7 business.

One reason for this is that, sadly, there's always someone (usually lots of someones) waiting for the bed. In hospice centers, families are encouraged to spend as much time with the deceased person as they wish; however, once the family is ready to leave, the body must be moved along to a funeral home, because it does need to be kept cold overnight.

So, funeral homes must always have transport people available to pick up bodies. And sometimes, funeral directors, themselves, will come on these calls to help reassure family members, even though they won't actually meet to make arrangements until the next day.

It's always seemed to me that the hardest thing about being a funeral director would be maintaining the calm attitude of reassurance so necessary to soothe clients. In this kind of work, you just can't ever lose your temper.

Posted by: pittypat | December 12, 2006 11:59 AM

Speaking of children there was a news article out of Waco, Texas yesterday, it seems that a 4 year old boy hugged and according to the female teachers aid sexually harrassed her for which he was given a school suspension. A year old boy, we know what you women can do to men and teenage boys, but to attempt to destroy someone that young carries your sick and controling message way too far, even the Nazis didn't stoop that low.

Posted by: mcewen | December 12, 2006 12:17 PM

"Have any of you parents had to tell your 3yos about death yet? When is the appropriate age?"

I had to tell not quite 5 yo that my grandmother died. "Her body stopped working. She won't eat or drink or sleep again. She won't feel hungry or thirsty ever again. She will never be alive again." I have also experienced, as a child care professional, the death (on three separate occasions) of the parents of child in our center, and we had to help children understand this. We additionally experienced the death of numerous classroom pets, and this eases the way to dealing with the death of people.

My own daughter has become pretty comfortable with the idea of death. On the plane going down to my grandmother's funeral, I told her about the visitation--explained what it would be like--and told her that she didn't have to go if she didn't want to do so. "Where will you be? she asked. "Wherever you are" was my reply. "Then I want to go [to the visitation]." I said that was fine, and that it was also fine to change her mind. Twice more on the plane I brought it up and told her that she didn't need to go. She reiterated that she wanted to go, and finally she said, sounding rather exasperated, "I WANT TO GO." Okay, enough said.

Not quite two months later my grandfather (other side of the family) died. The visitation was immediately prior to the funeral, in the church, and we didn't get there until near the time of the service. When we arrived, she marched me up the aisle to the casket--I barely had time to drop things off at the pew we'd sit in.

We read books about death--"The Tenth Good Thing about Barney", "Losing Uncle Tim", and most recently "I had a Friend Named Peter," about a boy who died in an accident. The main things about telling children about death is to become comfortable with talking about it yourself. Also, explain in simple terms what it means, and offer lots of opportunities to talk about it with them. One question that they will want answered is--will you (my mom or dad) die? Your answer should include that yes, you will die, but you don't expect to die until you are old, the child is grown and has kids and grandkids of his/her own. Also say that there will always be someone to care for your child.

Posted by: single mother by choice | December 12, 2006 12:21 PM

My father is a funeral director in a small town in Western PA (I grew up living in the funeral home). He IS on call 24 hours a day, meaning that if he receives a call that someone has passed away (which obviously could come at anytime, day or night) he has to immediately contact the family and make arrangements for the removal of the deceased. Also, it is optimum to begin the preparation of the body of the deceased as soon as possible after death to minimize any effects of decompostion.

An added pressure for my father being in a small town is that, even when he has coverage and can get out of town for a vacation, his clients know and expect him to be there, and don't take kindly to the "replacement" funeral directors. It's a very demanding career, both in both time and emotional energy.

Posted by: ntn2991 | December 12, 2006 12:23 PM

Great ones today, Jokester!

I found this an interesting story and thank the author for sharing. It is indeed tough to know what to say about death to kids.

My very bright 6 year old nephew heard about the Russian spy who died from radiation poisoning and asked so many questions that I finally just asked him, "Are you afraid of being poisoned?" He said yes. I explained to him that only bad people far away would do something like that, and we don't have any bad people like that here where we live. He didn't seem to buy it, poor kid.

Posted by: Rebecca | December 12, 2006 12:24 PM

A balance question:

Off topic, but related to balance -

I'm currently in a position with at least two and a half hours of commuting each day. I feel I spend very little time with my kids and I'm worn out at the end of the day. I've tried to find a position closer to home, but I don't have a Bachelors and that lack keeps alot of doors from even being opened (my current position was acquired through networking.) Call me lazy (as I'm sure some will), but I just don't have the energy/will power at the end of the day to do online classes.

I have an opportunity to live on the family farm (across the country from where I live now) and go back to school full time. My hope is that I'll have more leverage with finding a position and perhaps find something closer to home, where ever it might be in the future. I'd also like to position myself to where as my daughter gets older, I'll be at home in the afternoons. Where we live now, my daughter gets to see her father's side of the family every other weekend, but my side gets to see her once a year - if we live on the farm, she'd see my family more frequently.

The problem:
I've stayed where I live so my daughter can be close to both her father and me (we trade off week to week when he isn't deployed.) If I move, the whole arrangement will change and both her father and I are reluctant to have her live full time with the other (not out of concerns for how she'll be raised, more because we both love her so much.)

I honestly don't know what is better - me being burnt out, but her getting to see her dad, or me furthering my education, hopefully achieving a better work life balance, but her seeing her dad or me infrequently. I was a product of a divorced family and I don't feel scarred from not seeing the other parent more often.

Could someone help me think through the logic of this with some pointed questions?

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 12:25 PM

Re: talking to kids about death. My Fil died when I was pregnant with my son so we've always talked about him and told the kids that he was dead so it wasn't a big "new" idea to them. We also always tell the children that your body is the house for your soul and when you die your soul "moves out" kind of like you would move out of a house. We then talk about how we would all be the same person if we lived in a different house and its that way with the dead - they've moved to a different house that we can't visit, but we keep them close by remembering them and talking about them often, including how much we miss them. Good luck - it is soo hard to see them so sad and mixed up.

Posted by: moxiemom | December 12, 2006 12:29 PM

To Neighbor

I am so sorry to hear of your losses. It must be very hard for you. It's good to keep reading books to them--especially The Tenth good thing about Barney. Think of ten good things about your grandmothers. Explicitly draw the distinction between sleep and death. Point out that these women were very old. "Most people, almost everyone, lives until they get old." Old is a relative term here, but I think an important thing for your 4.5 to hear. It is extremely unlikely that she will die before becoming a mother/grandmother/even great grandmother. Bring the subject up repeatedly--talk about special recipes, traditions, or other things that remind you of your grandmothers. Acknowledge that you miss them--but save most of your grieving for times when your children aren't around (you need to be comforting them, not the other way around). Find ways to say good-bye to your grandmothers, if you feel that hasn't happened yet. Talk with a religious leader if that feels right to you. If your children attend an early childhood center, someone on the staff there might have some advice for you. Also check out some books for adults to use in talking with children about death, if you haven't done so already.

Posted by: Single mother by choice | December 12, 2006 12:34 PM

Several commenters have asked how best to speak to children about death. I'm a psychologist (who grew up in a funeral home) and research has shown that it's best to be honest with children about death. Children as young as age 3 understand the concept, although children don't often grasp the finality of death until around age 6 or so. It's best to speak directly about death, rather than using euphemisms (e.g. Greatgrandma has gone away) because they can be more confusing for the child. It is also important to handle children's questions directly and honestly. When they ask if they will die, tell them that they will, but not for a very long time. When they ask if you (the parent) will die, tell them that everyone will die someday, but assure them that they will always have someone to take care of them. It is okay to tell them that after we have lived a long life, our bodies wear out and we die. Use caution if you tell them that people get sick and die b/c they may worry that they will die the next time that they are sick. Most simply, honesty is the best policy. They get more than we know that they do. Just speak to them in the most simple terms and let them ask questions. Let them attend the funerals so that they can be a part of the ritual, and let them memorialize their loved one in ways that are developmentally appropriate (e.g. painting, drawing, etc).

Posted by: ntn2991 | December 12, 2006 12:37 PM

Nice post. Good to hear a calm voice when it comes to what is often funeral drama.

And Jennifer's business sounds very professional, unlike the funeral home that handled my stepfather's funeral years ago. Those folks didn't have good directions for the cemetery, so we got lost a few times. Along the way, cars disappeared from the procession. Two mourners got out of their cars and engaged in a heated argument on the side of the road. Then just when we thought we had finally reached the cemetery, we discovered we were entering a construction site. The hearse made a quick U-turn in the middle of the street. Meanwhile, in the family limo, my mom had stopped crying and started asking what in the world was going on. Later that night, there was a knock on my mom's door. It was someone from the funeral home, who handed me a triangle-folded flag. They had forgotten to give it to my mother at the gravesite.
What they did remember at the gravesite was to announce that anyone who needed directions back to the city could ask them. My aunt snickered sarcastically (and loudly, unfortunately) in response.

Can't say that funeral was forgettable!

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | December 12, 2006 12:47 PM

To the single mom wanting to move:

While it won't be easy for your kids to be separated from their dad, their friends, their familiar surroundings, you will be doing them a HUGE favor if you go back to school. Not only will your earning potential increase, but they will notice the change, and it will influence their impressions of the value of education.

Plus, the farm would be awesome. I grew up around farms, and it's such a big part of me now. I'm just a softie for nature, rural areas, etc. So great for kids.

But you asked for guiding questions. Here are some:

When you were a kid, how did you view adulthood? Did it seem like something fun, and free, and exciting? Or did it seem like a grind, a chore, something to be avoided as long as possible? Do you feel like the picture of adulthood that your family provided has influenced the way you view your responsibilities today? From that angle, how would you choose to present responsible adulthood to your kids? As an exhausting, soul-killing proposition, or as an adventure, as new worlds to explore?

This is important because I believe that a generation of overworked families has contributed to the current phenomenon of 30-year-old "children" still living with their parents. If we don't show real life to be interesting and fun, but simply a series of rat races, why would our kids want to follow us in to adulthood and learn to take care of themselves?

Posted by: WDC | December 12, 2006 12:59 PM

Neighbor, I'm sorry about your grandmothers' deaths. From what you say, I wouldn't assume you're not handling it well - the stuff you describe seems like normal kid reactions to loss and perhaps also to your own feelings, which they sense regardless of how you're expressing them. I find it helps to give voice, in a very matter of fact way, to what you're feeling (Mommy's a bit sad today) and what you think they're feeling (You/we miss Grandma, we feel sad/scared/whatever sometimes), which let's them know that you recognize their feelings and that the feelings are OK, and implies by your calm acceptance that the feelings are not the end of the world. You might get the crayons and paper out and see if anyone wants to draw a picture of Grandma or of what they're feeling. Heck, draw your own pictures too! Depending on their ages and temperaments, kids may be less interested in the mechanics of death and more in need of just understanding and accepting their own feelings of sadness, fear, worry, etc. After our cat died, our then 5yo daughter said she wanted to die too. Of course, my DH and I totally freaked, until we talked with her more and realized she was simply expressing the wish to be reunited with Sparky. We responded by reiterating, Yep, you loved Sparky, didn't you? He was a great old cat, wasn't he? Which led to sharing memories of Sparky, which sometimes led to tears but eventually also to laughter and acceptance. It helped all of us!

Posted by: OregonMom | December 12, 2006 1:01 PM

ntn2991: We were honest with our kids when my FIL died. He had cancer for years but died very unexpectedly and was very much a part of our lives. My kids are 8 and 5, and the 8 year old understood everything and was devastated. It was heart wrenching - she literally clung to the casket and did not want to leave. She cried non-stop during the first viewing and made people walking in completely loose it. It was horrible and we actually wondered whether we had done the right thing in letting her be there. Well, she did grieve, she asked many questions, she was very sad, but now she is ok. That was 6 months ago. She talks about grandpa all the time - how lucky she was to have had him, how she knows one day she will see him again - and more than anything she is even closer to her grandma. We did do the right thing - I am convinced of that.

My 5 year old cried, mostly because his sister was so sad. He still talks about grandpa in the present tense and just this weekend corrected himself by saying "oh yeah, grandpa is dead." He won't remember grandpa like the older one, but right now he remembers everything so we talk about grandpa all the time.

It made it so much harder that my FIL was one of the BEST grandpa's (and FIL's) in the whole world. I firmly believe you have to be honest with your kids. They can handle so much more than we give them credit.

Posted by: cmac | December 12, 2006 1:01 PM

I think it would be completely wrong to take the children away from their father.

Since you are considering a move, would it be possible to move closer to your current job to alleviate some of that commute time?

Would it be possible for the children's father to contribute more financially so that you can work closer to home and provide a better home for them emotionally (by not having a completely exhausted mother)?

Having grown up with the knowledge that my father abandoned his children and still not having him in my life at all, I wonder how your children will view you if you geographically remove them from their father. Better opportunities for you educationally and career-wise are a good example, but I think the price of not having a parent in their lives on a regular basis is too high.

Posted by: My2cents | December 12, 2006 1:05 PM

BTW, I am female, not a man who is upset over not seeing children because they are in their mother's custody.

I can't say it enough. Having grown up with only one parent since the age of 8, I feel very strongly that I would have resented either parent who moved me a long distance from the other, even if I completely understand the other benefits involved.

There's always an alternate solution. Maybe another mother with children would be happy to share living expenses for a while which would allow you to cut your work hours and take the courses here.

Posted by: My2cents | December 12, 2006 1:11 PM

My MIL died when my oldest was 4 1/2. The books I liked to help her with grieving were "Sad isn't bad" and "I miss you". There is a book called something like "The Dinosaur book about Death" -- I recommend you avoid it. It discusses suicide and death from drug and alcohol abuse, and has a bizarrely cheerful tone.

Maria Shriver wrote a book about heaven that some kids might like (her vision is lovely, but not what I believe, so I didn't buy it), and there's a wonderful book called "The Next Place" that a lot of adults and children find very comforting.

Posted by: YetAnotherSAHM | December 12, 2006 1:12 PM

I am very sorry for your losses. What a hard time this must be for all of your family.

I think you have told your children the right thing, we said very similar things when my FIL died (my daughter was 2.5 years and son was 5). They both went with us to the funeral home w/ my MIL to make arrangements, were at the visitation, and the funeral. I told them Grandpa's body wore out and he died. At the visitation he would look like he was asleep, but being dead is not the same and he would not be able to wake up. At the visitation, the kids were fascinated and spent a lot of time at the casket. My daughter put a snap dragon from one of the flower arrangements in her Grandpa's hand.

Since then my kids have been exposed to many more deaths, unfortunately most are of children that we know. We have a couple of good books: "What is Death?" by Etan Boritzer and "The Next Place" by Warren Hanson. I especially recommend "The Next Place" for young kids and we have given it to many grieving siblings. The Boritzer book I would not read with a child under 5 or 6, since it is more abstract.

Another thing has helped my kids tremendously. The year my MIL died, one of her children sent all of the grandkids a Christmas ornament from Grandma--a pair of angel wings shaped like a heart. I told them it is a reminder that even though she is not with us, Grandma will always love them. The ornaments are very special to my kids and they love getting them out and putting them on the tree. Some type of remembrance like this might be helpful to your kids too.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 1:14 PM

atb, we had a small introduction to death when my daughter was 4 when my cat died unexpectedly, and it was definitely tough. The worst part was that my daughter came with me to the vet (which I thought would be a minor checkup); she was SO excited -- she idolized vets and was tremendously excited to meet someone who made animals better. So she was absolutely crushed when we found out that not only couldn't the vet help, but Sammy wouldn't even be coming home and she had to say goodbye right then.

I didn't really know what to do. I knew I had to be strong for her (which was hard, because he was MY cat -- predated her by 10 years, and I was in shock myself). But how do you reassure your child about death when you don't believe in heaven?

We held a little funeral for Sammy. I had her draw a picture for him, which we buried with him. We read "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney." I told her it was ok to be sad and to miss him to cry, and I told her I was sad, too. I told her that Sammy just got old and sick and his body couldn't work any more.

Unfortunately, she's pretty smart, so she instantly jumped to "are you going to die?" and then "am I going to die?" I told her yes, but not for a long long long time when we're very very old (of course, she already thinks I'm ancient, so not sure that was real comforting!). She's one of those kids who pushes everything to the extreme ("but what if you die?" "Daddy will take care of you" "But what if Daddy dies, too?" "Aunt D will take care of you" "But what if she dies, too?" etc.). So we just tried to give her the most honest but age-appropriate answers we could, reassure her that she's surrounded by a whole bunch of people who love her and will take care of her no matter what happens, and give her a safe warm place to work out what that all meant to her.

Posted by: Laura | December 12, 2006 1:17 PM

Thierry - you are just mean!!!!

Posted by: CJ | December 12, 2006 1:18 PM

For the funeral directors: How common is it for family members to take pictures of the deceased in the coffin?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 1:18 PM

"I think it would be completely wrong to take the children away from their father."

I agree, suck it up and either work the job you have or go back to school to get a better job. No one is going to do it for you. If it was easy everyone would do it.

Posted by: toughlove | December 12, 2006 1:20 PM

Neighbor: So sorry about your recent losses. It sounds to me like you're handling it wonderfully--it is just hard on everyone to lose a loved one.
From my perspective, the most painful or frightening moments in childhood are also some of the most valuable (excepting deliberately hurtful experiences like abuse, which I would put in a separate category).
For me, early experiences with the deaths of elderly family members and pets instilled an interest in the body and its inner workings. I was so curious about the details of illnesses and injuries. I suppose I was afraid similar things would happen to me, at the time, but what really stuck with me was the complexity of the body, the beauty of its systems, and the sometimes surprising things that can happen when those systems break down. (This story would be better if I had actually ended up becoming a doctor but I decided in favour of a different career... however, just making the point that painful things can encourage you to respond by learning and growing...)

Posted by: worker bee | December 12, 2006 1:30 PM

I did like reading this bit of life. As CMAC points out we all don't have a Wharton school job.

If you want a off beat job that has weird hours (and don't like DB's) try being a lacatation consultant like my wife, Freida. She has many stories like Jennifer about parents, siblings, in laws, out laws and Sheriff Deputies accomplying her to some not so nice places. (The deputies were highly interested in her job!) Maybe I will get her to write a guest column (with me as ghost writer!) (pun intended)

Posted by: Fred | December 12, 2006 1:32 PM

re the dilemma of moving to the farm, etc: I'm sure it would be hard for your kids to be separated from their dad, but the problem too many parents have these days is elevating their children above all else. Sometimes it has to be about you. It's not as if they'd never get to see their father again -- this didn't sound like a permanent move. I'm sure he wouldn't refuse to deploy with the military because he didn't want to be far away from them, so why shouldn't you move to better your life, which by extension will benefit the kids? And I heartily agree with the previous poster who said that you would be showing your kids exactly how valuable education is. And I'm sure they'd love the farm, too!

Posted by: another opinion | December 12, 2006 1:34 PM

"Sometimes it has to be about you"

I'm just speechless.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 12, 2006 1:36 PM

"Sometimes it has to be about you. It's not as if they'd never get to see their father again"

I left off the part that really leaves me speechless.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 12, 2006 1:40 PM

For: A question of ...
How long would you be in school? How often whould dad be able to visit? What about extended visits in the summer? What are dad's expected deployments in the next few years? If your going back to school coincides with dad being deployed it doesn't really matter where you live for that portion of time. Education should definitely be a priority - short term sacrifice for long term gain.

Posted by: ks | December 12, 2006 1:40 PM

I appreciate the honest feedback thus far, but feel some clarifying information for my previous post is needed.

My children are not from the same father, the other father would be relocating with me.

My daughter's father could have to move at any time due to his being in the military. Add this to the various schools and deployments he must go through and he really gets to see his daughter every other week about six months out of the year, which equals about three months. Of the weeks he has her, she stays with me two to three nights a week because of her father's work commitments. If she were to relocate with me and be with her father through the summers, she'd still be seeing him for the same amount of time.

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 1:40 PM

For: A question of ...
How long would you be in school? How often whould dad be able to visit? What about extended visits in the summer? What are dad's expected deployments in the next few years? If your going back to school coincides with dad being deployed it doesn't really matter where you live for that portion of time. Education should definitely be a priority - short term sacrifice for long term gain.

Posted by: ks | December 12, 2006 1:41 PM

What are the legal custody arrangements? Would you even be allowed to take the child away?

I would fight this if I were the father.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 1:43 PM

To "A question of..."

How old is your daughter (and other kids involved if there are any)? Is she old enough to be able to understand the possibilities and voice an opinion? It seems like if she is, this has to be considered too. I agree with "another opinion" that sometimes is has to be about you, but knowing how she feels (again, if she's old enough to know herself) might help you make that determination.

How often is her father deployed? If she's with you during the school year and spends two months with him in the summer, will that significantly change the actual amount of time they spend together or more how that time is distributed? Have you talked to the father about other solutions someone else suggested - ie, something that would allow you to move closer to your job while still being close to him, or would allow you to cut back hours and go to school where you are?

It sounds to me like you need to change your current situation one way or another - whether moving to the farm is the best or only way is hard to tell, but it seems like finishing your education and finding a better work situation would go far in improving life for both you and your daughter (and I know that's REALLY a hard thing to do, so I don't mean to say that lightly, but it sounds like that's kind of where you are in your mind anyway).

Posted by: Megan | December 12, 2006 1:43 PM

To A question of...

You present it as an either/or situation - either remaining burned out or making the move. I too would not feel right about moving a child away from her father, so my question would be: What can you do while staying put that will bring you some relief from your burnout? Brainstorm a list of short term and long term and big picture and small picture changes. You may not be able to make some of them immediately, but maybe you'll see some possibilities that aren't apparent as long as you're dreaming about the farm/school scenario.

I am totally sympathetic to your plight as a divorced working mom. I'm sure the move/farm/school solution seems like a panacea for you, but it would exact a very high price from your daughter. So maybe a secondary question would just be to think deeply about how important your daughter's father is in her life. What role does he play in her life? What kind of grief would she go through in being separated from her father? Let your commitment to her welfare and your respect for her relationship with her dad give you the energy to stay where you are and deal creatively with your burnout.

Posted by: OregonMom | December 12, 2006 1:43 PM

To "A Question of. . . ":

One thing to consider is the legal side of things -- some states will not let you move your child out-of-state without the other parent's (or court's) permission. You should probably figure that out first (if you haven't already), because it could shape what your realistic options are.

I see both sides. My father left when I was very little, and we didn't have a great relationship for a long time -- partly because of the distance, partly because I pretty much took a "get them before they get you" attitude with him (i.e., you already hurt me once, I'm not going to let you get close enough to do it again).

On the other hand, after my father left, my mom went back to get her Ph.D -- went from being a substitute teacher to a college professor, which made a HUGE difference in our quality of life, in terms of both finances/job security and her own satisfaction/stress level, which clearly affected the whole family.

I would encourage you to explore every other alternative before moving across the country. Since you don't have time/energy for classes after work (and with that commute, who could blame you?), what about an on-line program? Since you got your current job through networking, what about continuing to network to find a job closer to home, or with more flexible hours, that leaves you time/energy to go to school? Could you afford a lower-paying job if it didn't have a 2.5-hr commute? Could you take a roommate or renter to cut costs so you could afford it? Could you take a short-term job outside of your field if it gave you the flexibility/energy/time to go to school?

Also be realistic about what moving might bring you. A Bachelor's won't necessarily solve your problems -- even with degrees, my husband and I have both run into complete walls in sending resumes out the old-fashioned way; we both found our current jobs through networking (i.e., people we worked with in the past). So what's your contingency plan if you move across the country, get a degree, and then still can't find a job you want in the area you want to live in? Oh, and remember why you left home in the first place -- much as I love my mom, don't know if I could stomach living with her full-time in her house any more. :-)

It may be that your best choice IS to move across country and give up everything else for a few years. But you owe it to yourself, your daughter, and your ex to take a realistic look at all of the options first.

Posted by: Laura | December 12, 2006 1:49 PM

I agree that describing death as sleeping probably isn't good, although in Jennifer's' case the children are sufficiently exposed to death, and they aren't attached to the dead people so it probably doesn't make a big difference.

But for children who aren't in the dead body business I can see how the 'sleeping' explanation wouldn't be so good. When my FIL died I think I invoked the 'gone to a better place' line. As a child I was just plain told they'd died. We were religious so I had the part about mortal body and eternal soul to fall back on.

I don't know what non-religious families say.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 1:52 PM

I thought this was a great guest blog. I also wanted to thank the psychologist who offered information about talking about death with young people. I do want to emphathize they are on call 24/7. People really do not want a dead body sitting in their home till morning.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 12, 2006 2:00 PM

Further clarification (again.)

Some of the comments have highlighted how much information/little information is needed to make a decision. I suppose I am in a position where I feel that no matter what decision I make, I'm going to be make the wrong one (as evidenced by discussions previously about Dickerson's book, comments on how you never know how your kids are going to perceive your decisions, bucking up and dealing, etc.)

What prompted me to look into relocating was that I've discovered my son has a language delay. The appointments I need to take him to have completely eaten up all my vacation and sick time. I asked about telecommuting, but was turned down. I've been applying for jobs closer to where I live for two years and to staffing agencies in an attempt to get my foot in the door. I have zero support network where I live and have no one else to take him to appointments. If I relocated, I'd be closer to family who could help out. By helping one child, I'm taking the other away from her father.

As far as my son's father, there are questions as to his ability/willingness to relocate. For him to help out with taking our son to appointments - he can't. His mode of transportation is a motorcycle. Can he get other transportation? No, his credit is shot. Can I get him other transportation, no - I'm maxed out on credit due to the mortgage and car being in my name. I am the main "breadwinner" in the family.

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 2:02 PM

I meant to spell lactation consultant.

(Maybe my wife will write about the Bourbon street stripper who wanted to breastfeed.)

Posted by: Fred | December 12, 2006 2:05 PM

Anonfornow, get off your high horse.

I think it's pretty well established that uphappy, undereducated parents have a better chance of raising unhappy, undereducated children. If she takes care of herself in this regard, she's taking care of her children.

And as for getting to see the father, why should the mother hold herself at his beck and call, just in case he happens to be available on his weekend? Why should her life be in suspended animation for his convenience? Is he making sacrifices? Or just making demands?

I'm with the poster who said that the kid should get a say, assuming she's old enough.

Posted by: WDC | December 12, 2006 2:17 PM

I am the main "breadwinner" in the family.

What about your current husband, can't he help?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:19 PM

I didn't see the word 'husband' anywhere - just 'my daughter's father' and 'my son's father'.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:27 PM

I didn't mean to be on a high horse - just stating my opinion, or is that only allowed if you agree with it?

How would you feel if your child's other parent moved your child away and said "It's not like he/she will never see you again".

I, too, agree with the idea of looking for solutions other than changing nothing or moving to the farm.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 12, 2006 2:31 PM

To A question of:

I can't really formulate a proper opinion, because I don't have all the facts. Personally, though, I always find the opportunity for education and overall improved financial/job stability is worth it.

That being said, I would recommend checking out some other parenting blogs, not just this one. Most of what you are going to garner from most here is bitterness and attacks for the choices you have and haven't made--and none of that is going to help you choose your path.

Best of luck.

Posted by: J | December 12, 2006 2:31 PM

Oh excuse me; can't your kid's father help?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:31 PM

I thought she already implied that her current husband/son's father/whatever was working, just that he made less money than she did. But I could have interpreted it incorrectly.

While I'm here, my $0.02 is that this depends entirely on how often the military ex is deployed. If he's gone all the time as it is, it's not like he sees his little girl anyway, and she'll probably get more out of an entire summer spent with her daddy than an occasional week or weekend (every other week for six months a year, I think the original poster said).

Full disclosure: I am not military, or from a divorced family, or a mother, or in any situation that would give me authority or knowledge about this. Don't want to step on any toes with my opinion.

Posted by: BonnySwan | December 12, 2006 2:33 PM

"Most of what you are going to garner from most here is bitterness and attacks for the choices you have and haven't made--and none of that is going to help you choose your path."

The reason for this is that on this blog, there are a lot of driven people who live their life by "doing" and not by making "excuses."

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:33 PM

Could you sell the house and rent instead? Depending on the mortgage payment and equity, you could potentially substantially reduce monthly obligations and get a bit of a nest egg so you could stay in the area, reduce your commute and still get the education.

Posted by: new thought | December 12, 2006 2:33 PM

Sorry for the tech difficulties earlier could email comments into Wash Post but not actually post them on the site...I laughed out loud at the poster's suggestion that it was due to flextime...

I love this Guest Blog. It is so real and funny.

Also, to whomever suggested that Jennifer is doing something wrong because she doesn't have time to eat/sleep...I suspect that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it's true of a lot of parents who are trying to "have it all" that sleeping and regular eating habits go a bit by the wayside. Something has to give. Sleeping and eating, however essential, are kind of boring and occasionally expendible if you get more time for kids and work in exchange.

Posted by: Leslie | December 12, 2006 2:34 PM


I'd much rather give up the work than give up the sleeping and eating :) Boring to you maybe, but not to me.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:37 PM

Anonfornow, stating your opinion would have been something like "I believe that it is important for the child to see her father regularly." I, for one, would not have had any trouble with that.

Posting a belitting comment like "I'm just speechless" as if the poor mom has just suggested the orphanage as a good way to improve her personal situation... that comes straight from the high horse.

Posted by: WDC | December 12, 2006 2:38 PM

An orphanage, hmmm. I would never suggest that. How about move to the farm, give custody to the dad and when he is deployed the child can visit her on the farm?

Posted by: anonfornow | December 12, 2006 2:40 PM


That is a good one.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 2:45 PM

And actually, my "just speechless" comment was directed to "another opinion" not to the mother who is having difficulties. She actually indicated that she is concerned about moving the child away.

Anyway, now I am donefornow.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 12, 2006 2:45 PM

No offense to those involved in the discussion about the cross-country move, but I had to comment on the appropriateness of taking children to open-casket funerals and this really appropriate? Or am I just being old-fashioned? 3 of my 4 grandparents died before I was 7 years old, and my parents did NOT take my brother and me to the viewings or the funerals - we knew they were dead, we knew what it meant, but our parents felt that allowing young children to actually see the bodies was completely unnecessary. Is this another example of how modern parents feel it's appropriate to take their kids everywhere? I just don't see the need for a 5-year-old to view her grandmother's *body* to understand death.

Posted by: youtookyourkidwhere? | December 12, 2006 2:45 PM

In response to youtookyourkidswhere? --

I was only 7 when my grandmother died. I remember seeing her in her casket and my mother telling me it was ok to touch her. I did. On the hand. I'll always remember this and be grateful that my mother included me in this part of the life-death process.

And, I should mention, this was way back in 1964.

Posted by: pittypat | December 12, 2006 2:51 PM

to youtookyourkidwhere?
I think kids at funerals are a regional/cultural thing. In the south, it is accepted that kids go to funerals (at least around here). However, in California, it seemed to not be so accepted. At a recent funeral, several families from California resisted the idea of taking their kids to the funeral.

Posted by: dotted | December 12, 2006 2:53 PM

"Sleeping and eating, however essential, are kind of boring"

Leslie --

that my be true for your set of priorities, but it hardly applies to all people.

Some of us adore eating, love sleeping, and would prefer doing either waaaaaay ahead of being at work.

Posted by: pittypat | December 12, 2006 2:53 PM

"Often I simply do not have enough time to eat or sleep."

Jennifer, if you don't have time to eat or sleep, then you've definitely got a time management problem AND you're not going to function very effectively when you stress your body like that.

There have to be things in your schedule that you could scale down. The teaching, perhaps? The helping other funeral directors? Can your family business afford to add staff? Sounds like you need it desperately.

Posted by: | December 12, 2006 10:27 AM

this is probably written by someone who sits at home and watches talk shows all day. do you know what it's like to be busy? piss off.

Posted by: monumentDave | December 12, 2006 2:55 PM

i've lost 17 lbs in 3 weeks before from sleeping 3 hours a night in addition to only eating one meal every other day. people have different priorities, stop criticizing her for doing what she does and get a life. if you were so perfect you wouldn't be commenting on a blog on washington post on a tuesday afternoon. you would be on an island somewhere with millions of dollars enjoying life.

i can't believe how ignorant some people still are, and the nerve they have for criticizing people that they know nothing about.

Posted by: monumentDave | December 12, 2006 2:59 PM

I can't believe how ignorant some people still are, and the nerve they have for criticizing people that they know nothing about.

This is so funny that I can't even respond!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 3:05 PM


It does seem like opinion has changed about taking children to funerals. I can only tell you from experience that it was the right decision for us to take our kids to their grandfather's funeral. My mother ALWAYS regretted not taking my brothers to the funeral home and funeral when our grandmother died (I wasn't born yet) - they were the same age as mine - 8 and 5. They never got a chance to say goodbye. This was in the late 60's and things were different. Now - I wouldn't take my kids to just any funeral. Unfortunately I have been to 3 other funerals this year for 2 of my husband's co-workers and my friend's father and my kids stayed home.

Lastly, family funerals are essentially family reunions. Relatives get together for weddings and funerals, and both are celebrations - the latter being a celebration of life. My kids heard all kinds of stories and wonderful things about their grandpa - and it was a beautiful military funeral at Quantico. It helped them.

Posted by: CMAC | December 12, 2006 3:13 PM

My daughter's father is my ex-husband, and to air more of my dirty laundry, my son's father is my boyfriend. The divorce was very difficult for many reasons and at this point in my life, I'm not ready to get married again.
(Now donning asbestos suit)

I've thought about selling the house and staying, but am worried about the school district she'd end up in. With the housing bubble, I'm priced out of staying in the same area for her to go to school and there are no apartments in her school district.

I also have an edit for a previous post. When I said "By helping one child, I'm taking the other away from her father," I should have said "father or mother."

My parents were in the military and we frequently moved. I know school changes didn't really affect me until 5th grade. But I worry about her staying with him, then having to pick up in the middle of a school year because of a deployment to come and stay with me. This is one of the ONLY reasons I would advocate her staying with me during the school year. I do not want to take her away from her father to be spiteful or nasty.

This is not an easy decision for me. I love my little girl and have done everything I can until now to shelter her as much as I can from the decisions her father and I have made and keep her life as normal as possible. As WDC and another said though, I do feel like my life is on hiatus. If he were to "have" to move because of the military it would be "acceptable."

She is of an age (6) where she voices a preference for who she'd rather be with when asked who's house she wants to spend the night at (mine, and for the record, I'm a "mean mom" with boundaries) but I'd like to stay away from her having to "pick." I worry about the emotional baggage all of us (her father, her, and me)might have from that (do any pschologists, psychiatrists have anything to weigh in on that?)

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 3:30 PM

"One question that they will want answered is--will you (my mom or dad) die? Your answer should include that yes, you will die, but you don't expect to die until you are old, the child is grown and has kids and grandkids of his/her own. Also say that there will always be someone to care for your child."

Good ideas! Also, you might want to be ready in case the child asks "what if you die sooner than that?" When I was a little kid some of the action-adventure stories I read were about orphaned children (in the action-adventure stories where the child characters had parents, the parents shielded the kids and took on the plot conflicts themselves so I was too young to read them because the main characters were adults). So I asked my parents about what would happen if they died earlier like these orphan characters' parents did, and they told me which aunt and uncle would take care of me.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 3:35 PM

My daughter's father is my ex-husband, and to air more of my dirty laundry, my son's father is my boyfriend. The divorce was very difficult for many reasons and at this point in my life, I'm not ready to get married again.
(Now donning asbestos suit)

I wasn't judging you I was just trying to understand why your boyfriend, husband, etc couldn't help you more.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 3:37 PM

Neighbor, my condolences. I think you've gotten good advice and just wanted to add that your kids having a hard time doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong! Take care.

Posted by: Shandra | December 12, 2006 3:38 PM

Not interested in your dirty laundry. This is not Jerry Springer or Oprah.
This is a blog on work/life balance.

Posted by: Thierry | December 12, 2006 3:40 PM

Please move to the farm and get whatever education you feel would help you and your family. My mother did not further her education (complicated reasons). Now that I am in my 20s, it is hard to watch her struggle financially just because she doesn't have a degree. I also feel guilty because I know she sacrificed some opportunities because of what she thought would be best for me and my brother. It's OK for this to be about you. In the long run, I think your daughter will appreciate that you went back to get your education. She'll appreciate the tough choice you made. You'll also be a good role model about how to balance full-time work, school, kids, etc.

Posted by: lurker | December 12, 2006 3:43 PM

"Not interested in your dirty laundry. This is not Jerry Springer or Oprah.
This is a blog on work/life balance."

Thierry, you rejected the guest blog column as boring. You have resorted to insulting this parent because you're not personally interested in her thoughtully raised questions, which by the way, fall squarely within the camp of work/education/life/parenting balance and many others have thoughtfully responded. Is any column that's not about working vs. non-working moms outside what you think this blog ought to be?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 3:45 PM

Thierry, I usually enjoy reading your comments, but you seem incredibly cynical and nasty today, what gives? This woman IS asking about balance, how to balance her own wants/needs against her daughters, be they real or percieved. Shes just looking for a sounding board and some support.

Posted by: challey | December 12, 2006 3:52 PM

Hey, A Question, if you have 2 kids from different fathers who you are not married to, and you are asking advice from strangers about a major life decision...

I think you should move back to the farm with Mommy and Daddy.

Posted by: bought the Farm | December 12, 2006 3:55 PM

What is Jennifer Budd Wright's name when she posts on this blog?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 3:56 PM

Have a blog on the work/life of a stripper who has an 8yr old child. That's about as relevant to us as a funeral director's work/life balance. At least the former will have more ooh-la-la!!

Posted by: Thierry | December 12, 2006 3:59 PM

you're right, let's in one fell swoop insult farmers, her parents, herself and chase her away from this blog so we can ensure that she doesn't get any useful input before she makes this decision.

Public humiliation of the mother is bound to result in the best outcome for her son and daughter. Sheesh, people.

Posted by: to bought the Farm | December 12, 2006 3:59 PM

Have to agree with bought the farm.
You want to make a major life decision, go talk face to face with your friends, relatives, counselor, priest. Asking anonymous people on this blog is just an exercise in "what if". Acting on that advice is plain stupid. People here don't have all the facts, they will give bad advice based on incomplete information. But mostly, people here think the world of themselves and they think they know everything.
Oh, don't take my advice either. :)

Posted by: Thierry | December 12, 2006 4:05 PM

Thierry, you are just a ahat.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 4:05 PM


The funeral director's work/life balance was relevant to me because I could relate. If her blog bores you so much, write one of your own.

Also, I have aired dirty laundry on here before only to have someone tell me to go to Springer. As much as some people would like to ignore it, blended families are a part of American life, and no matter how they got that way they are relevant.

Leslie, how about a blog on blended families? Maybe one where the people aren't married or maybe they are amicably divorced and share the custody of the kid?

Posted by: scarry | December 12, 2006 4:06 PM

Ignore Thierry, he is a crazy Frenchman.
Surrender now!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 4:06 PM

Hey Frenchman, do what you the French do best: surrender and go away.

Posted by: to Thierry | December 12, 2006 4:08 PM

Who wants to bet that Thierry is the type that would be the father of the stripper's 8 year old, and wants nothing to do with the kid, because it ruined his desire for ooh-la-la?

Immature, much? Oh yeah. If you're so bored with the blog, then why are you on? Go find some ooh-la-la to play with.

Posted by: to Thierry | December 12, 2006 4:09 PM

Hey Frenchman, do what you the French do best: surrender and go away.

For real because the allies are not coming.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 4:09 PM

I felt asking people removed from the situation would be better than going to friends/family who have a vested interest in the outcome.

My family, of course, wants me to move back.
My friends want me to be happy.
A counselor ... if I had time to go to one, I'd go. My son's appointments come before me right now.

I want to move. I was asking for opinions from the outside because I was wondering if there are other avenues I hadn't considered/obsessed over already and was making excuses for why they wouldn't work because of what I want instead of what was best for all.

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 4:13 PM

A question of...
Ignore the judgmental b.s. I don't have any good advice, but I think you are doing the right thing by thinking things through and then reaching out to others who are thinking about parenting and balance issues.

Posted by: agingmom | December 12, 2006 4:18 PM

Hey, A Question, if you have 2 kids from different fathers who you are not married to, and you are asking advice from strangers about a major life decision...

I think you should move back to the farm with Mommy and Daddy.

Posted by: bought the Farm | December 12, 2006 03:55 PM

Hey, Rush! You own a farm now? Do tell!

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | December 12, 2006 4:19 PM

to A question of...

You mentioned earlier that you had no sick or annual leave. Do you work for the Federal govt? I work for a large agency and there is an EAP (employee assistance program) that has counselors available. It might be worth your while to check this out where you work. You may be able to receive some assistance while at work or during your lunchtime.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 4:19 PM

"Thierry, you are just a ahat."

Just AN ahat. Grammar is our friend.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 4:28 PM

A Question of..., I hope you aren't feeling the need to defend or explain yourself.

Your move doesn't have to be permanent; it can be for the duration of your education. And if you wish, you can rent out your house in addition to moving back to the farm. Your daughter's father can see your daughter during the summer and perhaps Christmas break. His physical presence is best, but he can read bedtime stories over the phone, you can send him videos of your daughter, etc. You wouldn't be the first or the last to experience raising a child with parents in two different states.

No advice, just some thoughts.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | December 12, 2006 4:31 PM

You are someone we are all going to need at some point in our life and thank you for doing it. One of my favorites lines from Six Feet Under is when a young woman asks Nate why people have to die and he replies that it makes life more important. We should all remember that each day.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | December 12, 2006 4:31 PM

I've read all the comments, nasty and otherwise, that you've all made to this parent. It sort of comes down to this: who is the primary caregiver to these children? If it's you, and you're feeling overwhelmed to the point that you feel your skills and abilities as a parent are suffering, then the best thing you can do for the kids is to identify a solution to your problem, which it seems like you're trying to do. You don't have to give up the right to make decisions based solely on what works for you just because you're a parent. In general, whatever will make *you* happier/less tired/better educated/more financially secure will make you a better parent in the long run. An 8-year-old can't understand the concept of "the long run" but when she's 25 and looks back on this part of her life, all she'll remember is how you made a decision that was hard on all of you at the time but provided both of you with opportunities you'd never have had otherwise. And she'll thank you for it, because by that time she'll understand how difficult it was for you to do.

Posted by: to a question of... | December 12, 2006 4:34 PM

"I would expect the family to call the funeral home in the morning."

What if the person dies at home?

My husband died in the (early) morning at our home, in our bed. I called 911; the EMTs tried to save him; he never responded and then they asked me for the name of a funeral home to call. I gave them a funeral home to contat Then a cop waited with me for the funeral home to show up. It took a little while, although probably not as long as I thought it did.

Trust me: when your husband's body is lying in your bed, you don't necessarily want to wait for someone on an 8-5 schedule.

Posted by: why be on call? | December 12, 2006 4:37 PM

Maybe in other countries the funeral home can wait until regular hours to pick the body up. I wonder what happens in Spain or Italy where things seem to run on a different time frame.

I thought this was a good guest blog. It makes me wonder whether family businesses are friendlier to families.

I am not sure that our children are harmed by knowing that Mom or Dad love their work, and that work is sometimes more important than anything else. Maybe it helps a child know about focus.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 4:55 PM

Yep, I'm different than some, lucky I suppose, in that I happen to love my work. Seems there are mostly jobs you love and jobs you hate and little in between, since if you don't love it it is just a job. If I didn't like my work I would absolutely hate having to be away from my kids for it. And I do like sleep a lot too -- just seems easier to cut back on.

Posted by: Leslie | December 12, 2006 5:05 PM

How about a blog about the holidays and how they affect work/life balance. It should be great fun. The holidays always make for good discussions.

Posted by: Emily | December 12, 2006 5:05 PM

great guest blog! Interesting and different.

I vote to move to the farm, especially since the dad could be moved anywhere in the world at the whim of the military.

Posted by: experienced mom | December 12, 2006 5:05 PM

Leslie, I also love my job--it's creative, interesting, flexible and lets me call a lot of the shots. But as much as I love my job, I would rather have dinner with my family and sleep with my spouse than work. Both sometimes get put aside but I know which I'd rather do.

I used to live to work. When my husband died, I did a lot of thinking and I changed my priorities. The job is great, but it's a great means of taking care of my family, not an end in itself.

Posted by: why be on call? | December 12, 2006 5:26 PM

On the issue of children dealing with the thought of parents' dying - I'm in my mid-50's and have a 12-year-old daughter. I have been highlighting my hair to mask the ever-increasing gray, and I recently asked my daughter if it would be okay if I let my hair go gray, to save money. She very quickly replied "No." She didn't give a reason, but I don't think it's embarassment about having a gray-haired mom, since there are a lot of them, and some are very glamorous. I think the specter of my having totally gray hair makes her think of me as being closer to death. Does that make sense?

Posted by: lawyermom | December 12, 2006 5:33 PM

I assume that neither your ex-husband's military service nor your education are permanent conditions. He'll probably leave the service eventually (or get to a point where he's less likely to be deployed and more stable) and you'll get through your degree. Does it help at all if you think of this as a temporary move to the farm for the explicit purpose of getting an education, and agree with your ex-husband that in two years (once you have at least an associates degree), the two of you will reassess and consider attempting to move to the same city? As a token of your good will, you could rent out your home instead of selling it--that way, you'll have a physical stake in returning. As long as you can make sure that your daughter continues to see her father, a temporary move might be in the best interest of your whole family. I think the real challenge is that you should be talking about this with your ex, which I'm sure is not easy to do.

Other pointed questions: will life on the farm be so rural that you would continue to have a long commute? Would you be able to get your son the early intervention programs he needs? Would you be able to do your degree live, instead of online? Are you sure that your family would be willing to help on a regular basis? It's one thing to offer when your needy relative is 3000 miles away; it's another thing to actually show up.

Good luck!

Posted by: to mom who wants to move to farm | December 12, 2006 5:34 PM

It's because she thinks brown/blonde/red/black hair is prettier than gray hair. She doesn't want you to change. And she probably doesn't want you o be an "old mom"--there's some stigma attached to that. She just wants you to look pretty and "normal" so you don't embarrass her. Remember, she's 12. Conformity is important at this age.

Posted by: to lawyermom | December 12, 2006 5:36 PM

"I vote to move to the farm, especially since the dad could be moved anywhere in the world at the whim of the military."

That makes sense. If you decide to stay for the sake of being near your ex-husband, what happens if and when "near your ex-husband" becomes Iraq or one of those bases in Germany or wherever?

"I think the specter of my having totally gray hair makes her think of me as being closer to death. Does that make sense?"

Yeah, but OTOH very light hair is easier to dye other colors than dark hair is because you don't need to bleach it first. Maybe she thinks you have a golden opportunity to dye the gray parts golden (or auburn or Run Lola Run red or anime blue) and wants you to make the most of it? ;)

"And she probably doesn't want you o be an 'old mom'--there's some stigma attached to that."

There is? My mom had me when she was 32, and I felt no stigma at all about her looking her age. Now if she looked so young that people would assume she had me when she was 14, then I would have felt a stigma.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 5:49 PM

I was raised by my grandparents, and I remember being very worried about their age and what that meant in terms of death. I was sure that if they died, there would be no one left to take care of me. It was really scary. Luckily, they lived until I was in my 30s, so it was not an issue, but little kids can feel very vulnerable when it comes to the concept of death.

Posted by: nina | December 12, 2006 5:50 PM

Come on, age 32 can hardly be considered an old mom. In fact, I would consider that age as absolutely average. Young mom is 20. Old mom is 40. But more and more women are having kids at 40, so that may no longer be considered old anymore.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 5:52 PM

What a recession proof business, creepy but profitable. I doubt the children play hide and go seek at mom's workplace.

Posted by: pATRICK | December 12, 2006 5:58 PM

What a recession proof business, creepy but profitable. I doubt the children play hode and go seek at mom's workplace.

Posted by: pATRICK | December 12, 2006 5:58 PM

"Seems there are mostly jobs you love and jobs you hate and little in between, since if you don't love it it is just a job."

I think there is a whole lot in between. Mostly everyone I know thinks their job is OK. They don't hate it and generally have more good days than bad, but all would give it up in a minute if money were no object. Not to say that they would choose to sit around eating bon-bons, but the interests they truly love are not their work.

Posted by: to Leslie | December 12, 2006 6:11 PM

To the mother considering a move:

I understand why you're exhausted! Even without a young child, your commute is unyielding and draining so much of you.

Can you take a few days off at some point to think about your options? I would meet with someone like a life coach to generate as many ideas as possible (some have been suggested here) know, old fashioned brainstorming. Don't "edit" yourself just yet. Look at the ideas on paper. Follow different ideas to their logical conclusion.

You may create a new idea that serves your entire family well.

All of the ideas may not be workable, or even the best one(s) may not be workable today, but you never know what can happen when you start directing your energy in a new way.

Best of luck to you!

Posted by: Kate | December 12, 2006 6:20 PM

Thanks to everyone with their thoughtful suggestions and takes on my question/situation. I appreciate the time you took to write and some of the things brought up, I hadn't considered. One of my friends thinks I've already made up my mind and I'm just going through the motions of thinking it through. Time will tell.

I'd like to apologize to the writer of today's Guest Blog for bringing up something not exactly on topic with their post.

Posted by: A question of ... | December 12, 2006 7:55 PM

I allowed my daughter to choose whether to go to the visitation so that she would have a chance to say good-bye. It was not freaky, nor did she become particularly sad, because I treated death as the natural occurence that it is. She and her sister later attended the funeral of a woman in our church--the great grandmother of one of their friends. Perhaps, as others have suggested, it is more of a southern thing. Most of the funerals I have attended were celebrations of life. My favorite was the one with balloons tied to every chair in the sanctuary.

I forgot to say earlier--when I was 18 my other grandfather died. At one point while we were gathered at my grandparent's house prior to the visitation/funeral, I was sent, with the younger cousins, to a back room. I guess I was supposed to be in charge, but when my six year old cousin kept asking, "where's Papa, where's Papa?" I didn't know what to say, so I ignored him (not a strategy I would recommend today, but no doubt the best I could muster at the time). Finally in exasperation his 13 year old brother said, "He's DEAD." "I know," said the six year old, "but where is he dead?" Well, to a six year old, that's a pretty good question--he'd never experienced a funeral home before. Kids need things explained in very concrete terms, and I guess it hadn't occurred to his mother to explain that part. Nor had it occurred to my mother to explain to me that my grandfather wouldn't look quite like himself, lying there in the casket. I was devastated by the way he looked--like he wasn't all there (well, he wasn't--the life in him was gone). I made sure to explain this to my daughter.

Posted by: single mother by choice | December 12, 2006 9:51 PM

To the mother considering moving to the farm: There's an excellent book called Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study... that talks about research into whether kids are really better off or worse off if parents work. The book is referenced in the April 17 blog entry titled "A Wish for Less Stress". After reading the blog I read the book and a couple of things in it are relevant for your situation. In the book, kids almost universally wished that their mothers were less stressed and tired. Another issue is that kids were happier when they felt their families were financially stable and secure. So for your situation, if moving to the farm and pursuing school will make you less tired and stressed and ultimately will lead to a more secure financial future, then it seems like a good thing to do.

Posted by: momof2 | December 12, 2006 10:38 PM

to youtookthekidswhere

I'm from the South and came well remember going to open-casket funerals as a child. It did not freak me out; it made things concrete. I still find closed-casket wakes odd because it's like the deceased is not 'there'. Kids can handle lots of things if the events are treated as 'normal' by the adults involved. Freaked-out adults are what freaks kids, not facts.

Posted by: VAtoddlerMom | December 13, 2006 10:52 AM

typo before: that's "can well remember"

Our son is not yet 3 and he's already figured that dad's "very old" (higher than he can count), and of course lept to the next question: are you going to die? We just answer "not for a very long time; you'll probably be all grown up by then" and then just keep the patter moving focused on the growing up part.

Posted by: VAtoddlermom | December 13, 2006 11:01 AM

No one may get to read this since I joined a day late but I have to tell this story. A friend of mine was on vacation a few hours drive away from our hometown when her 8 year old daughter was killed in a boating accident and her husband was seriously injured and transfered to another hospital. A hospital worker came up to her and said "Since your funeral home can't get here in a timely manner we will have to put your daughter in a body bag so we can get her out of the way." My friend's mother called the funeral director personally (small town) to see what the hold up was and found he had been already picking up another body and was preparing to go pick up the little girl which was a 6 hour car trip away. The funeral director called the hospital and the employee lost her job. BTW, almost everyone uses this funeral home and the director and his family become extended members of the families they serve. My mom and my brother were both taken care of there. This is a very special profession that deserves the upmost respect.

Posted by: Why a funeral director is needed 24/7 | December 13, 2006 3:06 PM

Very wonderful story, I can't imagine how you manage but keep up the good work...Very funny your 3 year old has insight already...So you are teaching them well...

Posted by: Renata | December 20, 2006 2:14 PM

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