Ep #95: Playing the Widow Card

The Widowed Mom Podcast with Krista St-Germain | Playing the Widow Card

The widow card is something we’ve all played at one time or another. Maybe you got an invite for something and you knew you didn’t want to go, but were unable to rationalize why, so you played your widow card. Or maybe you didn’t play it because you were thinking it’s been a long time since your person died, and that excuse won’t fly anymore.

Whatever your thoughts are on playing your widow card, my goal for this episode is to help you think about why you might want to play it and why you might decide not to. To help you in this process, I’m giving you three no-fail questions to answer so you can make this important decision for yourself.

Join me on the podcast this week to discover how to use your widow card, if you want to, in a way that empowers you and allows you to make decisions in your own best interest. You never need an excuse after what you’ve been through, but I’m sharing how to get crystal clear on your reasons for playing the widow card, so you can start using it in a way that really serves you.

Listen to the Full Episode:

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How to use the widow card in a way that empowers you and moves you forward.
  • Why you never need an excuse to play the widow card if that’s what you really want to do.
  • Where I see the widow card being used in ways that only serve to disempower the person playing it.
  • Why we have to be incredibly clear on our reasons for playing the widow card.
  • 3 questions to ask yourself before you decide whether or not you want to play the widow card in a given situation.


Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 95, Playing the Widow Card.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Have you ever asked yourself when it’s okay to play the widow card and for how long? Or maybe you’ve never heard of the widow card and you have no idea what I’m talking about. Either way, this episode is going to make you think about why you might want to play it and why you might not, and I’ll give you three no-fail questions to answer so you can decide for yourself.

First though, a little update inside my life. I don’t think I’ve given you one for a while. I got to watch my girl play volleyball quite a bit these last couple of months, even with COVID. She was able to play the sport that she loves so much, and a shorter season than normal, but better than no season. So, we got to do a little bit of traveling, a little bit of watching her play.

And bless her heart, she was super-flexible. She’s really not a setter, or doesn’t think of herself as a setter, and it seems like coaches keep recognizing that she has the ability to set, so even though she wants to be a hitter, she was a team player and set whenever they asked her to. She got to do a lot of hitting too, but she did a lot of setting. And I was really proud of just the positive attitude that she had and it was fun to watch er play her sport.

Then, boyfriend and I celebrated a year. We’re past a year now. It’s like 13 months. And I got the most beautiful ring for our one-year anniversary. It’s like a little promise ring that he surprised me with, a little infinity band with pavé diamonds on three sides. I’m not hating it, I’ll say that. I’m not hating it. I’m very lucky and I ‘m very happy that he’s in my life and enjoying time with him and I’m looking forward to when the world opens up again so we can actually get out there and do things instead of being trapped at home.

So, anyway, that’s enough about me. Let’s get into the episode. You have probably heard of playing the widow card, and before we talk about it, I want you to consider for a second, what do you think about the idea of playing the widow card? Have you played it? For what reason? Is there an expiration date on when it can be played? What do you think?

Also, I wanted to know a little bit more about this expression, where did it come from, what is it even about. So, I went to the Googles and I found a couple of definitions to share with you. And I had to Google a few different things. But what ended up surfacing the fastest was, “Playing the something card.”

One definition I found said, “To introduce the issue of discrimination against some group, especially that of which one is a member, in order to gain an advantage in or dismiss or discredit an argument.” Another was, “To use a particular quality, argument, et cetera in order to gain an advantage.”

And then also, Merriam Webster offered that, in addition to playing the race card, the gender card, and the woman card, which I think are the most familiar phrases to most of us, “The direct forebearer, likely unfamiliar to readers in the US, is playing the orange card,” which in the late 19th century was, according to Merriam Webster, was to appeal to the Northern Irish Ulster Unionists in order to gain political advantage.

So, apparently Winston Churchill’s father Lord Randolph Churchill likely coined the term, thereby setting the lexical stage for the cards that have been dealt and played by our politicians and pundits since.

So, maybe more than you wanted to know, but I kind of wanted to think about, where did this even come from? And I don’t know where I heard playing the widow card the first time, but it’s what I do all day, so it’s a phrase I’m quite familiar with.

So, you know me, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while. And you know that I’m all about what’s useful. And so, it’s through that lens, the lens of usefulness, that I want us to consider this idea of playing the widow card.

I’m going to tell you how I see the widow card being used in a way that can empower or disempower us, in a way that can either move us forward or hold us back, and in a way that can help us become more of who we want to become, or less. And then, I’m going to give you three questions you can ask yourself so that you can consider when you might want to play the widow card and when you might not.

And what matters, as always, isn’t that I approve of your choices, or that anyone else approves of your choices. What matters is that you choose consciously what is right for you, that you think it through for yourself and come to your own conclusions and access your own values and wisdom and decide if you do or don’t want to use this term.

Okay, are you ready? The first way of the three that I see us playing the widow card is when we’re doing it in order to help us have more compassion for ourselves. So, think about the times when you have experienced some form of widow fog, which if that’s unfamiliar to you, check out the podcast episode that I did on it called Widow Fog. It’s pretty early on.

But those moments where it feels like your brain is full of cotton candy, you can’t remember anything, things that used to be easy for you to think of now feel very blurry. You read something on a page, you don’t retain it. You cannot focus or concentrate at work like you used to be able to. You never before forgot paying a bill ever on time and now you’re struggling to get them there.

This is widow fog. Your prefrontal cortex can’t process all the same information that it’s used to being able to process and it feels really uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.

So, if you’re playing the widow card because you’re having widow fog and it’s helping you have more compassion for yourself, I love that reason. If the alternative is for you to judge yourself and tell yourself that there’s something wrong with you, that you’re never going to get any better, that you should be doing it better than you are, I don’t find that useful.

If you’re feeling angry and you don’t know why, because sometimes our hormones are a mess and for lots of other reasons we might feel angry, or just like we’re on an emotional rollercoaster, and you’re tempted to judge yourself for that, I suggest you play the widow card.

Chalk it up to being a widow, for now, and cut yourself some slack, show yourself some grace. If you’re like me and you have unexpected grief grenades – and I know most of my clients do, so I don’t think that I’m the exception. But if you have an unexpected grief grenade and you didn’t see it coming – for me it was CPR scenes in television or movies, it was seeing a car on the side of the road, which still sometimes I find very triggering, really nearly any Disney Pixar movie, if we’re being honest. There’s a lot of opportunities for surprise grief grenades. If that happens to you, play the widow card. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself. That’s my recommendation.

So, that’s the first category, is playing it when it helps us have more compassion for ourselves. I am a big fan of playing it for this reason. The second category is when we are using it to say that society’s expectations don’t apply to us. And here’s what I mean.

When we’re tempted to put what we think other people want ahead of what we want, say for instance you’ve accepted an invitation to go somewhere with a friend, or who knows, a colleague, and at the last minute you don’t want to go because what you really need is rest, what you really need is time alone with your dog. What you really need, what feels like self-care to you is to decline the invitation, even if it’s at the last minute. Does this sound familiar?

You just don’t want to go. But polite you, you that says you shouldn’t back out for, quote, no good reason, the you that has been socialized to believe that she is responsible for the thoughts and feelings of others, the you that has been taught that she is supposed to say yes even though she wants to say no because she might hurt other people’s feelings, the you that has been taught that other people’s wants matter more than hers. Does this sound familiar?

I’m pretty sure it does. I recommend that you give this version of you permission to play the widow card. But not because you need permission to play it. Not because it even needs to be played.

In fact, you never need an excuse to live life according to your desires. It’s your life. And you’re a grown woman. None of us ever need an excuse not to people please. We don’t have to have a logical reason to say no. We can just say no because it’s what we want to say. We can say no because it’s our preference.

We can say it from love, if we want to. It doesn’t have to come from frustration or anger or any other emotion. It can come from love; love for others, love for ourselves, love for what we believe is important. And saying no, being honest doesn’t make us greedy. It doesn’t make us inconsiderate.

We can let other people have their own thoughts and feelings about our honesty. And so, the reason I say play the widow card is because if this isn’t something that you’re comfortable with yet, because a lot of women have decades of shaming themselves into doing things out of obligation. And into putting other people’s desires before their own, then by all means, I implore you, suggest highly to you that you play the widow card.

Because what a lot of us do is when we say no when we mean to say no, we don’t want to say yes, we make it mean that we’re a bad person. We make it mean that there’s something wrong with us, that we’re selfish, that we’re greedy. So, if playing the widow card prevents you from believing that there’s something wrong with you, that you aren’t kind, that you’re selfish, that you’re greedy, that you’re inconsiderate, the play the widow card for now, as a temporary move until we can work on those beliefs.

If nothing else, it will show you that no one actually implodes when you are honest. The world keeps spinning. People get over it. And the more honest you are about who you are and what you want, the more people will actually get to know the real you instead of the chameleon that most of us are pretending to be.

And yes, some of them may not like it. But your people, those who are meant to be in your tribe will love you for your authenticity. They will appreciate you for being honest. They will like knowing that you don’t say yes when you don’t mean it.

And I think this is important because we’ve just been brought up this way. We were socialized with certain expectations. And just because those expectations are there, doesn’t mean we need to conform ever.

So, if playing the widow card helps you move towards being more honest about who you are and what you prefer, then I say it’s useful. I’m voting for it as a temporary measure. And then, we’re going to work on your beliefs. Deal?

Okay, last category. This is the category which I think fits into the most traditional definition of playing the whatever card. That’s when we’re trying to manipulate. That’s when we’re trying to get people to do things for us that they don’t really want to do. This is when we’re guilt tripping. This is when we’re putting our desires above other people’s desires.

We’re trying to get them maybe to go out of their way to accommodate us, or maybe it’s about getting them to see and validate our pain, to agree that our life is harder than their life. This is what my friend Corinne says, that we can just continue playing in our poopy diaper.

So, when we’re trying to get other people to agree that we have it worse than they do, then that lets us continue to play in the poopy diaper. And maybe it feels justified doing that because maybe we don’t know how to get ourselves out of that misery.

And so, we want to drag other people into misery. Or maybe at least we just want to be told that our misery isn’t our fault because there’s a part of us that thinks it is.

So, personally, as you can imagine, I’m not a fan of this use of the widow card. I think it’s disempowering. I think it takes us away from the life that we want to live. It makes us less of who we want to be. And here’s what I want you to hear though, because I’ve done this. So, I’m not coming from a high and mighty place.

So, if you’ve done this, I’m not wanting you to feel guilty. I think most of us have done this. And we’re all still imperfect humans doing the best job we can with what we know, right? We’re all still waking up every day trying not to suck at life. We’re doing the best job we can.

Maya Angelou is always quoted as saying, “When we know better, we do better.” And so, if you’ve been playing the widow card this way, trying to manipulate other people, trying to put your desires above theirs, trying to guilt trip them into doing things out of obligation for you and this isn’t the type of widow card playing that you want to do, then just be honest with yourself.

You don’t have to make yourself feel bad about it. You can just be honest with yourself, that you were doing the best job you know how to do and, in that moment, trying to manipulate someone else was you doing the best job you could do, was you trying to feel better for your reasons at the time.

So, no need to beat yourself up, okay. That’s not what I’m going for here. But if you don’t like that use of the widow card, then you can just make a different choice going forward. You can just be your own champion and keep moving forward. That’s what it’s all about in my book.

Do I want to play the widow card as a gesture of self-compassion? If the alternative is being mean to yourself, by all means, play the widow card. Do I want to play the widow card because I’m not yet practiced enough at giving myself permission to say no when I want to say no? And if the alternative is putting the desires of other people ahead of your own desires because, as women, that’s what we’ve been trained to do, then by all means play the widow card.

And then, you’re going to come work with me and we’re going to work on your beliefs that have you putting yourself on the bottom of the priority list and keep you feeling responsible for other people’s emotions. Because we can change that.

And then, do I want to play the widow card because I want to manipulate other people and make them feel pain too? Do I want to play the widow card because it’s easier than being honest and brave and taking responsibility for my life?

For those reasons, I’m not a fan. I don’t think I would be doing you a service if I encouraged you to use it under those circumstances. And really simply put – I said I would give you three questions. These are the three questions really simply put.

Question one, will playing the widow card empower or disempower me? Will it empower or disempower me? Two, will it help me move forward or will it hold me back? And you know what that means for you in your life. You know where it is you want to go and where you don’t want to go.

And the third question, will it make me more of who I want to be or less? And you know the answer to that question too. You know the answer to all three of these questions. They’re not all or nothing. It’s not one size fits all. It’s not universally good or bad. It’s just like any tool, to be used with intention.

You are the boss of your life. You get to decide. So, I just want you to get curious and be honest with yourself about your reasons. Make sure you feel good about your reasons. And then, just decide what’s best for you because you always know. You are the expert in your life.

Okay, that’s what I have for you this week. I hope it gave you something to ponder. Remember, I love you and you’ve got this. Take care, I will see you next week. Bye-bye.



If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about, even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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