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Helping Step Children Cope with the Death of a Parent

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 6 Dec 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Parent Children Death Support Grieving

The death of a parent is an extraordinarily stressful event for children, but with the love and support of those nearest to them, most can begin to heal and look back with fond memories, rather than tears. Stepparents, especially those who share the home where the children spend most of their time, can be of great assistance to the kids, offering them a wiling ear and a safe place to share their feelings.

Respecting a Child’s Grief

Every child is different and each grieves in their own way. Some kids are verbal about their feelings and find comfort in talking about their deceased parent, but others prefer to pull back and reflect more privately. There are no “right” and “wrong” ways to manage the grieving process, but all children, regardless of their age, should be afforded the time and support to heal in their own way.

If a death of a parent has occurred recently, kids may act out and behave in ways that are quite unlike their typical personalities. Many are understandably angry or frightened, some simply sad. Whatever their feelings, grieving children need to be allowed and encouraged to express themselves and find ways to move on.

Honouring the Memory of a Child’s Deceased Parent

Most stepparents care a great deal about their stepchildren and actively seek ways to make the kids feel loved and appreciated. When the children have lost a parent to death, they may have an especially hard time developing an attachment to a stepparent, feeling that in some way, bonding with their parent’s new partner would be disloyal to their deceased parent.

Parents and stepparents can provide their children with assurance by making it clear that they are welcome to talk about the parent that they lost as often as they need to. Additionally, stepparents who encourage the kids to remember and honour the memory of their lost parent show the children that they are not hoping to take that parent’s place, but want only to be considered an additional loving adult in their lives, can help kids to accept a stepparent without feeling guilty.

Knowing When to Seek Professional Counselling

Sometimes, kids have an especially difficult time coping with the death of a parent and are unable to move on. Symptoms of excessive anxiety or depression should be addressed by professionals, who can help the kids to work through their difficult emotions. Grief counsellors are trained to recognise unhealthy grieving and to help the grief-stricken to find ways to manage their suffering.

When the Deceased Parent is the Stepparent’s Spouse

Legally, stepparents do not have automatic rights to their stepchildren, so if their spouse were to die, they may lose contact with the stepchildren unless the kids’ other parent chooses to keep in touch. This separation can be quite traumatic for the children, who then lose not only their natural parent, but their stepparent, as well. While the ultimate decision about the children being allowed to maintain relationships with their stepparent falls into the hands of the kids’ remaining natural parent, there are steps that stepparents can take to increase the chances that they’ll be permitted to keep in contact with the kids.

If there has been discord between the two, stepparents may want to approach the children’s parent to express a sincere desire to put the past behind them and start fresh. Offering assurance that they are not trying to be intrusive and only wish to make themselves available to the children should they be needed may help, and it may be beneficial to express concern about the children experiencing additional and unnecessary loss, but in the end, the decision must be left to the wisdom of the children’s remaining parent.

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@MomOf5 - you didn't finish your comment, but I really feel for you. Especially to be 23 with five kids. But, I know it may be difficult now, but think of the future, if you give love now it will pay you back in the future and you'll have a close-knit family. I know it must be difficult having two extra kids, but it's great that you love them and that you can take over from their mum and that also they consider you as their mum. For two kids to lose their mother and their siblings so early in life must be incredibly difficult for them. It will take time - but try and hang in there and ride out the difficult times. Your partner is also probably dealing with his own issues regarding having to provide for a large family at such a young age. I wish you both the best of luck - you're doing an amazing job, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Also, I know you had an awful time with your partner's ex, she did a gracious thing risking her own life to save her babies. Try to connect with the father and see if there is anything you can do to connect your girls with their siblings. I think you have been awarded the role of supermum - you don't need to be perfect - just give the love (which is the secret ingredient) and all will be OK.
AngelA - 7-Dec-17 @ 9:40 AM
I have been with my fiance for 5yrs. We grew up together as kids but parted as we got older and we both started relationships with other people. I had one son (now 7) and he had two daughters (now 8 and 9) when we reconnected in Dec of 2012. We have had a very rocky relationship over the years with his family and his ex girlfriend (mother of his two daughters), long story short we never got a along and having her around was always a nightmare. My fiance proposed in Feb of 2016, a month after we had our twin daughters (now 22mons) making 5 children in total and after that his ex started to prye into our relationship more and more clearly showing jealousy, anger towards my fiance and spite towards me for parenting her two daughters when they were with us. Well, last August their mother was diagnosed with a rare aggressive form of cervical cancer, she underwent a cone biopsy removing cancer cells in the area. All was well. Two months later she was pregnant with twins of her own and found out the cancer had come back. Instead of aborting her pregnancy and having a hysterectomy done which would have saved her life, she chose to keep her twins and go through chemo treatments. My fiance daughters were aware of their mothers situation. Jan of this year (2017) their mothers twins had become very weak from the chemo and she was sent to Stanford medical until her due date to be closely monitered. The girls were with us full time while she was away which was very different from their normal schedule (Week on, week off) but we made it work. Well, Mar 17th she passed away after undergoing a c-section to deliver her twins and a hysterectomy to remove the cancer. Her heart gave out during recovery and she died. My step daughters were crushed, they were very close to her and unfortunately their new baby siblings moved across country with their father (mothers boyfriend of 7mons) whom they barely know and have zero relationship with him or the babies, only connection is through Facebook photos. Now 9 months later, the 9yr old is not doing very well in school and seldomly talks about what happened and the 8 yr old is just distant from everyone I just feel drained emotionally and mentally. I have 3 kids of my own and recently took on the other two children full time, I am 23 with 5 kids. My fiance works full time so I stay home and take care of our kids. I love my step daughters very much, they started calling me mom a few months before their bio mom fell ill and they come to me for everything and I think that's something so special but I get so overwhelmed and I can't cope some days and going to my fiance doesn't always help because he is dealing with his own emotions and trying to help his daughters deal with their grief but because we had such a horrible relationship with their mother, it's difficult for us to talk about her in anyway. I have nothing nice to say about their mother and I hate talking about her and when they do come to me to talk about it I get
MomOf5 - 6-Dec-17 @ 9:43 AM
I have become the step mum to my partners 2 sons aged 7 and 4 after their mother sadly passed away 6 months ago. I have 2 daughters of my own aged 15 and 10. I do really feel for the boys and have tried my hardest to love them like my own but I just can't and I feel awful about it. I am also very resentful of the fact that I feel I have given up my life, moved house to accommodate and had to finish work to care for the boys whilst my partners life has changed very little. I honestly feel so low ATM I feel like packing my bags and walking away from it all. Has anybody else been through this?
Ladyd - 15-Jul-17 @ 10:22 PM
Unappreciated - Your Question:
Long story short, I married a woman with a 9 yo daughter (8 yo when we met). 10 years later, we divorced, daughter had moved out already. Bio-dad was never in the picture (bio-mom left him when daughter was 1yo) until my stepdaughter turned 18. She contacted him and they only spoke on the phone or by text. He would not leave her alone-calling at all hours and not respecting times that she said she was busy. She got tired of it and told him to leave her alone. Last year, when she was 24, she contacted him again and he was more respectful. They made plans to meet last August, but sadly, he passed away 2 weeks before. Since then, SD has posted all kinds of things on FB about her Biodad. I have gotten a few mentions about being the father that stepped up but nothing like what she posts about him. I encouraged her to meet him and felt terrible at his passing. But I can't help but feel unappreciated by not being mentioned by her for being the one who was there for her for more than half her life. Am I wrong for feeling this way?

Our Response:
Regardless of whether your step-daughter loves you, you still need to allow her time to grieve over her biological father. It was a very noble act encouraging her to make contact with him and it is not uncommon for a child to paint an idealistic picture around an absent parent and even more so around a dead one. The past can easily be re-written and re-edited to fit a person's pre-conceived ideas of how they wish that parent had behaved in real life. I don't know what experiences your step-daughter had of her father as a child, but if they were all negative, despite the love you have given to her, she would still be left wanting. Try to stop seeing this as a competition, love is elastic and can stretch, so let her express herself and be there to encourage her and help her find ways to move on.
BeingAStepParent - 10-Oct-16 @ 12:29 PM
Long story short, I married a woman with a 9 yo daughter (8 yo when we met). 10 years later, we divorced, daughter had moved out already. Bio-dad was never in the picture (bio-mom left him when daughter was 1yo) until my stepdaughter turned 18. She contacted him and they only spoke on the phone or by text.He would not leave her alone-calling at all hours and not respecting times that she said she was busy. She got tired of it and told him to leave her alone. Last year, when she was 24, she contacted him again and he was more respectful. They made plans to meet last August, but sadly, he passed away 2 weeks before. Since then, SD has posted all kinds of things on FB about her Biodad. I have gotten a few mentions about being the father that stepped up but nothing like what she posts about him. I encouraged her to meet him and felt terrible at his passing. But I can't help but feel unappreciated by not being mentioned by her for being the one who was there for her for more than half her life. Am I wrong for feeling this way?
Unappreciated - 8-Oct-16 @ 5:12 AM
Long story short, I married a woman with a 9 yo daughter (8 yo when we met). 10 years later, we divorced, daughter had moved out already. Bio-dad was never in the picture (bio-mom left him when daughter was 1yo) until my stepdaughter turned 18. She contacted him and they only spoke on the phone or by text.He would not leave her alone-calling at all hours and not respecting times that she said she was busy. She got tired of it and told him to leave her alone. Last year, when she was 24, she contacted him again and he was more respectful. They made plans to meet last August, but sadly, he passed away 2 weeks before. Since then, SD has posted all kinds of things on FB about her Biodad. I have gotten a few mentions about being the father that stepped up but nothing like what she posts about him. I encouraged her to meet him and felt terrible at his passing. But I can't help but feel unappreciated by not being mentioned by her for being the one who was there for her for more than half her life. Am I wrong for feeling this way?
Unappreciated - 8-Oct-16 @ 5:12 AM
@Unappeciated - because of his death it has allowed her to build a shrine to him and he is now been exonerated from all his past faults. It'll pass. It's only natural to cast him in this light. I'm sure she thinks the world of you. But you are present and a constant. There is no fear of losing you, and that makes her feel secure.
Ben78 - 7-Oct-16 @ 3:06 PM
Long story short, I married a woman with a 9 yo daughter (8 yo when we met). 10 years later, we divorced, daughter had moved out already. Bio-dad was never in the picture (bio-mom left him when daughter was 1yo) until my stepdaughter turned 18. She contacted him and they only spoke on the phone or by text.He would not leave her alone-calling at all hours and not respecting times that she said she was busy. She got tired of it and told him to leave her alone. Last year, when she was 24, she contacted him again and he was more respectful. They made plans to meet last August, but sadly, he passed away 2 weeks before. Since then, SD has posted all kinds of things on FB about her Biodad. I have gotten a few mentions about being the father that stepped up but nothing like what she posts about him. I encouraged her to meet him and felt terrible at his passing. But I can't help but feel unappreciated by not being mentioned by her for being the one who was there for her for more than half her life. Am I wrong for feeling this way?
Unappreciated - 7-Oct-16 @ 5:17 AM
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