Home > Emotions > Helping Step Children Cope with the Death of a Parent

Helping Step Children Cope with the Death of a Parent

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 8 Oct 2016 | 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.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
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
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the BeingAStepParent website. Please read our Disclaimer.