Author Topic: As a new step-parent, how do you support your partnerís children through grief?  (Read 3011 times)


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As a new step-parent, how do you support your partnerís children through grief?

Published Thursday, February 13, 2020
By Marie Curie

It can be hard to step into a family as a new partner and parent after someone dies. Not only will you be taking on a parenting role and everything that goes along with it, but youíll be helping to support the family at a particularly vulnerable time.  With BBC1ís documentary Rio and Kate: Becoming a Stepfamily shedding light on what this process has been like for their family, we spoke to Rachel Morris, Children and Young Peoplesí Counsellor at the Marie Curie Hospice, Liverpool, about what can help.  Itís normal to feel a wide range of emotions if youíre joining a grieving family as a new partner. You might feel worried that other people think youíre trying to replace the person whoís died. You might feel guilty and wonder things like: 'Should I even be here?', 'Am I intruding on someone elseís grief?' You might worry that people outside of the immediate family will judge your parenting skills, or that people are waiting for you to fail.  Itís easy to feel like you need to be the one to Ďfixí the situation. But in reality, itís not down to you to Ďsolveí anything. Grief is complex and personal, and there are no quick fixes.  The most important thing is to find ways of communicating with one another, coming together as a new unit, and moving forward together."

Worries the child may have

"One of the big fears a child may have is that their deceased mum or dad might be forgotten as a result of a new person joining the family. It can be hard to know how to strike the balance between coming together as a new family and making sure the person whoís died is remembered.  Every family will have their own way of managing this. Your family might find itís very helpful to keep up old traditions as a way of still allowing that person to be in your lives. You might decide to have special places, days, or rituals where and when you focus on the person whoís died. Whatever that new norm might be, itís about making sure that everyone in the family is okay with it.  Having support and advice around you will help. From the beginning, itís vital to find that external support, and to make sure the children are getting access to it too."

Not making assumptions

"In my work, I find that grief affects everyone in different ways. But one thing that happens a lot is that parents assume the child is feeling a certain way and may try to protect them based on those assumptions. But this protective instinct might actually have more to do with how the parents are feeling.  Children do have opinions and views on their own grief. Itís very much individual to whatever the person who died meant to them. Some children are actually pretty resilient about a new person coming into the family. Even though thereís that sadness that their mum or dad has died, there may also be a sense of hope for the future.  If you can find out how each child is feeling directly from them, it may help you and your partner avoid making these kinds of assumptions."

Feelings and talking about them

"When parents come to me and say theyíre worried a child isnít talking about the bereavement, Iíll often ask: ďOkay, but are you talking about it?Ē I find children often mirror their parentsí behaviour. If the remaining parent doesnít seem to be grieving, then the children may follow suit.  Not giving children permission to talk means they may internalise their feelings, which can then lead to disruptive behaviours at a later date. A lot of issues later in life can be caused by unresolved grief. As someone new coming into the family, it would be beneficial to establish open communication with the children from the beginning of the relationship, if the children are ready to do so.  Finding out how a childís feeling means not being afraid to ask questions. And that means you need to have that emotional capacity to be able to deal with whatever their response maybe even if thatís hard to hear. Remember, itís okay not to know all the answers, and you shouldnít worry if you donít have them all.  This is where family group therapy comes in. Itís so important to have a safe space where you can all open up about these things together, and a therapy session is designed to provide this safe space away from day-to-day life, where you can talk openly about how youíre feeling."

Grief comes in waves

"Grief is not straightforward, and, like adults, it can affect children in different ways on different days. It can be useful to be aware of this so youíre prepared for sudden changes in mood. It may also be helpful to remind yourself that expressions of anger, frustration, or resentment may not be about you!  If you and you partner feel empowered to share when youíre having a bad day or are feeling more affected by things than usual, youíll be showing the children that itís okay for them to do the same."

Swapping stories

"Another thing that can be helpful is getting support from others who are in the same position as you. Whether thatís at a bereavement support group, on an online forum, or somewhere else, this can be a good way to get reassurance that youíre doing okay as a new partner, as well as new ideas for things to try."

Find more information about supporting a child who is grieving including talking to children about death, questions children may ask, and see a list of books for and about grieving children.

If you want to talk to someone following a bereavement, weíre here for you. Call us on 0800 090 2309 for free bereavement support.

Lost Soul

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I can believe that stepparents have to learn how to fit in and find their role, it's hard enough if they marry a divorced person but the death of a parent is harder.