Being a stepparent can be a tough job, especially if your new stepchildren are still grieving the parent you “replaced.” They need your help and support but may not know how to ask for it. Or they may be so engulfed in their grief that they may not have the words to describe their needs at the time.

Depending on where they are in the grief cycle, they may even react to you with anger or denying your new place in their family. Here’s how you can help, without overstepping your boundaries.

1. Give them alone time

Hovering over grieving children will not help them. They may wish to be alone with their feelings and their memories. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you and then leave them alone with their emotions and tears. They may grieve together or separately, depending on the closeness and personalities of the siblings.

2. Listen without bringing in your own experiences

If they do talk to you, refrain from talking about how you felt when you were in a similar, sad situation. They probably won't want to hear it. They are now feeling that the emotions that are rolling through them right now are unique to only them.

Remember, this is the time when it is all about them and nobody else. Make endearing and positive statements about the departed parent if they seem to want to hear your comments.

3. Allow stepchildren to idealize their parent

No one is perfect, but stepchildren may use this time to put their deceased parent on a pedestal. Sometimes it is a pedestal that they don't really belong on or the children may not have even known the parent well.

No matter what, it is not your place to correct them if they want to idealize their loved one. If it helps them to do this, just allow it and don't say a word to negate their comments.

4. Provide professional help if needed

Grief counseling is a wise option that stepparents can take advantage of, especially if the children are hesitant to talk to them about their recent loss. This will give them services that will guide them through each stage of the grief process. Ask your local mental health center for assistance with finding this type of organization. The deceased parent’s life insurance or viatical settlement may also help with paying for professional help.

Children grieving a parent, no matter what their ages are, is one of the saddest and most stressful situations that you will ever have to deal with. Be there on the sidelines if they need you. Don't force your affections or opinions on them at this time. Being the loving, caring stepparent that they can turn to if they so desire is your role in this sorrowful situation.

Resources:

School-Aged Children and Grief

7 Tips for Stepparenting and Blended Families

What is a Viatical Settlement?