“Mom, listen to this text,” my 18-year-old daughter, Jodi, said early yesterday morning. “My friend, Jacob Mulberry was killed in a tragic accident last night. His brother, Keith is seriously injured. There were two others in the truck – not sure of their conditions.”
The text was from a friend of hers about two brothers they go to school with. Jodi read other details about the wreck in shock, not believing that a boy she just saw in class is now dead. She learned later that the brother, Keith, also died later that evening.
Coping with loss is never easy. I can’t imagine how this family will deal with the loss of their two sons. Their lives will never be the same.
The loss experienced in a stepfamily is not the same as an unexpected vehicle fatality, but the losses our stepchildren encounter as a result of death or divorce is significant. And when we don’t acknowledge their loss or minimize their feelings, it hinders their ability to work through their feelings and adjust to stepfamily life.
So, how do we help our stepchildren with their loss? First, we allow them to talk about their other parent when they’re in our home. We might ask if they want to have pictures of their parent in their room, or other items that help them feel comfortable. We don’t compete with the other parent or try to replace that parent for our stepchildren.
It also helps to remember that loyalty conflict is a result of the loss our stepchildren feel. My husband and I had been married more than 10 years when my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer. I had a good relationship with my stepchildren but after her loss, my stepson became very distant for awhile. He struggled with how to integrate his grief over his mother’s death with his feelings toward me. As he worked through his grief with a counselor and allowed time to heal his hurt, he was able to come back to a relationship with me.
Loss can affect everyday temperament, causing mood swings and emotional outbursts. Some children naturally handle emotions better than others, but if your stepchild shows unstable emotions regularly, it might be time to consider professional help.
Stepfamilies are born of loss. Especially in the early years of marriage, it’s likely that stepchildren will struggle with a confusing set of emotions because of loss. Be sensitive and compassionate toward them, encouraging them to talk through their feelings while helping them process their loss. Don’t be reluctant to seek professional help if necessary.
Are you sensitive toward the loss your stepchildren feel?