After a Parent’s Death

Adele Cornish, BSW

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When a biological parent dies, a child may look towards their new stepparent to meet the needs that would normally be fulfilled by the lost parent.  As the following example shows, while a stepfather or stepmother may be successful in meeting these needs, they may or may not necessarily experience the same emotional connection as they do with their own children.

Jennifer’s mother died shortly after her birth. Her father and stepmother, who also had 4 children of her own, raised Jennifer. Jennifer always looked to her stepmother to fulfill the role of “mother” in her life. It was not until Jennifer had children of her own that she realized the relationship or bond she and her stepmother shared was different to the one she has with her own children. She concluded that her stepmother had never felt the same strong emotional tie one would normally have with their own biological children. It was with the benefit of her own experience as a parent and hindsight that Jennifer could look back and identify times when her mother’s behavior was motivated by duty or obligation as opposed to the unconditional love that children usually elicit from their bio parent.

The following illustration is from a woman who recognizes that the bond she feels with her own child is stronger than the one she has with her stepchildren. Her husband yearns for her to experience the same connection with his children, which may inevitably cause his wife to feel inadequate and her husband to feel his children are being cheated.

“How can I get my husband to understand I love my children? My biological child will always hold a special place. I love my stepchildren and hurt from the loss of their mother. I want to be there for them too. It seems my child is always looked upon as not acting as well as the others. I am in the middle. How can I keep my husband happy but not turn my back on my children? My husband and I have a 3 yr old together and I never want to put him through divorce.” Jan

Jan’s husband needs to accept the loss of his children’s mother as just that, an irreplaceable loss of a relationship that his new wife cannot replicate. It is normal and natural for him to grieve for his children’s loss. While his wife will not replace their mother, she will play a significant role in their lives. She shouldn’t feel guilty for not experiencing the same maternal bond towards them. However she can still choose to love, nurture and guide her stepchildren as far as they will allow her to.

Parenting in a blended family is often difficult but you can make it easier by using some specific skills and strategies.   The ‘Blending Lives Program’ gives you advice on all of the following topics plus much more:

Help for Biological Parents in a Step Family

  • Strategies to use when feeling torn between your spouse and child; balancing what your partner wants with what your children need
  • How to create a lasting relationship
  • How to overcome guilt

Positive Step Parenting

  • Tips for those who haven’t parented before
  • Understanding the difficult stepchild
  • A crucial key you need to succeed
  • Conquering resentment!
  • Learn what the real role of a stepparent is

Meeting Children’s Needs

  • How to help children settle in a blended environment
  • Using time with children wisely
  • Your kids, my kids; how to have equal treatment
  • Strategies for bonding with stepchildren

To find out more and learn how to create a supportive and enjoyable family life click here