This is the third in a Wednesday post series about the role of the parent in stepfamilies.   Stepfamilies might feel more cohesive if the parent is able to:

  • Be the central hub of the stepfamily.
  • Be the main disciplinarian in the stepfamily.
  • Be physically available (present).
  • Be emotionally available (interested). 

Today we’re looking at how grief and loss can block one’s ability to carry forth the above behaviors.  Most of this post is targeted toward situations where one parent has died.

I am going to have to split this topic down gender lines.  Boys and men in our society are often chided by other boys and men even if they cry.  So for a man to let himself experience the full range of emotions around grief is a rare thing.  

Jean McBride, Executive Director of the Colorado Center for Life Changes, says, “Sometimes the dad isn’t very good at helping the family grieve and he just wants to move on and replace.”  But what we know about grief is that it’s a lifelong process and thus it will continue to come out whether we allow it or not.  So even though a high percentage of widowed or divorced men remarry within a few years, their grief will still go along for the remarried ride in some way, shape, or form. 

Women, especially those with children, are less likely to remarry as quickly, but about half of widowers or divorcees eventually do.  With either gender, stockpiled feelings of grief can prevent parents from connecting emotionally with their children.  Sometimes the children are viewed as reminders of the loss, which is an unfortunate misplacement of emotions that could leave the children wondering if the state of the family is their fault. 

Or, grief can enable parents to overcompensate out of feelings of sorrow or guilt.  For example, a parent might shower their child with material things.   “Poor dear – she lost her mom.  This would be a good time to buy her that pony.”  Or, some parents let boundaries slide.  “Awww, don’t be so tough on him for staying out too late – his dad only died a year ago.”  

What can you, the stepparent do?  Similar to last week’s discussion, you could choose to coach your partners – this time through grief.  Encourage your spouses to talk about and talk through their losses, to let themselves experience the feelings as they arrive.  You probably don’t want to take on that initiative all by yourself, so you can also support your spouses to engage in either a self-study or a group study about grief and loss.  Finally, you can help them connect with a pastor or counselor. 

If nothing else, please don’t underestimate the ripple effect of either pushing grief way down inside, or pushing it off to the future.  Grief has a way of seeping through our insides out into real life in the most unexpected ways. 

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in Northern Colorado.  For more information on her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to



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