I’ve gotten some thought-provoking inquiries on my Stepparenting the
Grieving Child
website.  Today I’m sharing a question about whether
grief counseling is necessary for stepfamily members who lost a
spouse or a parent.

Here is the actual question:

“Is it necessary for grief counseling for the biological parent and the
children that [have lost] to help them not take out their grief on the
newlywed stepparent?”

My blog-post-length answer only scratches the surface of this complex
topic. I believe that in order to process grief in a healthy way, as
opposed to stuffing it or lashing out when we least expect it, we do
need to seek help with our grieving.  In my opinion, help can come in
the form of counseling OR conscientious self-study.

First we have to give ourselves permission to grieve. Men, especially,
must buck gender stereotypes to allow themselves to process grief.
This permission-giving can be part of a counseling program.  Or the
counseling can start once someone has decided to recognize grief.

If you or a loved one chooses the self-study route, you’ll find many
grief-related books to explore.  If you want to locate a grief-support
organization near you, contact your local hospice provider or check out
the list of organizations at the National Center for Grieving Children
and Families, operated through the Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon.

So what happens in a stepfamily when loved ones who have lost don’t
want to seek help of any form?  Realistically, a bit of heartbreak, and
often a turn to prayer. The objective family member (a person who
didn’t suffer the loss; usually the stepparent) can usually see the need,
but the decision is out of her hands.  If a family member older than
about seventeen is opposed to seeking help for their grieving, then
any help given is forced and will likely not do its job. 

A willing spirit, or at least the core knowledge of “I NEED SOME HELP,”
must preface the counseling to enable the discussions to take root.
The same thing goes for self study. 
At the same time, you don’t want to say, “YOU have a problem.”

Your willingness to partner can help.

You could strongly encourage your spouse to look into a book, a class, or counseling. 

It’s possible that he (or she) would “do it for you” initially and then some
truth may strike him, which could encourage him to further
understand his grief.  If the children’s parent models this behavior, his
children might follow.  You could offer to participate, showing your support. 
Whether or not your stepchildren attend grief counseling is a decision
their parent needs to make. If the parent is not creating a healthy
grieving climate, it can result in heartache for you.  A hopeful note: 
time and any combination of events could lead to some enlightenment
on the part of the parent.

Thank you, dear reader, for this insightful question.

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



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