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Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

“So how do you tell the world you have lost your baby and they have lost her too. Stella is gone from here and suffers no more. She left us around noon and we are thankful for her peace. We are exhausted with grief, which is the best description I can give of the way I feel.”
These words were penned this week by the mom of the young girl pictured. I’ve prayed fervently for this family as I’ve watched their child suffer through aggressive chemotherapy for brain cancer — to no avail. Stella Rose fought a hard fight but the cancer won. And this family will never be the same.

Coping with loss is never easy. I can’t imagine how this family will deal with the loss of their baby girl.

The death of a young child is not the same kind of loss experienced in a stepfamily. However, the losses our stepchildren encounter as a result of death or divorce are significant. And when we don’t acknowledge their loss or we choose to minimize their feelings, it hinders their ability to work through their feelings and adjust to stepfamily life.

So, how do we help our stepchildren cope with loss? First, we allow them to talk about their other parent when they’re in our home. We 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.

How have you helped your stepchildren cope with their loss?

Related Posts:

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying Our Feelings

Do You Recognize Your Value and Calling as a Stepparent?

Excerpt from Kisses from Katie:

“What would cause an eighteen-year-old senior class president and homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee, to disobey and disappoint her parents by forgoing college, break her little brother’s heart, lose all but a handful of her friends (because they think she has gone off the deep end), and break up with the love of her life, all so she could move to Uganda, where she knew only one person and didn’t even speak the language?

Katie Davis left over Christmas  break of her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them.”

Kisses from Katie is a beautiful story of a young lady who has opened her heart to what God has called her to do, sacrificing an easy life in the United States for a challenging journey in Uganda. Now at twenty-two years old, Katie is in the process of adoping thirteen little  girls – orphans – who might never know love otherwise. Katie is also the founder and director of Amazima, a ministry that reaches hundreds of other children in Uganda.

Katie says, “Sometimes I want to spend hours talking with my best friends about boys and fashion and school and life. I want to be a normal young woman living in America, sometimes. But I want other things more. All the time. I wanted to be challenged endlessly. I want to be taught by those I teach, and I want to share God’s love with people who otherwise might not know it. I want to make some kind of difference, no matter how small, and I want to follow the calling God has placed on my heart.”

We may not be called to care for orphans in a foreign country as Katie has been, but as stepparents, we are called to love and care for someone else’s children on what is often a challenging journey.

We may long for an easy road without challenges and unanswered questions. We may prefer a life with biological children who love and obey us. But as stepparents, that’s not the calling we’ve been given.

As Katie, I want to make a difference in my stepchildren’s lives. I want to love them and show them a God they may never know otherwise. I want to be a part of nurturing and maturing them.

But I’ve learned the road to growth has bumps and twists. It’s on the hard days when I don’t feel like loving my stepchildren that I can make the biggest difference in their lives. When I love them them when they’re unlovable, they know I care. When I sacrifice my schedule to meet their needs, they know they’re important to me. And when I persevere when I want to quit, they sense my unending love for them.

At twenty-two years old Katie recognizes that life’s priceless rewards come through sweat, tears, and sacrifices. Not on the easy comfortable road we would like to journey on, but on the road God has called us to. And the beauty of our calling is the satisfaction we gain in knowing we’re doing the right thing, serving others in a way that makes a difference in their lives, even when it’s hard.

Are you up for the calling?

How do you show your stepchildren you love them? Will you share your ideas with us?

Other Posts You Might Like:

Nuggets of Wisdom From Laura Petherbridge: Author of The Smart Stepmom

God is Enough for the Stepfamily Struggle You Face

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you’re angry), and then follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

It isn’t our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it’s okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don’t deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can’t completely avoid those situations.

However, I’ve learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I’ve learned how to cope with my limitations.

I’ve also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter’s quest for mature decision-making about her future. I’ve learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It’s more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It’s our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

Do you need to practice saying “no” this week?

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn’t help but think, Why haven’t you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you’re angry), and then follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

It isn’t our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it’s okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don’t deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can’t completely avoid those situations.

However, I’ve learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I’ve learned how to cope with my limitations.

I’ve also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter’s quest for mature decision-making about her future. I’ve learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It’s more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It’s our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

What boundaries have you set that offer a healthy perspective for you? Will you share them with us?

Related Posts:

The Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two