Suffering the death of a parent can be an emotionally trying time for you and your family. You may be experiencing this type of loss for the first time, and may not be sure what to expect. When you have a blended family, it can be especially tough to figure out how to deal with all of the end-of-life preparations, and with what happens next within your family.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Being Supportive During and After the Death of Their Parent
- Tips for Maintaining a Relationship With Your Step-Child After the Death
Households with blended families may find it harder to sort out all the red tape and remaining relationships. When you're the step-parent in charge of what comes next following the death of their parent, you can reassure them that you'll continue to be there for them.
Let them know that just because there’s been a death, it doesn't mean an end to the relationship between the two of you. The following guide offers tips on how to be a supportive step-parent after the death of a parent.
Tips for Being Supportive During and After the Death of Their Parent
Blended families can be a special blessing to both the children and their parents who've worked hard at nurturing the relationships between step-siblings and step-parents. Although things can get rough at times as with any family, blended families can be a source of great love, joy, and support for anyone lucky enough to have this dynamic.
When one of the parents dies, you'll undoubtedly see some changes taking place within the family. Both you and your step-children may start to feel as if you no longer have the same security within the family as you did before.
This is a natural reaction to have when one of the parents dies. These feelings creep up in all families, not just blended ones. Consider trying some or all of the suggested ideas below:
1. Talk about death
Talking to kids about death, and how it affects your family now and into the future should be a priority. It may be difficult for you to have these conversations as you’re dealing with other end-of-life preparations.
But, it’s an important conversation to have sooner rather than later. Children need to feel safe and secure and your reassurance will go a long way in helping them cope with their grief and loss.
Some questions to ask kids that’ll help you start this conversation are:
- What can I do to help you feel better?
- What’s the thing that worries you the most right now?
- Do you have any questions that you’d like me to answer for you?
- Have you had a chance to process the news?
- Do you want to go for a walk together?
2. Let them ask questions
When children sense that their safety and security are threatened, they may start to act out in unusual ways.
A child may respond to these types of threats by withdrawing from their normal routines and interactions, or exhibiting anger towards you and others. Being honest with them is the best way to handle these situations whenever they arise.
Consider using words filled with love and compassion as you explain to them what to expect in the coming days and weeks. Allow them to ask questions, and be prepared with some answers.
Some things that they may want to know are:
- Where will I live after the funeral?
- Is this still going to be my home?
- Are you still going to be my step-parent?
- What about my step-brothers and sisters?
- Can I still come over?
Some of these questions won’t be easy to answer. Try and anticipate the questions that your step-child might have. So you’re prepared with some answers. Expect that they’ll be feeling a lot of anxiety on top of their grief.
3. Get them involved
One of the biggest complaints that children in blended families have is that they feel as if they've lost a direct connection to their parent.
When other children come into the mix, this feeling of disconnection may lead to other feelings of abandonment. Even when families do their best to involve everyone in daily activities, a child can still feel isolated, lonely, and betrayed by their parent.
When the parent then dies and these issues are left unresolved, the child may feel as if they have no one to turn to, or that no one will understand them. You can try to reassure them by actively involving them in the planning of their parent's funeral.
Allowing them to pick the music or the flowers, for example, will make them feel as if their opinion is important to you, and that you value their input.
4. Prepare a eulogy
Encouraging a child to say a few words about their parent at the funeral will help them process the death and to accept that they’re no longer here. Regardless of the child's age, ask them if it's okay for you to help them write a short eulogy for them to share at the memorial service or funeral.
Don't take it personally if they choose to prepare it in private without your help. They may need time alone to think about how they best want to remember them. Give some guidance about what’s appropriate to say and on how long it should be. Other than that, let them take as much time as they need to prepare a few words in honor of their parent.
Here are some things to include in a short eulogy:
- Some of the best memories they have of their parent
- A funny story they’d like to share
- A special inside joke shared between the two
- Any nicknames they called each other
- A list of things that made their parent special to them
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5. Ask for their help
At some point, you'll need to sort through your loved one’s personal belongings. You may consider asking the children to help you go through it so that they can select things they'd like to keep.
This exercise may seem a little painful to go through at first, but as you work through it, you may find it comforting to touch, hold, and smell all their personal belongings.
Encourage the children to select things that remind them of their parent. These will be the items that will turn into their treasures as time goes by. Whenever they miss their parent, they can reach for their special memento and hold them close.
Consider holding on to a very special item or two to give to them on special occasions or when they get older.
Tips for Maintaining a Relationship With Your Step-Child After the Death
Time has a way of lifting the pain and sorrow you first felt when you heard the news of the death. Unfortunately, following the death of a loved one, time also has a way of breaking families apart. This is especially true of blended families where the children are young and must go back to their other surviving parent.
The family dynamic will have undoubtedly changed by now, and you may find yourself seeing your step-child less and less.
There's still hope in maintaining a relationship with them and showing them support even after the death. This may take some coordination and cooperation from all involved parties, but it’s possible to continue to have a loving and supportive relationship throughout the years.
6. Call them
Maintaining a step-parent relationship can get complicated after the death of a parent. If the child had been living with you and your spouse, maybe they’ve had to move back into their other parent’s home. Consider reaching out to the parent and asking permission to maintain telephone contact with the child.
Getting permission is a must if the child is under the age of eighteen, and if you don't have legal custody over them. A parent can find it very intrusive and offensive to keep communication open with their minor child even if you were once their caregiver.
Sometimes the parents get on well, and these issues are less complicated, but the respectful thing to do is to always seek permission first.
7. Visit often
After establishing boundaries and permissions from the other parent, visit your step-child often. This will reassure them that you haven’t abandoned them and that you still want to be a part of their life.
You’ll need to coordinate with all involved parties so that your visits don’t intrude on their personal or family time.
8. Invite them to stay
If you still have children living at home, invite your step-child to stay over for a night or weekend. That’ll give all the children time to strengthen their bond.
Children will feel the loss of the parent that has died, their home, siblings, and their step-parent all at once. Consider that their grief is different from yours and they may be grieving these compounded losses.
9. Offer a sympathy gift
Sympathy gifts for children who’ve lost a parent can be as simple as a journal for them to write in when they feel the need to express their thoughts and emotions.
You can also comfort them with a stuffed animal to help them keep their parent close. Another thoughtful gift is a memorial necklace, ring, or bracelet for them to wear.
Supporting a Step-Child
Being a supportive step-parent to a child who’s lost their parent is not as difficult as it may sound.
You’ll have different considerations now that their parent has died, but you may also find that your relationship to your step-child has the opportunity to grow closer following the death.