In my last article, Stepparenting from the step-child’s perspective, I shared a perspective on the loss and grief of a child going through their parent’s divorce and what those behaviours look like.
An important piece to keep in mind about the grief cycle is that there may not be a clear or definitive end to the grieving.
There are many variables playing a role on how the cycle plays out so to expect an end point isn’t realistic. So don’t expect them to be over it already when the process gets drawn out.
Think about it this way: when you break your arm and it’s in a cast and you are in a busy crowd at the morning market you protect your arm.
During grief and loss kids get emotionally bumped into with broken hearts every time they go back and forth between the two homes.
So in the meantime, why not learn some ways to support the grieving child in your home?
Some of you are birth moms in addition to being a stepmom.
It is harder to parent a grieving child if you are still grieving yourself. Sure you have re-partnered but there still maybe some residual grief going on.
Yes your life has improved and you have found love and that’s great. But you still have marital or common law failure (your divorce or separation) in your repertoire and that can still be painful. That’s normal by the way: to be happy and in love but still feeling the pangs of loss and disillusionment and maybe a lot of residual anger too.
So if this is the case be EXTRA gentle on yourself: Extra self care. Extra patience. Extra permission to be yourself and still grieve those losses.
So what to do with the behaviours you might see in a grieving child?
How do you support this child who is a sad and mad ball of confusion?
First of all give your step/child the space and the permission to grieve…just like you give to yourself. Punishing grieving behaviours is counter productive and sets the enforcer and child up for failure.
Keeping routines the same between households helps. If the other home doesn’t have routines all the more reason for you to keep your routines consistent each time the child returns to your home.
Next find some compassion for said child. No you may not like the behaviours being exhibited but they have just lost the only life they have ever known. No matter how dysfunctional their life was with fighting or disengaged parents it wasn’t their choice to have their parents separate. They may even blame themselves for it. Their parents are no longer together and their home is no longer the same.
These are two very key pieces for children to feel safe and secure. The rug has been pulled away from them and their world is upside down.
Safety and security means calm.
It means being able to navigate stress – which divorce clearly is for adults but particularly for the kids. Keep in mind they don’t have the same coping tools as grown ups. So give them some you use, making sure it’s child friendly though (in other words if wine is your coping tool of choice find something kid friendly).
Things your child would find comforting, especially at night for the littles, is also important.
Another suggestion is to engage in non-threatening activities. A good idea is parallel activities or shoulder to shoulder activities-where they don’t have to look you in the eye and is fun and keeps them distracted from their grief (playing video games, putting a puzzle together, crafting).
A critical piece in supporting your child – YOUR self care.
Yes you read that right. That means if you are replenishing yourself then it’s a whole lot easier to not take things personally and when they do lash out at you, you have the head and heart space to let it roll off you.
And set some boundaries.
There’s nothing wrong with stepping back and letting your partner deal exclusively with their own child and the behaviours they exhibit. So take a deep breath, find your own space to replenish and find some supportive friends to vent to.
My name is Ali Wilks (www.aliwilks.com) and I have a BA in Psychology with a MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies and I am a certified stepfamily coach.
I have been working in Children’s Services since 1998 in Edmonton, Alberta. I am currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit providing classes for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents.
These classes include building essential skills in raising children not born to them who present with special needs. I am a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birthmother of 2 beautiful girls.