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On the last track we discussed suicide and murder. We explored how to explain suicide, how suicide confuses children, and how to explain murder.
On this track we will discuss the role of the step-parenting and grieving children. Aspects of step-parenting that I will discuss are the three stages of stepfamily development through grief, key challenges for step families, and coping strategies for the step-parents of grieving children. As you listen to the case study included on this track, evaluate Mark and Amber to see how they helped Mark’s grieving children through the stages of stepfamily development.
#1 Stages of Step Family Development Through Grief
-- Stage One: Early Stage of Fantasy and Immersion
-- Stage Two: Middle Stage of Mobilization and Action
Mark stated, "Everyone’s differences were suddenly out in the open. Amber said she felt like an outsider. My oldest son, Kyle, screamed at her, ‘You are an outsider, bitch!’ Kids, huh? Anyway, it came down to the fact that my kids felt like Amber was trying to replace their mom."
Mark and Amber took action when they talked to the children. Mark stated, "When your mom died, we were all very sad. But we’ve got to move on. Amber is not here to replace your mom." Amber supported Mark when she stated, "From everything I know about your mom, she was a wonderful woman. I don’t think anyone could replace her."
-- Stage Three: Late Stage of Contact and Resolution
#2 Key Challenges for Step Families
-- First Challenge - Mark’s children mistook the role of their biological mother for who she really was. The counselor stated to Mark, "Parents sometimes think that finding someone to fill that role will ease the heartache. In truth, you can replace the role, but you can never replace the person."
-- Second Challenge - Amber felt that Mark’s children were sometimes unreasonably loyal to their mother. Amber openly acknowledged this unreasonable loyalty by referring to Mark’s first wife as "Saint Ellen."
-- Third Challenge - In addition to the grieving children mistaking mom’s role for who she was and being unreasonably loyal, the third key challenge for Mark’s grieving step family was that the children’s resurfacing grief caused the step family development to follow a more chaotic course.
Mark stated, "After we talked to the kids and thought things were going to be OK, my youngest daughter got to the age where she started trying to identify with Ellen through some old pictures and stories my son told her. She was frustrated because she didn’t really know her mom. And when she dumped all that on Amber, Amber started feeling like an outsider all over again."
-- Fourth Challenge - The fourth key challenge for Mark’s grieving step family was jealousy and resentment. Amber stated, "I almost say some really bad things sometimes. The other day the house was trashed and I was so mad that all I could think was ‘If I had raised these little brats, they wouldn’t be such pigs.’ But then I realize that they have been through hell by losing their mom. I can’t blame the kids and I don’t really have a right to be angry. After all, I’m not the one suffering the loss."
The therapist who counseled... Amber’s new family understood that step families that form after divorce feel justified in expressing anger and resentment. This therapist found that in step families that form after death, these feelings are repressed. Think of your Mark and Amber. Is repressed anger manifesting itself by impairing the family’s ability to cope with grief?
#3 Coping Strategies
--Coping Strategy #1: First, Mark and Amber learned all that they could about grief. Mark’s family grief counselor stated, "Mark and Amber were unaware of how grief affects children. I helped them get educated regarding grief and the reasons for grieving children’s behavior."
--Coping Strategy #2: Second, Amber focused on her connections with the children. Amber stated, "I understand that these kids aren’t just going to love me because I married their dad. Instead I have to work on connecting with these kids." Mark helped Amber connect with his children when he included her in some of the grief processing work his counselor had assigned the family.
--Coping Strategy #3: In addition to working on connections and learning about grief, the third coping strategy is honest communication. Mark stated, "Once the kids started talking to Amber about how they really felt about their mom’s death, the whole family grew closer. Amber listened and helped the kids through some of the pain they were still feeling."
--Coping Strategy #4: The fourth coping strategy that Mark’s grief counselor gave him regarded Mark’s own relationships with his children. Mark stated, "Spending time separately with each of my kids led to them trusting in the fact that they really are my top priority. It also gave me time to share my grief with them."
--Coping Strategy #5: In addition to working on connections, learning about grief, honest communication, and spending time separately, the fifth coping strategy is sharing struggles with others. Mark stated, "Our counselor had us go to this group session where a bunch of other families who were having similar problems all sat around and talked. It seemed weird at first, but finding out that my family wasn’t crazy and hearing how other guys got through this mess really helped."
Could the step family you are counseling benefit from group sessions?
On this track we discussed the role of step-parents of grieving children. Aspects of step-parenting that I discussed were the three stages of stepfamily development through grief, key challenges of grieving step families, and coping strategies for the step-parents of grieving children.
On the next track we will discuss the terminally ill. Five points we will consider are whether or not the grieving child wants to visit the terminally ill, preparing the child for the visit, taking a gift, limiting time, and the benefits of involving a child in terminal illness.
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