Among the many challenges stepparents face, one of the most difficult involves caring for stepchildren after the death of a birth parent. As a new stepmother to two children who lost their mother to cancer, the author was dismayed that even with her best efforts, her new stepfamily “didn’t gel like magic.” Now, using her decades of stepparenting experience, plus anecdotes from other stepfamilies, including readers of her blog (www.dianeingramfromme.com), Fromme provides wide ranging insights and strategies for those faced with the challenges of blended—and grieving—families like her own.
Fromme recommends stepparents first explore their own feelings before focusing on grieving stepchildren. As stepparents come to understand their own beliefs, expectations and needs, they’re better able to free themselves from emotional burdens and move towards empathy for the child, she says. For example, when her stepdaughter said “you’re not a mom in my heart,” Fromme focused on a positive outcome from the conversation—a teen finally opening up to suppressed feelings—rather than the pain the statement caused her.
The author moves on to debunk stepfamily myths, such as the idea that adjustments occur quickly to young children or that the original family is the only valid one. She includes valuable strategies, including how to build a support network, understanding the age-appropriate stages of grief, working on honest communication and moving toward empathy. A resource guide follows.
Fromme prefaces many chapters by relating a challenging personal family situation. Here, she includes the interesting technique of stating each child’s age, time since their mother died, and how long she had been stepparenting at this point. This moves readers from early childhood through teen years, demonstrating relationship changes and insights.
Fromme isn’t a mental health professional, but she has endured in the school of hard knocks. Her wealth of practical suggestions can provide support and comfort to stepparents, surviving parents, other family members, and teachers coping with a child’s grief when a parent has died.