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Blended Family: Filling the Role of a Parent Who Has Died

While similar in many respects to stepparenting through divorce and remarriage, parenting a child whose biological parent has died carries its own distinctives.

I lay across the bed with 5-year-old Abby, my soon-to-be stepdaughter, sharing memories of her mother who died the year before.

“I know you still love your mother very much, and I’m glad you do,” I said, pushing a strand of hair back from her eyes.

“Is it OK if I love you, too?” My heart leapt at Abby’s words.

“Your mom would be happy to know you have love in your heart for everyone in your family.”

Stepping in to parent a child whose biological mother or father has died requires all the sensitivity, patience, wisdom, love and effort of natural parenting. . . and then some. And while similar in many respects to stepparenting through divorce and remarriage, it also carries its own distinctives.

Here’s what worked for me:

I listened

Allowing Abby to freely share her thoughts and feelings helped her through the grieving process and encouraged her acceptance of me. I let her know that while I would be in the position of mom, I was not taking her mother’s place.

I was patient

During a trying season of braces and allergies, Abby grew frustrated with me, imagining her biological mom would not act as “mean” as I was by making her follow doctor’s orders. “Fallible me” couldn’t measure up to Abby’s memories of her seemingly perfect mother — a comparison that’s hard not to take personally. I learned it’s tempting (but not necessary) to defend myself by reminding Abby of all my outstanding qualities.

I remembered

Abby’s father and I let her determine how she wanted to mark important dates such as Mother’s Day and her mother’s birthday and date of death. It varied from year to year. Sometimes we made donations to the American Diabetes Association; other times we placed a rose on our table. We’ve learned to use these occasions to honor Abby’s mother’s memory.

Being a stepparent to a child whose natural parent has died has taught me as much about God’s grace and love as I’ve tried to teach Abby.

Carol Boley is a speaker, freelance writer and the co-author of But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother!

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