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A candid letter to parents on how to smoothly enter step children’s lives

By Winnie Mabel December 2nd, 2023 3 min read

A story is told of a woman whose husband died unexpectedly, leaving her with two kids, ages 22 and 25. Obviously, the grief was too much to bear, and for a while, the widow coped, holding on tightly to her children for comfort.

Then, her late husband’s life insurance information was shared with her. Millions were coming the family’s way. Somehow, this information was shared with the late husband’s extended family, and vultures began circling. One of those vultures was the late husband’s cousin, who intended to inherit the widow- you know how African culture can be, right?

It did not matter that my cousin had a wife and about 13 kids between the ages of 1 and 30; all he saw was the widow and how he could step in and assume the head of the household. While this is expected in some Kenyan communities, the widow’s children would have none of it even though it was a “matter for adults.”

And so the drama began. A cousin forcing himself on a grieving family, a widow who did not know any better because the cousin was waxing lyrical and attending to her, unlike her late husband. At one point, the widow’s children and uncle ended up viciously fighting in the widow’s house because of his behavior- one of them was showing up drunk at her house where she and her children were sleeping, raging against her, demanding some sort of recognition in the deceased’s family and a share of the life insurance that was meant as inheritance for the family.

At the end of the day, the kids put their feet down, stating that their uncle would have no say in their lives, over their money or household. If he wanted their mother, they could handle their matters aside and not involve the deceased’s family or his properties.

Had uncle approached this right, he would have peacefully inherited the widow and become a good stepfather to the kids, even though it would have amounted to nothing more than a civil, distant relationship. But he did everything wrong, and today, he watches from a distance as his cousin’s family thrives.

While he was a vulture through and through, many adults find themselves stepping into the role of being step-parents. How they form these relationships with the kids- having established stable romantic relationships with the remaining parent- will determine how the family will move on as a unit going forward.

And so, if you find yourself stepping into this role, here’s some candid advice on how you can smoothly enter into your stepchildren’s lives without causing so many ripples- whether their parents are divorced, or one of them passed away…

The first thing you need to do is to place yourself in your stepchildren’s shoes. You are an unknown entity to them, so wholly accepting you will be particularly difficult for them. You are the unknown in the normal lives they lead and so, you must let them express themselves the way they know how to without imposing your feelings and your relationship with their parent on them as the priorities. You must show them patience and empathy, no matter their age- and respect their boundaries while at it.

Don’t force them to recognize you as some sort of guardian or parent who is now there to take over. If their parents are divorced, you must accept and respect that you will forever be the ‘spare’ adult in their lives, and there is nothing you will be able to do about that point of view unless the kids change it on their own. If their parent is deceased, you must respect the deceased’s memory and not attempt to superimpose new memories on them “to help them get over their grief.” The best way would be for you to find ways to honor the deceased’s memory in everyday family activities, giving your stepchildren space to heal and accept what life will be like without their parents present 24/7.

Last but not least, unlike the deceased’s cousin above, who thought he could power walk his way into the kid’s lives and insist on being a step-parent, you may want to go into this situation with a mind of fostering open, candid communication between your romantic partner and her children. Let them know what your intentions are for their parent, what your intention is in being part of the kids’ lives, what you hope to be and achieve with them, and what they can expect of you in turn.

This way, you will create a safe space for the stepchildren to adjust to their new way of life without having resentment and feelings of betrayal for the remaining parents stewing in their hearts and plotting how they will leave their family behind once they legally become adults.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to be considered the evil stepparent who came to ruin a family, right?