This morning I enjoyed chatting with Barbara Goldberg from The Evil Stepmother Speaks about the role of grief and it’s impact on family relationships after divorce, death and re-marriage. Barbara works with stepmothers who often find it very difficult to join a family, because of the way that grief over the loss of the original family impacts on the new family relationships.
I talk a lot about the importance of connection and belonging here at Remembering For Good. I believe it’s critical for the integration and transformation of grief.
It’s not just people who are grieving who need connection and belonging though. As humans we’re social animals that are wired for living in tribes. We have a strong psychological need to belong.
Our families are one of the key places where we want to experience belonging, so when families break up or change shape through divorce and/or re-marriage, this triggers our fears about not having a place to belong and this fear easily turns into shame – the painful feeling of believing that you’re flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging.
Divorce and re-marriage often trigger a potent mix of grief and shame for all family members involved. Grief over the loss of the original family (and often there are other losses too, like having to move house and change schools, neighborhoods, friends, etc) is painful enough on it’s own, but with shame layered on top, it can become despairing and quite unbearable because shame causes us to distrust and disconnect from our true selves and from each other. At the very time that a new family is trying to form and bond, shame is getting in the way and creating disconnection.
Barbara asked me some really great questions and I talked about:
- The challenge and creativity of creating a new, meaningful story and sense of family after the original family story is broken.
- Why each person’s experience of grief is individual and unique, so there’s no “5 stages” or “7 tasks.” Grief is messy, unpredictable and takes as long as it takes.
- The impact of shame on the grief experience.
- The one universal need that we all have when we’re grieving, in spite of the individuality of our grief experiences. (In fact this is a universal need even if we aren’t grieving!)
- Why the stepmother offering “unconditional acceptance” by being nice all the time doesn’t work and what she should do instead.
- How a stepmother can support the other members of the family who are grieving (hint: don’t try to be their grief coach!)
- The difference between ruminating and remembering, and the power of bringing creativity to our memories.
- Why children don’t have to “let go” of or “get closure” on their relationship with their biological mother in order to nurture a healthy relationship with their stepmother.