If there is one day of the year that can trigger either elation or sadness for a stepmom it's Mother's Day. One of the reasons Mother's Day can evoke so much emotion is because many stepmoms feel as though they have all of the pain, frustrations, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent, but none of the rewards or joy. Stepmoms often feel "outside the family circle" and this holiday may be a reminder that she's an outcast. As one stepmom put it, "I have all the grief of parenting, but none of the pleasures associated with being a mom."

Personally I do not expect my stepsons to honor me on Mother's Day because I'm not their mom. They have a mom and she should receive their attention. They call and along with my step grandkids they wish a, "Happy Mother's Day" but I don't expect fanfare or gifts. On the other hand I do expect my husband to do something special as a gesture of gratitude for the 24 years I've spent working toward building a bridge with his kids. The day isn't about the relationship with my stepsons, it's about my husband honoring me for the effort and tears I've experienced a stepmom. 

One stepmom shares similar thoughts, "For years I've tried to explain to my spouse that Mother's Day was a day for him to show me how much he appreciated me being a good stepmother to his daughter. It took a few years but he finally got it." Another stepmom quips, "My husband has tried some goofy stuff for Mother's Day. One year he bought a bouquet of flowers and had the kids split them, half for his former wife and half for me. The hurtful part is that I remember when we were dating; he would take the kids shopping for extravagant gifts for his ex, but it's the Dollar Store for me—it's not pretty."

One wise and thoughtful dad recently contacted me for advice on how to honor his wife as a stepmom to his son on Mother's Day. I responded "I suggest spending the day just the two of you. Treat her like a queen, lavish her with something that you know she really likes. For most women it's not the amount of money you spend but rather the effort her husband puts into the day. Remember to tell her that you recognize her role as a stepmom is not easy, and that you appreciate how hard she works."

I continued, "Don't force your child to do something special for your wife on Mother's Day. He may feel it is dishonoring his mother to show appreciation to his stepmom. This situation depends entirely upon how your former wife reacts to your wife. Don't focus on your child and what he can do for your wife, but rather YOU treat her to a special day that shows your appreciation."

For some stepmoms Mother's Day is a wonderful experience. One woman shares, "My first Mother's Day his girls took me out for breakfast and they gave me a beautiful card with sweet, tender words. It brought tears to my eyes and I started to cry and then the youngest, age 14, also started crying. By recognizing my deep feelings on Mother's Day, his kids made me feel very special."

It's not uncommon for one stepchild to honor and enjoy having a stepmom, while a sibling hates the idea. This is due to the fact that all stepfamilies are formed out of some type of grief and loss. There are numerous factors which influence how a child will respond to a stepmom.  A few of the most common include: the manner in which the family dynamic changed, how long dad waited before he remarried, the age or gender of the children, whether the children feel they have lost dad to his new family, and the relationship between the biological mom and the stepmom.  

For the churchgoing stepmom there is one specific moment on Mother's Day that can be the worst. It's that awkward moment in the service when all moms stand and receive recognition. Hear one stepmom's lament, "Our church specifically requests that only biological mothers come forward for prayer. Many people in my church push me to go up front, assuring that I am a mom. However as a stepmom it still feels uncomfortable and makes me sad."

My co-author of The Smart Stepmom, Ron Deal encourages church leaders to acknowledge stepmothers on Mother's Day. "Just use the word stepmom," Ron shares, "and you validate her as an important caregiver in her home and remind her stepchildren that they should give her thanks for what she does." We find that once enlightened many pastors are willing to acknowledge stepmothers on Mother's Day.

Whether it's a good or bad day it's wise for a stepmom to keep in mind that it's only one day of the year. Focus on the things you are grateful for, lower your expectations, ask God to give you "the mind of Christ," and then let go of the rest.

Copyright © 2009 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.

May 2, 2010

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with workshops on relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't"—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com