I have never expected my stepsons to honor me on Mother’s Day. They have a mom—it is not me.
Plus, as a child I grew up having two stepmoms. My dad remarried twice after the divorce from my mom. Therefore, I understand this holiday through the lens of a child and a stepmom. The tension for the kids is horrible. If the child recognizes the stepmom, the mother is mad. If he/she doesn’t acknowledge the stepmom, she and dad are hurt, mad or both.
So when I became a stepmom twenty-eight years ago I decided I wouldn’t put my stepsons under that pressure.
That doesn’t mean the day doesn’t trigger emotions. Mother’s Day can evoke angst or sorrow for a stepmom because many of the women 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. Plus, stepmoms often feel “outside the family circle.” This holiday may ostracize her even more. As one stepmom put it, “I have all the work and tasks of parenting, but none of the joys associated with being a mom.”
While I don’t expect my stepsons to honor me, I do expect my husband to do something special as a gesture of gratitude for the years I’ve spent working toward building a bridge with his kids. The day isn’t about the relationship with my stepsons. It is 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 dad recently contacted me for advice on how to honor his wife on Mother’s Day. I responded “Even if it’s your weekend to have the kids, let them spend the day with their mom. Use that opportunity to treat your wife like a queen, lavish her with something that you know she really likes. “
“Remember,” I continued “It’s not the dollar amount as much as your recognition and praise for your wife’s effort, compassion, compromise and tenacity as a stepmom. Acknowledge an understanding of how her role as a stepmom isn’t always easy. And that parenting a child that isn’t her own, and dealing with a former spouse who may not like her, takes courage, love and grace. Show your gratitude and appreciation for her efforts.”
“Offering to send her to something that is specifically geared toward encouragement and support for stepmoms is a fabulous idea.” Here is a link to stepmom retreats.
I concluded, “Don’t force your child to do something special for your wife on Mother’s Day. Your son may feel it is dishonoring his mother to show appreciation to his stepmom. Refrain from focusing on your son and what he can do for your wife, but rather how YOU can treat her to a special day that shows your admiration.”
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 fourteen, also started crying. By recognizing my deep feelings on Mother's Day, his kids made me feel very special.”
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 and stepfamily expert, Ron Deal, encourages pastors and 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.”
Ron and I have discovered that once enlightened many pastors are willing to acknowledge stepmothers on Mother’s Day.
Whether it’s a good or bad experience I encourage stepmoms to keep in mind that it’s only one day of the year. Focus on the things you can be thankful for, lower your expectations, ask God to give you an extra measure of grace for those who don’t understand, and then go have brunch…or even better—a hot fudge sundae!!
Copyright © 2014 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
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, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, and 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom: Expert Advice from One Stepmom to Another. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com
Original Publication date: May 1, 2014
Photo credit: GettyImages/Ridofranz