I have never expected my two stepsons to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day. They have a mother—it is not me. She is the one who deserves their time, attention and gifts on that special day. However, that doesn’t mean that over the 27 years of being a stepmom the day hasn’t brought tears and discomfort.
For many stepmoms, Mother’s Day is the hardest day of the year. She often has all the responsibilities of a mom such as: laundry, homework and car pool. But she rarely receives the praise and perks of a mom. Plus it’s not uncommon for her to feel “outside the circle” with other moms, especially if she has no biological children.
The issues she encounters while co-parenting alongside the biological mom, and between two homes, are radically different than a first time marriage. For these reasons—and many more—Mother’s Day can trigger a deep sense isolation, depression, and frustration for a stepmom.
You might not be a stepmom—but I’ll bet you know someone who is.
Here are a few “Do and Don’t” suggestions for encouraging your stepmom friend or family member on Mother’s Day.
Stepmom Mother’s Day Tips
- Send a card that tells her she is special. Fortunately, many greeting card companies have caught on that not every woman in a “mothering” role is the biological mom. Therefore, you should be able to find a card that expresses your sentiment.
- Help her hubby to remember that most stepmoms are seeking his appreciation on this special day. Although I didn’t seek recognition from my husband’s sons, I did expect my spouse to do something special that communicated, “Thank you for caring about my kids.”
- Ask her if she needs you. For many stepmoms it means everything to have someone acknowledge that it may be an uncomfortable day for her. When people are in emotional distress, just knowing that someone “sees my pain” is enough to bring comfort.
- Step in. If hubby isn’t willing to acknowledge his wife’s hard work and her complex role, the next best thing is for a friend or family member to show compassion. Invite your friend to lunch, or buy her a sweet gift that’s says she is special.
- Sit next to her in church. Church is often the worst part of the day for a stepmom because she is in a limbo position–not knowing whether to be recognized or not. Having a friend to take her hand, or offer a smile, can help her get through the awkwardness of the moment.
- Seek help. Many stepmoms don’t realize how crucial it is to find support. Second marriages fail at a rate of between 64-72 percent, depending on which statistic you read. Often it’s because the stress of co-parenting becomes overwhelming. Help your friend to find a stepmom support group or a resource that will provide instruction. A book such as The Smart Stepmom might not only make her day, but it could save her marriage as well.
- If you have the financial resources, send your friend to an event designed specifically for stepmoms. It is the ultimate gift. In this setting she can learn what’s normal, find solid support, soak in insights, and mingle with other stepmoms. It’s there she will discover that she is not alone on the journey.
- Force the stepchildren to acknowledge a stepparent. This may cause them to feel disloyal to the biological parent. Trust me. I had two stepmoms while growing up, I know exactly what I’m talking about.
- Make comments such as, “Why so gloomy today? You knew what you were getting into.” This hurts because she didn’t realize how complicated it would be, and it makes her feel foolish. (Plus she might hit you.)
- Assume her husband understands. After my remarriage I spend the first few Mother’s Days expecting my husband to do something special. When he didn’t step up to the plate I was very hurt. Finally, one year I decided to tell him how I felt. Once he understood he was more than happy to appreciate me on that day. The thought just never occurred to him.
- Pick sides. You may be friends with the mom and stepmom which feels like an uncomfortable position. Understand that it’s not disloyal to your friendships to acknowledge both women who play a strategic role in the lives of these children.
- Nudge or push your stepmom friend forward at church when the pastor asks that all moms stand and be recognized. Personally, I always hate that awkward moment, other stepmoms tell me they do too. Some stepmoms will naturally stand up; others prefer not to remain anonymous. Let her choose without embarrassment.
- Ignore her by thinking, “She’s not a real mom.” She may not have given birth, but she has most of the blood, sweat, and tears of a mom. And this is a life she chooses because of a man she loves.
I pray this has stirred some fruitful thoughts on how to bless all women, including stepmoms, on Mother’s Day.
Laura Petherbridge is an international speaker and author of, When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’, The Smart Stepmom, 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom, Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. She has appeared at/on the Billy Graham Center, Family Talk (Dobson), Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian Woman, FamilyLife, Lifeway, and Moody Broadcasting. Laura has been a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series implemented in over 60,000 churches worldwide. In addition to the US, she has spoken in South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Laura and Steve live in Atlanta, Ga, and have been married for 35 years. She has two stepsons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids. She may be reached at www.TheSmartStepmom.com