If there is one day of the year that can trigger elation or sadness for a stepmom, it’s usually Mother’s Day. And while stepfathers often find Father’s Day awkward, children and grandparents may find both days very uncomfortable.
Conference speaker and stepmom, Laura Petherbridge, tells how her husband wants to honour her on Mother’s Day for loving his kids, but he isn’t always sure how. She writes in our book, The Smart Stepmom,
“My stepsons call and wish me ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ but we both know I’m not their mom, so it feels awkward. I do not expect my stepsons to honour me on Mother’s Day — because I’m NOT their mom. However, I do desire for my husband to do something nice, such as brunch, as a gesture of gratitude for all the years of working toward building a bridge with his kids.”
Laura is most certainly not alone. Recently, I posted a question: “Do you think stepparents should be acknowledged on Mother’s and Father’s Day?” The responses poured in, more than for any other question.
“God put those adults in the lives of those children to be a parental figure. To exclude them is just wrong; it’s almost like a slap on the face. Not acknowledging them is ignoring the part they play in those children’s lives and not recognizing God’s ways for that family.”
Everyone else also agreed that stepparents should be acknowledged, but doing so was often awkward for the entire family.
Special family days highlight the differing bonds between biological parents, stepparents, and children. Everyone feels the tension when a stepfather tries to carve the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time (and perhaps the tenth) when that role was previously reserved for the father. It just doesn’t feel right. Similarly, Mother’s and Father’s Day will bring to the forefront any ongoing relational tensions within a stepfamily.
A child, for example, may feel that a parent who stands up at church when mothers are honoured is trying to take their mother’s place. A stepparent, on the other hand, who has all the pain, frustrations, negative emotions, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent, but none of the joys, may feel slighted for not receiving a greeting card. As one stepmom put it, “I get all the grief of parenting, but I don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom.”
What Can Families Do?
Specific advice on how to honour the stepparent in your family depends on how accepted they are within the home. This acceptance is a function of time and relationship; the more bonded the stepparent, the more celebratory the family can be. Here are some suggestions to consider.
The biological parent can spend the day with the stepparent. Treat him or her like a king or queen; lavish the stepparent with something they really like. Remember to tell them that you recognize that their role is not easy, and that you appreciate how hard they work at caring for your children.
Don’t force children to do something special for the stepparent on Mother’s or Father’s Day. They may feel it is dishonouring their mother or father to show appreciation to the stepparent. This will depend greatly on how the former spouse responds to the stepparent.
On the other hand, if children feel comfortable giving a gift to the stepparent, encourage them to do so. One stepmom wrote, “My first Mother’s Day his girls took me out for breakfast. While we were eating they gave me a beautiful card, with wording that was extremely touching. It brought tears to my eyes and I started to cry. The youngest, age 14, also started to cry as well. She really made me feel special by recognizing my deep feelings on Mother’s Day.”