“Laura, I’m a stepmom who doesn’t have biological children. Mother’s Day is extremely hard for me. Would it be okay if I just stay home, eat nachos, watch movies, and sleep through the entire day?” Tasha inquired.
“Sweet Sister, if that’s what works for you—do it,” I replied.
She isn’t alone.
Many women struggle with the Sunday designed to honor motherhood. For each lady the triggers are unique. There are various reasons why Mother’s Day can be difficult such as; death, infertility, singleness, abortion, miscarriage, illness, divorce, widowhood, mental illness and prodigal children.
And then there is another category, the one familiar to me. It’s women who serve in a mom-like role to their husband’s children. I’m a stepmom. Thirty-two years ago, I married a man with two sons.
For some stepmoms, especially those who have biological children, Mother’s Day is full of great memories and fun times.
But for other stepmoms the day can be extremely awkward, perplexing, embarrassing, disappointing and/or depressing. This blog is designed to encourage and provide insight for any woman dating, engaged, or married to a man with kids who needs a, “What-Do-I-Do” survival guide for making it through Mother’s Day.
Before reading further I encourage you to take a minute and pause. Is what you are currently doing working? If not, are you ready to hear suggestions that might make things better, even if they aren’t what you desire?
For those who are a Christ follower, like I am, whisper this prayer, “Dear Jesus, help me. I’m hurting, and I need wisdom and guidance. Holy Spirit, please comfort my hurting heart and heal the anger, resentment or disappointment I may be experiencing. Reveal to me the “why” under my emotions that may be hidden and unknown to me, buried beneath the pain. Help me to take my eyes off my husband, his kids, or their mother and focus solely on you today. You are my source of strength, healing, and victory. You see me as a precious, beautiful woman created in your image. I am who YOU say THAT I am. Help me to believe it. Amen.”
Here are practical tips. Some will be easier than others.
1. Prepare Beforehand. Do not wait until Sunday morning to discuss the day’s activities with your spouse or fiancé. Share with him your desires for the day. Remember this is about your husband honoring YOU for being a mom to his kids. It’s not about the kids.
2. Connect the Dots. For the first few years of our marriage I expected Steve to “know” that I wanted him to honor me on Mother’s Day for the role I play in the lives of his kids. Big Mistake. I never expected his kids to honor me, because they have a mom. I grew up in a stepfamily and I knew my mother would be furious if I honored my stepmom. I never wanted to do that to my stepkids. But I did expect my husband to do it. He needed for me to explain this to him. If your husband refuses to hear your heart on this subject then you have a marriage problem, that needs to be addressed asap, not a Mother’s Day problem.
3. The School Made Gift. It’s not uncommon for younger kids to make mom a present at school. This can be painful if the child shows or tells you about it, not realizing it might be hurtful. Some contemporary schools recognize that there might be more than one mother figure in the child’s life. But many do not. Remember the child isn’t intentionally shunning you.
4. Have a Plan. If your husband is unavailable, or unwilling, to plan something fun—YOU do it. And make sure it’s something you love. For me gathering with a few girlfriends is often a catalyst for laughter and de-stressing. Go to a movie, go shopping, visit a botanical garden, get a massage, do something that will allow you to relax and enjoy the day.
5. Grieve. It’s ok to be sad on Mother’s Day. For many it’s a loss. Go ahead and cry, God understands. Often there is the death of the dream of what you thought being a stepmom would be, compared with the reality. However, be careful not to get stuck there allowing resentment, anger, and revenge build within.
6. Resist the Urge to Dwell on What You Don’t Have. If your stepkids do not feel in a position, or a desire, to honor you on Mother’s Day, let it go. Children in stepfamilies are grieving too. They feel loyal to their mom, even if she is dead. I see many stepmoms accuse the kids of being immature, bratty, nasty, or rude. When in fact the truth is they just hate being from a divorced family and wish they didn’t have two homes. The situation is completely out of their control, and this is they only way they have to respond to the pain. Period.
7. But Why? Because so many stepmoms do all the work of a mom, and often much of the work of a dad too, they have a very difficult time understanding why the kid doesn’t want to at least say thank you. A child’s brain doesn’t fully develop until they are in their early twenties. When a child has experienced a trauma, such as a divorce, death of a parent, or the breakup of the family unit its very common for the brain to stop growing. The brain becomes paralyzed in that stage of trauma. Therefore, this explains why so many kids in stepfamily homes have emotional and mental issues. When we expect kids to rationalize, process, appreciate the very thing that has caused them trauma it is an unrealistic expectation. It’s RARELY because they hate the stepmom. It’s USUALLY because they hate the situation.
8. Honor A Mom. Look around you. Is there someone you know who will be alone, or lonely, on Mother’s Day? Perhaps a single parent, a daughter who just lost her mom, a woman who can’t get pregnant, an elderly lady, etc. who could use a friend. And you might be the perfect person to help her through this day. God always provides an opportunity to help others if we seek it. And this is often how He heals our pain.
9. Honor THE Mom? Many stepmoms ask me if they should do something for the stepchild’s mother. Children LONG for their parents, stepparents and the two homes to live in harmony. Unfortunately, it’s extremely rare. If that gesture would help to ease tension between the homes, or even if you think it might, my advice is to do it. Just don’t expect anything in return, or appreciation. Do it as an act of kindness for the love of your spouse, stepkids, and the compassion of Christ. If you do it for any other reason, you may be disappointed. Helping the child buy a gift for the mom is a HUGE way to show the child that you are allowing them to love the other parent. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your stepchild, and it will build a bridge in the long run.
10. Unselfie. This one is going to sting, and I’m going to get nasty responses, but I must do it. So, here goes. Take a deep breath.Don’t guilt or badger your husband into making his kids honor you on Mother’s Day. Hear me clearly: In my opinion hubby should be jumping through hoops and trying to walk on water to show his wife how appreciative he is of her hard work. Being a stepmom is one of the hardest, thankless and most self-sacrificing jobs–EVER. Dad should treat his wife like, “Queen for a Day.” Where wisdom must prevail is when it comes to forcing stepkids to bestow gifts on stepmom if they do not feel the need or desire to do so, or if they feel it is disloyal to their mother.
Kids are fiercely loyal to a parent, even if he/she isn’t a good parent. When dad manipulates, compels or induces guilt on them to honor a stepmom it frequently backfires. A child who is forced to love on “dad’s wife” frequently resents her in the long run. The opposite is also true. If the kid is allowed to build that relationship over time, in a way where they feel comfortable, when they get older they often begin to view the stepparent as a positive.
11. Advisable Alternatives. Here is something Dad can do that might help. “Hey kids, I’m going to the mall to buy Tasha a Mother’s Day gift for being such a great mom and stepmom to you kids. Do you want to come with me? If you want to get her something too, I’ll help. I know you have a mom that you want to honor that day, and it’s hard to live in two homes. If it makes you uncomfortable—I understand. I just wanted to ask because I’m going to get her a gift.”
12. Avoid Church. Yes, I said it. In some churches Mother’s Day is exceedingly focused on biological moms. It’s ok for one day to dodge a place that triggers more pain.
13. Brunch is Bad. If your husband is treating you to lunch or dinner, it’s a good idea to evade places that hand out a pink carnation to every woman who walks through the door. Choose something fun or different this year. It will be hard to avoid the standard, “Happy Mother’s Day” wherever you go. Just smile, nod, tip well and be nice to the waitress. She must work on one of the busiest days of the year.
14. Gather SM Girlfriends. If you are part of a stepmom group this could be a great time to spend the day together. If you are not—why not? if there isn’t one near you–start one.
Without a doubt one of the BEST ways to cope with all the challenges of being a stepmom is to attend an event designed for stepmoms. Here’s the link to one on 1/19/19 that I know you will love.
Currently, I’m working on hosting a retreat solely for childless stepmoms. I don’t have a location yet, but as soon as I do it will be on my website and The Smart Stepmom FB page. For now, here is a podcast I did on the subject with Restored and Remarried.
15. God is Good. I’m now a Nana to two great grandkids ages 18 and 13. Notice I didn’t call them step grandkids. That’s because I’ve been in their lives since they were born. They only know me as Nana. I’ve never been anything else. When they call me on Mother’s Day, and say “Happy Mother’s Day, Nana” the sound of their voice is music to my ears. It’s a natural connection between us. This is one of the perks of learning how to become a smart stepmom. And letting go of the things that “I wish were true” and embracing the things “That are true.”
Here is what I want stepmoms everywhere to understand. I GET IT. I’m a childless stepmom. Because I understand the uniqueness of being a stepmom without biological kids, I included an entire chapter on this subject in my book 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom.
But I’m so much more than a stepmom. And it’s ONE DAY of the year.
Ask God for wisdom and insight on what will help lighten the ache. If Tasha’s plan of staying in PJs, watching movies, and munching nachos is what works for you—do it! And don’t beat yourself up over it. Communicate with your spouse that stepfamily living (and whatever else may be discouraging such as infertility) is complicated, and that you just don’t have the emotional energy to do anything else.
Do what you sense God is calling you to do, and what your soul, spirit, heart and body need.
And remember Jesus knows precisely how it feels to be rejected and overlooked. You have a Lover of your Soul who is eager, and capable, of comforting any sorrow and wiping every tear.
He loves you, sister stepmom. He is the God of all comfort. He cares.
And so do I.
Copyright © 2018 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, 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, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com