Ask a stepmom if she enjoys Mother’s Day and you’ll get a wide variety of responses. Many feel honored and respected, others feel isolated and defeated. Still others journey from dread in the early days of their family to celebration after a few rough years have passed. Why such different responses? Because both positive stepfamily bonding and negative stepfamily stress often rotates around the stepparent. If the stepparent is appreciated and accepted, Mother’s Day is a pretty good day; if, however, she is not, then it’s a tough weekend.
Not long ago I invited Facebook stepmoms of my daily Smart Tip (facebook.com/SmartStepfamilies) to share their experiences of Mother’s Day—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Did I get a variety of responses? Yes. But more than that, I discovered helpful perspectives, a sense of hope in the journey, and a big dose of inspiration. Perhaps you will, too (if you’re not a stepmom, share this with someone who is). Consider this “stepmom to stepmom” advice.
The Reward at the End of the Journey
Shanna B. shared greetings with her children’s stepmom in Arkansas while her stepchildren’s mother sent Shanna warm regards, as well. She said, “We’re ten years into this blended family and have chosen to create peace among us. Our children win when there is peace.” Obviously she and the other homes have worked hard to find a workable co-parenting relationship which pays off in each of the homes on special days like Mother’s Day. Keeping this end goal in mind is useful for enduring challenging times.
Amy R. had a great Mother’s Day. “With words and actions my husband recognized me as mothering the girls for the first time since we got married. I was showered with homemade cards, pictures from school, flowers, and even some ‘mom’ references (as opposed to my first name). This was a significant this moment for me.” Want to make the stepmom in your life feel special? I think this father and daughters got it right.
Julie L. shared her rewards and a new feeling. “My 10-year old step son called from his mom's to wish me Happy Mother's Day. Very sweet and unexpected. I also got cards from him, my son, and my stepdaughter. This is the first year that Mother's Day felt "normal" and not full of angst.” The old saying touts, “No pain, no gain.” Sometimes stepmoms have to endure pain (angst) to achieve gain (unexpected reward). Julie’s comments remind stepmoms to keep the long-term view and press through.
Stepmothers often report a mix of emotions because of family dynamics. Clearly, for them, Mother’s Day is not just good or bad, it’s both. Hope W., for example, shared how hard it is to have the children spend Mother’s Day with their biological mother every year. “It is as it should be,” she pointed out, but still she misses them. A hard reality for many stepmoms with wonderful relationships with their stepchildren is that they usually get the short end of the time stick when it comes to holidays and special days. Hope keeps a healthy attitude about it: “It was still a great day and I got ‘I love you’s’ from them—that’s what matters most of all.”
Amber O.’s situation is similar, but different. Her mixed bag includes feeling badly for her stepson.” Our son has to spend every Mother's Day with his biological mother. This year he really wanted to stay with me, but of course wasn't able to. He got home at 6:00 PM and was very upset because bio mother took the card he had made for me. So, I just asked him to tell me what it said and thanked him for it anyway.” Kids are often caught in the middle of the jealousies between homes. In addition to missing time with him on a special day, Amber regrets that her stepson isn’t allowed to recognize her the way he wanted. Still, she found a way to make him feel better and consider his feelings first.
And finally, Laura S. discovered that not all stressors come from stepchildren. “My stepson (age 9) has actually been more loving today than my daughter (age 12). LOL.” That, too, is good perspective. Even biological children can be the source of struggle!
My guess is that “Reward” stepmoms journeyed through dry desserts of heartache before reaching “the Promised Land.” Some of our readers are still there…and looking for ways to survive. Sally D. and Tia L. both shared that they did not hear from their stepchildren on Mother’s Day, but then, they didn’t expect to either. Still, even if you don’t expect to hear a word of thanks, “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (see Proverbs 13:12). Janice A. didn’t hear anything from her stepkids either, but then, “It’s okay; their mother would make them feel bad for calling or texting.” That hurts on more than one level.
Sometimes stepparents get mistreated not because of who they are, but because of who the mom is. Emily T. shared, “My stepkids mom moved out of the county and chooses to stay there. She visits her kids a couple of times a year, but never on Mother's Day. So I suffer the backlash of their grief at not having their mom around. It's very hard.” Situations like this are unfair to say the least, and yet, common. Unfortunately, Emily doesn’t have the power to change how the children feel about their mother. All she can do is love them with a steadfast, unconditional love that in time will overwhelm their confusion and soften their hearts.
To all the stepmoms out there, whether you are experiencing rewards, a mixed-bag of emotions, or heartache, thank you for your sacrifice and service to children not your own. May you find courage, mercy, and strength for the day.
Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of FamilyLife Blended, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage, and Dating and the Single Parent.