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Blended Family Success

Laura Petherbridge

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Mother's Day and Stepmoms-What's a Woman to Do?

If there is one day of the year that can trigger either elation or sadness for a stepmom, it's usually Mother's Day. One of the reasons Mother's Day produces so much emotion is because many stepmoms feel as though they have all of the pain, frustrations, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent, but none of the joys. Stepmoms often feel "outside the family circle," and Mother's Day can be one more reminder she's an outcast. 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."

Personally, I do not expect my stepsons to honor me on Mother's Day because -- I'm not their mom. They have a mom and I want them to spend the day with her. They call and we chat, and my stepgrandkids wish me a "happy Mother's Day," but I don't expect fanfare and gifts from them. However, I do expect my husband to do something special, such as brunch, or a gesture of gratitude for the 24 years of working hard toward building a bridge with his kids. For me the day isn't about my relationship with my stepsons, it's about my husband honoring me for the effort and tears I've experienced as a stepmom.

One stepmom shares similar feelings: "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 offers this insight: "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 I remember when we were dating he would take the kids shopping for extravagant gifts for his ex, but it was the Dollar Store for me -- not pretty."

One dad recently contacted me for advice on how to honor his wife as a stepmom on Mother's Day. I responded, "Spend the day with just the two of you and do the fun things she likes to do. Take her to brunch, a museum, or a movie -- someplace you know she really likes. For most women it's not the amount of money but rather the effort the husband puts into the day. Acknowledge you recognize her role as a stepmom and you appreciate how hard she works in this situation.

Don't force your child to do something special for your wife. He may feel it is dishonoring his mother to show appreciation to his stepmom depending on how his mother reacts to your wife. The bottom line is for you to make the day special for her. Don't focus on your child and what he can do, but rather treat your wife to dinner, a card, a gift, and a special day that shows you appreciate her."

Some stepmoms have a wonderful Mother's Day experience. One woman shared, "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 crying as well. She really made me feel special by recognizing my deep feelings on Mother's Day."

For the churchgoing stepmom there is one specific hour that can be the worst time of the day. I used to dread going to church on Mother's Day because I never knew what to do when they asked all the moms to stand. For some stepmoms it can be extremely painful, particularly if they desire to have their own biological child but do not. Hear one stepmom's lament: "Our church specifically requests that only biological mothers come forward for prayer. As a stepmom this has always been an awkward moment for me. Many people in my church would push me to go up front, assuring me that I am a mom. However, it still feels odd and makes me sad." This awkward situation can be true for foster parents, adoptive parents, or an aunt caring for nieces and nephews, as well as stepmoms.

My co-author Ron Deal and I encourage 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 too should give her thanks for what she does." We find that once enlightened to the complexities of stepfamilies many pastors are more than willing to acknowledge stepmothers during Mother's Day and other special occasions.

Whether it turns out to be a good day or a bad one, keep in mind it's only one day. Focus on the things you can be grateful for, and let go of the rest.

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