The role of a stepmother is almost always a complicated one—you are working to create a family system that works for you, you’re loving and helping to raise a child you didn’t give birth to, and all the while trying to know when it’s best for you to step aside and let the children’s biological parents take center stage. It is a tricky, confusing position to be in, as stepmotherhood often requires a lot of the sacrifices of traditional motherhood without the appreciation and universal understanding of your parenting role.
This overwhelm is almost never felt more strongly for stepmothers than on Mother’s Day—a holiday meant to celebrate the amazing mothers in our lives! But where do stepmoms fit in? Finding out may be something you’re dreading rather than excitedly awaiting!
Of course, Mother’s Day is an emotional day for many, many people—those who have a strained relationship with their mother, those with deceased parents, or those, like me, who are stepmothers. It’s almost impossible to fully explain to others the intricate dance this role has to play, but if you are a stepmom, here are some ways to make your day more positive and less stressful.
Communicate Your Expectations to Your Partner
Your partner may have no idea how tricky and emotional this day might feel for you, so express that to them! Do you want your spouse to pretend the day is just like any other day? Tell them! Do you want your spouse to bring you a present or a card and acknowledge you for the holiday? Tell them that, too! Obviously, it may not be appropriate to dictate the specific ins-and-outs of the celebration, but making your expectations clear from the start will significantly help curb feelings of confusion and disappointment for the stepmother who envisions cards and flowers, and on the day is faced with a partner who has no idea she wanted those things.
It may be very important to you to get some kind of mention on Mother’s Day, and that is totally understandable. However, you should seek this from your partner only, rather than the children. It is your spouse who should be the one to acknowledge your role in raising his/her kids, and, if you set expectations ahead of time, it means that you can have a wonderful Mother’s Day whether or not the children choose to include you in their celebration.
Be Prepared for Silence from the Kids
Depending on the dynamics within your family, the children’s relationship with their biological mother, and even just the age of the kids, you might get acknowledgment and appreciation from your stepkids on Mother’s Day, or you might get radio silence. Be prepared for (and ready to accept) both realities. Although, as a stepmom, you may feel like your role and presence in your family automatically deserves celebration, it’s important to remember that children of divorce often feel extreme loyalty binds, which can start to feel even stronger and more confusing during holidays or celebrations. Understand that, if a child doesn’t acknowledge or reach out to you in recognition, it’s almost never personal and is usually the result of the completely normal confusion of being in a complicated family dynamic.
Please, please, please, do not make the kids feel guilty for what they do or do not do for you on Mother’s Day. They often have a biological mother they need to celebrate, and making them feel bad about it will only cause harm and distress for the children. Your feelings may be hurt, sure, but your understanding and grace towards your stepkids will be remembered far longer than you may even realize.
Take Care of Yourself!
Spending time with others (or even online) on this holiday can be awkward and painful for stepmoms. You’re bombarded with sentimental posts of friends tagging other mom friends, or “Free ice cream for Moms!” celebrations that might make you feel unsure and uncomfortable about the role you play in your family. I don’t know that it’s possible to ignore all that, but it certainly is helpful to be prepared and understand that it might be a difficult day for you. Knowing that you may struggle more than most means that you can prepare yourself, not only for hard interactions, but also with some self-care! Grab your favorite book, light a candle, watch a funny movie or TV show, hang out with friends, and be sure to take care of yourself.
A stepmother’s role is often cloudy and confusing—but it also has many, many rewards! Just know that, although this day may be difficult for you, you have lots of wonderful ones (without so much baggage) to come! And, most importantly, no matter what your family looks like or what your role is in the stepfamily dynamic, know that you are mothering, too! So let your partner buy you dinner, and have an amazing Mother’s Day!