How Stepmoms Can Prepare for the Mother of All Holidays

How Stepmoms Can Prepare for the Mother of All Holidays

Early on in my marriage as a stepmother, I dreaded few days as much as Mother’s Day.  I called it the “Feast of St. Karen” (not the ex’s real name), but I didn’t mean that I thought we should build her a statue.  As a custodial stepmom, I drove car pools, grocery shopped, applied Band-Aids as needed, attended countless sporting events, sports banquets and school awards ceremonies, signed field trip forms, funneled all my previously disposable income into lunch money accounts, medical bills and school/sports/event-of-the-week fees, censored my sex life and tried to keep laundry from completely taking over the square footage of our house.  I comforted (when I was accepted as a last resort because no one else was available), said prayers with and tucked the younger ones in at night, cleaned up dog poop (before I even had a bond with the dog), learned that everything I owned could and probably would get broken and tried to keep our household running smoothly.  Felt like the job description of a ‘mother’ to me.

When we were dating, Mother’s Day was a day I knew my husband and I would get to ourselves, and we looked forward to it. It was unusual for all four of my stepkids to make themselves available for a visitation weekend at the same time, but on that specific weekend, cultural and familial pressure were applied that demanded sacrifice of all other activities in order to appropriately venerate the day’s chosen one. Who wasn’t me. Obviously.

But once we’d been married for a while, especially before our daughter was born, I forgot to treasure that day to ourselves and just managed to make myself feel bad that all the kids were gone. What my mind accepted perfectly well, my heart resisted. And so it went.

There’s a scene in the movie “Stepmom” with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts where the kid says to his mother (about his dad’s girlfriend), “I can hate her if you want me to.” That one sentence seems to capture the dilemma of the stepchild, especially on Mother’s Day. Susan Sarandon’s character, of course, had a director and a script that enabled her to sympathetically play out her inner turmoil and still come out on the highroad of supporting her children in their relationship with their dad’s girlfriend. Cut the music, and in real life the mom in my life was happiest when her kids were complaining about me. On Mother’s Day, when you want your mom to be happy, you certainly don’t do anything nice for your stepmom. So, once again, my stepchildren’s treatment of me, really had nothing to do with, well, me, and everything to do with the desire to please a mom they didn’t see as much as they wanted to and confusion about how to navigate such tumultuous relationship waters.

Now that my stepkids are all adults, my tremendously clear 20/20 hindsight vision enables me to provide a few tips on how to prepare yourself for the mother of all holidays:

· Plan something fun for you and your husband or, if you have your own children, for all of you. Talk to your husband ahead of time, and tell him what he can do to help. Appreciation from him for what you do for his children goes a long way. Tell him you read that somewhere and point him to the nearest jewelry store. Or at least toward the Hallmark section at Wal-Mart.

· Dial back your expectations, if you have them, about what your stepchildren might do for you. This is win-win, because if they surprise you with a phone call or thoughtful gesture, you will appreciate it more for not having expected it. And if they don’t do anything, you won’t be disappointed. Some years ago, my youngest stepchild gave me a card meant for a mother. It was so sentimental that I wondered if she got mixed up and gave me the one intended for her mom. She didn’t, and it’s still on my dresser mirror.

· Back to the husband again. If your children are young, it’s really his job to organize them into doing something nice for you. If your stepchildren’s mother is not partnered, it is also his job to make sure they are prepared with something for her. TELL HIM. This could go a long way in improving the relationship between the households.

· Expect to be confronted with the day at Church, restaurants and other public places. Decide how you’re going to handle it, and don’t let it bum you out. If your priest asks all the mothers to stand for a blessing and you want to, go ahead. If you don’t want to, don’t. If they’re giving out flowers at the restaurant where your husband takes you for brunch (hint, hint), smile and say, “Thank you.” Chances are that you are thinking about this way more than anyone else.

My mom always gets my sister and me gifts on Mother’s Day because she says without us she wouldn’t be a mom. When I adopted this attitude, I was able to put the focus on the blessing of having the kids in my life, rather than on the commercially driven expectation of receiving appreciation on this one day. Whatever your experience of the day has been in the past, remember that you can change it just by how you choose to think about it. No woman is miserable without her own consent. It took me a while to figure this out, but once I put myself in charge of my own happiness, it was much easier to attain it.


*This article first appeared in Stepmom Magazine


Brenda Synder, LCSW provides counseling and coaching in Peoria, Illinois.  She offers a multifaceted therapeutic approach to psychotherapy for individuals, teenagers and couples for anxiety, mood disorders, depression, crisis management, grief and loss, and for self-improvement or growth.  Brenda also specializes in family and relationship issues, and pre-marital and marital counseling/coaching to those in blended family situations.  View her Profile for more information about her counseling services.

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