If there is one day of the year that can trigger elation or sadness for a stepmom, it’s usually Mother’s Day. And while stepfathers often find Father’s Day awkward, children and grandparents may find both days very uncomfortable.
Conference speaker and stepmom Laura Petherbridge tells how her husband wants to honor her on Mother’s Day for loving his kids, but he isn’t always sure how. She writes in our book The Smart Stepmom, “My stepsons call and wish me ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ but we both know I’m not their mom, so it feels awkward. I do not expect my stepsons to honor me on Mother’s Day—because I’m NOT their mom. However, I do desire for my husband to do something nice, such as brunch, as a gesture of gratitude for all the years of working toward building a bridge with his kids.”
Laura is most certainly not alone. A couple of years ago I posted a question: Do you think stepparents should be acknowledged on Mother’s and Father’s Day? The responses poured in, more than for any other question. Danielle wrote, “God put those adults in the lives of those children to be a parental figure. To exclude them is just wrong; it’s almost like a slap on the face. Not acknowledging them is ignoring the part they play in those children’s lives and not recognizing God’s ways for that family.”
Everyone else also agreed that stepparents should be acknowledged, but doing so was often awkward for the entire family.
Special family days highlight the differing bonds between biological parents, stepparents, and children. Everyone feels the tension when a stepfather tries to carve the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time (and perhaps the tenth) when that role was previously reserved for the father. It just doesn’t feel right. Similarly, Mother’s and Father’s Day will bring to the forefront any ongoing relational tensions within a stepfamily.
A child, for example, may feel that a parent who stands up at church when mothers are honored is trying to take his mother’s place. A stepparent, on the other hand, who has all the pain, frustrations, negative emotions, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent—but none of the joys—may feel slighted for not receiving a greeting card. 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.”
What can families do?
Specific advice on how to honor the stepparent in your family depends on how accepted he or she is within the home. This is a function of time and relationship; the more bonded the stepparent, the more celebratory the family can be. Here are some suggestions to consider.
- Biological parents can spend the day with the stepparent. Treat him or her like a king or queen; lavish the stepparent with something they really like. Remember to tell them that you recognize that their role is not easy, and that you appreciate how hard they work at caring for your children.
- Don’t force your child to do something special for the stepparent on Mother’s or Father’s Day. He may feel it is dishonoring his mother or father to show appreciation to the stepparent. This will depend greatly on how the former spouse responds to the stepparent.
- On the other hand, if children feel comfortable giving a gift to the stepparent, encourage them to do so. One stepmom wrote, “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 to cry as well. She really made me feel special by recognizing my deep feelings on Mother’s Day.”
What can churches do?
For many of you reading this, the most important action you can take is to share with your pastor how difficult Mother’s and Father’s Day is for stepparents. Educate them on how frequently stepparents dread going to church that day because of the way it is handled. Elains says, “The way our pastor says ‘mothers,’ you know he only means those by birth. He has the women come forward, and then he prays a blessing upon them. As a stepmom this has always been an awkward moment for me.”
For years I have encouraged church leaders to acknowledge all caregivers of children—foster parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, and stepparents—on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Just use the word stepmom, for example, and you validate her as an important caregiver in her home and remind stepchildren that they too should give her thanks for what she does. It may not seem like much, but a simple word from the pulpit on Sunday goes a long way.
Educate your pastor
It may be obvious to you how confusing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are for both children and parents in stepfamilies, but it is far from the minds of most pastors. However, it is my experience that once enlightened, many pastors are more than willing to acknowledge stepparents as they never have before.
- To educate them, give them a copy of this article prior to Mother’s Day so they can plan out their words.
- Perhaps take them to lunch and share your heart for stepfamilies.
Pastors: What you can say
- Special family days present a perfect opportunity for you to communicate awareness of the complexities of people’s lives and grace for their circumstances (foster dads or stepmothers, for example).
- Consider utilizing these words as a way of connecting with and affirming the stepparents in your church and community: “This morning is Mother’s Day, a time to honor God’s gift we call ‘mom.’ If you are a mother, a stepmother, an adoptive mother, or a foster mother would you please stand so we can honor you this morning?”