I remember my first Mother’s day as a stepmom. ” Wendy”? My stepdaughter called. “You know its Mother’s day; would you please help me to pick out a gift for mum? You’re so good at picking out gifts”, she said. My initial reaction was “of course, I would be thrilled to do it”. I actually thought it was quite nice that we had gotten to a place where she felt that she could come to me with a sensitive request like this one. I told my partner about her request so as soon as we were done with the Sunday church service we drove down to the mall. While we were going through the aisles searching for the perfect gift it dawned on me what I was doing. I went from zero to angry real quick. What in the world had possessed me to agree to this request? Why was I spending time picking up a gift for my stepchildren’s mother? I was pretty sure she wasn’t looking for one for me to thank me for being so good to her children so why was I the one being nice to her? I was visibly upset and disturbed and as the wheels in mind kept turning, my feet stopped moving, I no longer wanted to help but it was too late to back out. My partner noticed the sudden mood change and sought to find out what was wrong but it didn’t feel right to share my feelings smack in the middle of Nakumatt. Being the emotional person I was it would not have come out without being accompanied by tears so I gave the classic “nothing is wrong” answer. He must have quickly figured it out because he immediately took charge, picked a box of chocolates and off were to the check-out counter. That day was unbearable, not so much because of the experience of getting the mother of my children a gift but the realization that it did not matter how good a maternal figure I was to the children, they never perceived me as a mother and expecting them to do so would only cause me disappointment. One of many turning points I have had in my journey.
Mother’s day has got to be one of the most difficult holidays to deal with for stepmoms; especially the full time ones, the ones who have full custodial care of their stepchildren. The ones who do all the work a parent is supposed to physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. The ones, who have changed the diapers, helped with the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptisms and graduations. Those who have bailed out their stepchildren over and over again. For the newbies, you have at one point hoped that being this mother figure, your stepchildren would see, acknowledge and appreciate you for what you do for them. However at some point you were forced to quickly snap back to reality and realize that they don’t see you as a mother at all. Or perhaps they do but they do not openly appreciate you for this on normal days let alone Mother’s day. This is why this day of the year can trigger either happiness or sadness. If you are man reading this and you wonder why your spouse is in a dull mood on Mother’s day, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.
I completely understand the roller-coaster stepmoms have to go through. On the one hand you are expected to have unconditional love for your partner’s kids and an ability to endure all things and sometimes even clean up messes you had no part in making in the first place. Yet, if you express normal feelings associated with the raising of children—like the frustration, disappointment and fatigue that come along with the job—you are viewed as selfish and evil. You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
So how can you let yourself off the hook this Mother’s day; while at the same time making it easier for your stepchildren as well? For starters;
Set the right expectations.
Expecting your children to recognize you and shower you with gifts this Mother’s day is setting yourself up for major disappointment. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself or the children. Let the children do what they think is best. If it somehow involves you, then you are one of the lucky few. By all means enjoy it. If it doesn’t, do not take it personally. It’s not an attack on you or who you are. Also do not try and sabotage or come in between any plans that they may have with their biological mothers. Whenever the children feel that their loyalty to their biological parent is threatened; either by your words or actions, they will resent you for it and this only increases the strain in your relationship. Children constantly battle loyalty conflicts where they feel that loving you and showing it openly directly translates to betraying their mother. Make it easy for them by removing yourself from the equation.
I have worked with some stepmoms who have no intention to replace the biological mother but their partner finds it difficult to accept this. They put pressure on the children to respond to the stepmom as they would their mother. During this time your partner may go to the extent of asking the children to acknowledge you or even buy you a card or some kind of token. While this is a noble intention it does more harm than good. Talk to your partner about this; let him know you are comfortable with the fact that the children do not view you as they do their biological mother. Chances are they never will. On the flip side, nothing prevents him from getting you a gift himself as a token of his appreciation for all your effort and sacrifice. So gents, if you feel your wife has been a great stepmom by all means show your appreciation for her on this day.
Work on developing thicker skin
Society has unrealistic expectations and sometimes extremely uninformed opinions about stepmothers and the role they play in the family especially in this country where step-families are an open secret. As a personal rule I don’t waste my time trying to explain stepmom life or justifying anything to anyone who has not walked in my shoes. Only stepmoms would truly understand your thoughts and feelings especially during this time. Try your best to let any rude or insensitive comments bounce off you. Seek out the support of other stepmothers who know exactly how you feel and who will not judge you for it.
Focus on the things you are grateful for
Consciously shift your focus to the positives rather than the negatives in your family life. I know all too well that it is not easy building the relationship with your stepchildren and that we are all in different stages of the journey. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the things that are not working. Dwelling on these things reflects negatively in your own personal mood as well how you relate with your partner and the children. Instead of marinating on these negative things, focus on what is good and working. Rejoice in every step that has been made in the right direction.
Whether this Mother’s day is a good or bad day, it is only one day in an entire year. Find something to be grateful for and let go of everything else. It is such a relief when you discover that you can be happy even if every aspect of your life is not all fine and dandy.
Spend the holiday with your mother
Instead of forcing on a celebration with your stepchildren, why not spend the time with your mother? Try to make it special for her. You will be surprised how great you will feel when you focus your energy on her instead of yourself. This works for a lot of other stepmothers who choose to spend the holiday with their mothers or with women for whom they care for deeply. Treat yourselves to a massage, brunch with friends or whatever it is that you two will enjoy. By doing so you are actually taking the pressure off yourself and taking control of your own happiness.
I hope this can help you and other stepmothers have a more enjoyable Mother’s Day.