Being a stepmom on Mother’s Day can cause a lot of uncomfortable emotions. For weeks, stores are filled with Mother’s Day cards and mugs designating “Best Mom Ever” and “#1 Mom.” The morning news shows are saturated with segments about Mother’s Day gifts and brunches.
And you’re feeling some combination of left out, like you’re an imposter, or just plain old sad.
Mother’s Day: Awkward At Best
Depending on your family situation, you may get a passing acknowledgment on Mother’s Day. Maybe your spouse and stepkids celebrate you every year – and if so, I’m thrilled for you. Perhaps they give you a half-hearted or forced celebration before the kids head off to celebrate with their mom. Or maybe you’re not recognized at all.
Whatever the situation, being a stepmom on Mother’s Day can be triggering. Many of us undertake all the duties of motherhood. School pickups, doctor appointments, nursing sick kids. But our work and our love may never receive the recognition as that of a mother. And we may struggle with calling ourselves a mother, or even a parent.
In my first year as a stepmom, I stumbled over my response when friends and family wished me a happy Mother’s Day because I simply didn’t feel like I should be celebrated. I wasn’t even a real mom, after all. When I expressed that sentiment to my mother-in-law, she gently scolded me, saying, “we all know what you do for the kids. You are every bit of a mother.” Thank God for my family and friends who pushed back on my outlook to encourage me to celebrate.
But guess what? My reluctance and feelings of being a fraud? Those were totally normal. And very common.
Mother’s Day can be yet another reminder to stepmoms that we are less than. That we are in the family but don’t always feel quite part of it. The holiday can reinforce the insecurities and imposter feelings that we struggle with year-round.
But it doesn’t have to feel that way. Here are three things you can do to take away those awkward feelings around Mother’s Day and celebrate on your own terms:
1. Embrace Your Feelings, Whatever They Are.
Take a step back and think about what it is you’re feeling around Mother’s Day. Identify your emotions and name them. Once you do that, you can deal with them.
Is it that you feel like it’s just another reminder that you’re not a “real” mother? That it reinforces that you’re not enough? Or that you’re an imposter?
Remember that whatever you’re feeling is allowed. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to reset your outlook. So once you identify what your feeling, challenge your thoughts.
For example, if you’re feeling like a fraud, remind yourself that while you may not be a biological mother, you are absolutely a parent regardless of who does or doesn’t recognize your efforts.
And the reality is, as a stepmom you have an opportunity to forge a unique and special relationship with the kids. If they’re open to it, you can work with them to determine what your relationship will look like. And that’s an amazing opportunity and flexibility that biological parents don’t have.
The bottom line is that when you identify the negative emotions you’ve got around this holiday, you can then start to reframe them and look for the positive. And a little intentionality around your mindset will absolutely help you feel like you can handle Mother’s Day.
2. Check Your Expectations.
Think about what your expectations are as a stepmom on Mother’s Day. Are you expecting the kids to wake you up with flowers and breakfast in bed? Even biological moms are often disappointed when real life collides with that fantasy.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect anything or you should assume nothing will be done to recognize you. But I am suggesting that if you expect a Disney scene of loving kids and a doting spouse, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
So keep your expectations in check.
And try not to get offended that many, if not most, of the kid’s attention around Mother’s Day will go to their mom. She’s their mom.
And remember, kids often experience loyalty binds between their mom and stepmom, especially in high-conflict situations. This translates into them feeling like if they celebrate you, they’re betraying their mom.
And if they feel like they’re betraying their mom, you can expect them to be less than enthusiastic about recognizing you on Mother’s Day.
Cut them some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt. The holiday might be hard on them, too.
3. Be Realistic. And Flexible.
It’s important to keep an open mind around Mother’s Day. And discuss with your spouse what is realistic given your circumstances.
If the kids are always with their mom on Mother’s Day, then yes, it might feel like you get the leftovers. But that’s not going to change. She is their biological mother. And regardless of how you feel about her, you need to be flexible and encourage the kids to celebrate her.
In that instance, an option might be to forego Mother’s Day altogether and consider instead recognizing Stepmother’s Day the following weekend. Maybe an entirely separate holiday would keep you from feeling “less than” and help you celebrate your own role.
Be open with your partner about your feelings around this holiday. And don’t be shy about asking for what you want. But be flexible and creative in coming up with options.
Remember: you get to set the rules here. If you don’t want to do anything to celebrate, you don’t have to. Or if celebrating looks like you taking a spa day? That’s okay, too.
Know That You’re Not Alone.
Stepmothers the world around struggle with Mother’s Day.
But the most important thing to understand is that any sort of celebration -or lack thereof- is NOT a reflection on your contributions to the family, or to your stepchildrens’ lives.
You matter. What you do for your family matters. And you can do this.
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