Mother’s Day is annually observed in Australia and New Zealand on the second Sunday of May. It is an opportunity for everyone to pay tribute to their mothers and to thank them for all their love and support. For stepfamilies however, this day of appreciation of all things mothers can raise a whole lot of something, and not all of it always feels good.
For many reasons, it can be difficult for children in separated families to celebrate both their mother and their stepmother. Even those children with the most amicable of co-parents can struggle with this Hallmark celebration. Mother’s Day can often highlight the most intractable problems between mums and stepmums. It can bring to the children’s attention an underlying sense of competition or jealousy and even leave them feeling like they are fighting the ‘Battle Royale’ of internal (emotional) battles out in public, for their whole world to see.
For many stepmothers being ignored or overlooked by your stepchildren on Mother’s Day can feel like a punch to the gut.
For many stepmothers being ignored or overlooked by your stepchildren on Mother’s Day can feel like a punch to the gut. More so, if you have been in the picture for a long time, significantly contribute to their care and upbringing and/or do not have children of your own. Putting yourself in your stepchild’s shoes and trying to look at the situation from their perspective can help your head to know that it is not personal. But the heart can still experience the sting of being overlooked on an occasion heavily marketed and advertised as being a special day for “all” types of mothers.
So, what are the reasons a stepchild might ignore or overlook their stepmother on Mother’s Day?
- Their focus is elsewhere – If your stepchild does not acknowledge or celebrate you on Mother’s Day, it may just be because they are focused on celebrating their actual mum, with whom they will most likely be spending most, if not all, of the actual day. Their failure to acknowledge all you do for them on a day set aside for giving thanks (to mother’s) could actually just be an innocent omission, with no spiteful or malevolent intent. Depending on their age they may also not have actually made the connection between your role as a stepmother (and all the mothering-type things you may do for them) and Mother’s Day. In their head they may view you as “Dad’s [rather nice and lovely] wife/partner”, as opposed to a mother-like figure and not put two and two together when it comes to showing appreciation for you on Mother’s Day.
- The protective factor – Following a parental separation and the ensuing family break-up, some children can become their mother’s champions and reject a stepmother on Mother’s Day, (or on any other day for that matter), for reasons which are not entirely their own. These children are intentionally or unintentionally led to believe liking or celebrating your role in their life, may cause their Mum hurt or (emotional) pain. In this scenario, because they love their mother very much, your stepchildren may adopt somewhat of a protective role with regard to their Mum and will do anything to protect her from hurt and emotional pain. This includes ignoring you on Mother’s Day.
- Loyalty binds – It may be just too emotionally hard for your stepchildren to reach out to both you and their mother on Mother’s Day. This is particularly relevant for children who have been exposed to parental conflict, parental insecurities or adult issues relating to their parents’ marriage, separation and post separation parental relationship. In unfortunate situations where there is an element of competition in the mother and stepmother’s attitudes to one another, children may have received a message that their mother does not want them to show their stepmother any positive affection on “her” day. Little Joey and Matilda might therefore worry that to show their stepmother any type of thanks would be seen as them being disloyal to their mother and might result in their mother feeling sad or upset or angry (which no child wants to have happen).
- Different expectations – Adults and children can have different perspectives about what is going on in their worlds. They can be in the same situation and experience and react to things very differently. Relationships and Mother’s Day are no exception. There may well be a positive vibe and warmth displayed in your day-to-day interactions with your stepchildren. However, it could be that they perceive this relationship to be less significant and that the two of you are just not as emotionally close as you perhaps do. As a result, they may not consider celebrating or acknowledging you on Mother’s Day as being necessary, needed or required.
- Permission – In an ideal situation, a child would freely celebrate both their Mum and their stepmother on Mother’s Day. However, in order for this to happen, a child must perceive that they have permission to do so from their parents – their father and their mother. Not only do children need both parent’s permission, they will also more than likely need their father’s help and encouragement to buy or make a card, bake a cake or determine an appropriate gift to bestow on their stepmother.
- Lack of support – Generally speaking, society doesn’t make celebrating stepmothers easy. It’s only been in recent years that you could find a Hallmark card appropriate for a stepmother on Mother’s Day. Even now, depending on where you live, suitable cards can be few or far between. Your stepchild may have looked for a card to give you and just couldn’t find one with an appropriate message. Or, how about those special Mother’s Day mementos kids bring home from school? It is rare for a teacher to offer or help a child make two – one for their mother and one for their stepmother. Sometimes a lack of gift is about nothing more than a lack of support and resources.
So, as a Stepmother, what can you do?
Ultimately the best celebration around Mother’s Day for any stepmother would be the freedom in knowing that you are secure in your place within your family and in life. But there are also practical things that you can do to ensure that the day is as comfortable as possible for everyone. This includes:
Talk to your partner about how you feel and your concerns and expectations for this specific day. Plan ahead to ensure that your partner knows what they can do to support both you and their children over the Mother’s Day weekend. Remember no one is a mind reader.
Disengage from any power play.
Don’t let your feelings about the day put your stepchildren in a difficult or compromised position. “Give” Mother’s Day to your stepchildren to celebrate with their mother. Let them, and yourself, off the hook and let go of any expectations that they have to do something to recognise you (and all that you might do for them) on this particular day. After all, it is one day out of the year and it represents only that which we assign to it. It is not a test of your stepchildren love or appreciation.
Celebrate in your own way.
Make a conscious choice to use Mother’s Day to celebrate and pamper yourself in whatever way feels special to you. Tell your partner what you would like to do that day. Use it as an opportunity to develop special traditions for your stepfamily in relation to your role as a stepmother. Use the child-free time to connect with your partner and strengthen your step-couple relationship. You choose.
Allocate another date and time.
Find another day for you and your stepchildren to celebrate what it is you that you do for them. It may be the anniversary of the first day that you met them or any other day of the year for that matter. Make it fun, make unique and make it yours.
Help your stepchildren celebrate their mum.
Let your stepchildren know that you are 100% okay that they want to celebrate their Mum and that you actually want and expect them to do so. Let them know that they should do what’s best for them. There’s absolutely no guilt on your end. If necessary, ask them if they need any help and then firmly direct their father to help them out.
If your stepchildren want to do something special for you on Mother’s Day, it’s your partner’s role to help in purchasing and picking out gifts or planning something special. Just as your partner should be the one to help the children purchase a gift for their mother or speak with the teacher/school if his child is worried about only making one Mother’s Day craft instead of two.
Don’t do anything.
If Mother’s Day is not something that holds much meaning for you then that is okay too. Rest assured that choosing to celebrate or not celebrate Mother’s Day as a stepmother does not in any way, shape or determine the success of your stepfamily.
For additional advice, support and information check out another of our Mother’s Day posts, A Shoutout to all Stepmother’s on Mother’s Day