Mother’s Day, a day to honor mothers and maternal bonds, first celebrated in 1908 and the bane of a stepmother’s existence every year since. That’s over 100 years of awkward stepmom moments! The moment when you are in church and mothers are invited to stand and be applauded. Yeah that. Am I supposed to stand up halfway?
Or, the cards from the kids that are specifically to “Mom” which you are decidedly not. Uh huh. Hallmark and other retailers make millions with high-priced nic nacs and specialty cards galore celebrating the holiday while you guardedly press on through the day counting the hours until Monday arrives.
My husband and I married on a breezy September day. As a custodial stepmom, by the time Mother’s Day rolled around the following May, I was well-versed in my role in our family. I was cook, chauffeur, counselor, financier, spiritual guide, washer woman, bleacher sitter and a host of other jobs that moms the world over practice every day. I also know that I did not give birth to these three children with whom I share a last name. Yes, they lived with me but they needed to honor their mother. After all, I was thankful for her. Without her, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to be part of their lives.
My first Mother’s Day was, thankfully, calm…a gift in and of itself. My family hosted a cookout for all of the moms in our family. There were aunts, moms, grandmothers and stepmothers among us. With the focus off of me in particular, I could enjoy the day.
My stepdad brought me flowers to welcome me into the ranks of motherhood. (After all, he got it.) My niece gifted me with a potted plant. And my stepchildren gave me balloons and a spa gift card. (I still have the balloons, deflated though they may be all these years later.) They also spent time with their mother. Just as they should.
Not all stepfamilies are created equal. Not all stepmoms and stepkids share good relationships or even kind words. However, for the majority of stepfamilies, it’s logical that the female in the equation takes on a maternal role when the children are present in the home, whether they are full time or not. She may carpool, prepare meals or help with homework. Whatever the role or the amount of her involvement, she is co-parenting with her partner. She is a stepmother and she should be celebrated for her efforts to nurture her partner’s children. That can be achieved without eclipsing the mother who gave them life and provides biological love.
As of 2010, the Pew Research Center estimated 14 million stepmoms in the U. S. alone. That’s, at least, 14 million women every year who face the burden of dealing with what should be a celebratory occasion for all women who contribute to children’s lives. Stepmoms, don’t put pressure on your family to celebrate the perfect Mother’s Day. You may not receive gifts or cards, breakfast in bed or even a “Happy Mother’s Day!” But you are no less important to your family. Your spouse invited you into his and his children’s lives because he valued you and trusted you to be a positive influence. Allow him to take the lead to honor you on Mother’s Day. (Keep in mind he might need a nudge.)
A movement began in the past few years to celebrate Stepmother’s Day the Sunday after Mother’s Day, based upon the premise that there were no tangible ways to honor stepmothers. No cards, no balloons, no nic nacs. Plus, in shared custody situations, Mother’s Day is most often spent with the biological mother leaving little, if any, time to celebrate stepmom. Let’s also not forget that there is potential pressure on kids who celebrate stepmom fearing that mom will resent the recognition. All valid reasons to consider a separate occasion to honor those 14 million women filling stepmom roles.
Mother’s Day. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. A Tale of Two Cities’ Charles Dickens just about got it right and he didn’t even have a stepmom. Is it the worst day of the year for stepmoms? Maybe. Is it awkward? Definitely. As for me, this Mother’s Day, I’ll be watching my stepson receive his college diploma. His mother and I both contributed to his becoming a productive young man and that’s enough celebration for me.