When did Mother’s Day become so complicated? I remember being a girl in grade school, pouring glitter on heart-shaped glue squeezed out on pink construction paper. My brow furrowed in deep concentration as I scribed a crooked, “I Love My Mom,” in purple crayon. Simple… beautiful…easy. Fast forward 30+ years, 1 marriage, 1 divorce, 1 re-marriage, and a his and hers blend of 4 kids, and suddenly what was simple, beautiful, and easy, is complicated, stressful, and confusing. If it’s that for you and me, can you imagine how much more agitating it is for children?
Mother’s Day. I know we say, “It’s just one day,” but it is a day of great significance. It also happens to be a day well-supplied with unrealistic expectations, tension, territorial wars, and the potential to cause lasting damage to the delicate act of blending a stepfamily.
I don’t know about you but I was pretty unsettled my first Mother’s Day as a stepmom. Jonathan and I had only been married a few weeks so I tried to batter my expectations into submission even as my hopes for acknowledgement soared. I could almost feel the anxiety rolling off my bonus children. I get it. Mothers are sacrosanct. One small inkling that I expected the same treatment they gave their bio-Mom on her day would set off a loyalty bond double-down that would have been a serious blunder in our blending. I knew to be careful and unassuming, but still.
A few days ago, I had the honor of chatting with Gayla Grace, Lori McGregor, and Sandi Patty at a virtual event sponsored by Family Life Blended called, Women in Blended. The first topic of conversation was Mother’s Day. During our discussion Sandi said something which expresses the best attitude of the heart for each of us Stepmommas dealing with Mother’s Day angst: “Expect nothing…appreciate everything!”
The moment she spoke them, I heard all the wisdom behind her words. If we expect nothing,
we mitigate misunderstanding and hurt when nothing happens. If we expect nothing, we strip our bonus children of the pressure of obligation. If we expect nothing, we silence the accusing words and strident demands that torture us and hurt relationships. If we expect nothing, we honor our bonus children’s relationship with their mom, whether living and engaged in their lives, or not. If we expect nothing, we starve disappointment and its first cousin, insecurity. If we expect nothing, we are doubly blessed when something good happens; blessed with the good and blessed with the joy of surprise.
It is both a brave and insulating stance to take, a stance respectful of healthy boundaries, and chockful of good sense.
Admittedly, having a biological daughter, a loving mother nearby, and a supportive husband soothed a lot of my edginess that first Mother’s Day. Still, I had some growing to do. At some point along the way, I figured out the struggle I experienced, although normal, does not have to become “usual” for me.
In addition to Sandi’s nugget, I want to share a few things I learned which help me remain content as we near the second Sunday in May:
Value peace. Blending a family is hard; we have the choice to make it harder or easier for ourselves, our husbands, and our children. When we value peace we do our part to protect our family’s potential for bonding.
If, for any reason (death, choice, circumstance), bio-mom is no longer present in the lives of the children, Mother’s Day is likely going to be difficult for them. It has nothing to do with you. Practice empathy. Try to see it from their perspective and allow them the space they need to remember her, grieve her, long for her. If you’re able, sit with them in their need.
No matter how emotionally mature we are, chronic lack of recognition is painful. Deal with the hurt. Process through the actions that cause hurt. Acknowledge the pain but shut down self-pity. Let’s not view our role through a lens of what is done to us or not done for us. The Bible acknowledges suffering but does not affirm a victim mentality.
A nugget courtesy of Gayla Grace: It’s okay to ask Hubby to do something special with/for you. I never asked him, but Jonathan always acknowledges me on Mother’s Day with a card, a gift, or something. It helped my heart when my bonus kids were less likely to reach out to me. This can be especially important and healing for childless stepmoms.
Your relationship with each child has its own rhythm. It’s quite common for one child to acknowledge you while another does not. My first Mother’s Day acknowledgement came from my oldest bonus daughter, long before the younger two.
If you try to compete you’ve already lost. I know a woman who insisted on being acknowledged on Mother’s Day. She pouted, complained, and nagged. Is it any wonder her bonus children dread spending any portion of Mother’s Day with her? As adults, they refuse to even call her. Let’s give our bonus children the gift of celebrating their Mom without the stress of dealing with a competitive Bonus Mom.
When you take the pressure off your children, they’re more likely to recognize you on their own, in surprising ways. The mug pictured above actually was a gift from my bonus son on Mother’s Day 2021. He is not a gift giver and he is more humorous than sentimental. When he gave it to me, along with a card and some tea, he hugged me and said, “I love both my Moms!” It was an off-the-cuff, tender moment, that came on my 14th Mother’s Day as his Bonus Mom.
Grace is not tolerant of sin. Hence the cross. Extending grace does not mean being a doormat. You do not have to accept disrespect. Grace compels us to address issues that keep the people we love enslaved to behaviors that hurt them and others. Grace also compels us to address those issues without attacking the person.
My grandmother used to tell me, “One monkey don’t stop no show!” In other words, you are not consigned to a joyless day just because you are ignored by your bonus child(ren). Do what brings you joy; don’t face the day alone, celebrate your own Mom if you’re able, try something you’ve always wanted to try, hang out with good friends, host a backyard picnic. Have fun.
Your name is not Pinocchio. You may not be their biological mom but you are a real person who does real mom things, from loving to helping, giving, advising, and praying for them. Even if they never formally admit this, your bonus children do notice. Better yet, the Lord notices.
It won’t always be rough. Trust God that it will get better. It does. I have learned that all of the really important conversations, opportunities for connection, and expressions of appreciation and affection happen on the other 364 days in the year. Mother’s Day is a little different for me today. As I’ve adopted the principles above I’ve become pretty low-key about it. It’s now more important for me to celebrate my mom, and mother figures, than for me to be celebrated. I have been blessed with gifts and cards and presents from my daughter, my bonus kids, my husband, and my mom; sometimes on the second Sunday in May, sometimes not. Sometimes the children spend some portion of the day with me, sometimes they do not. One Mother’s Day, my own daughter was camping in Tennessee. That happened to be a Mother’s Day one of my bonus children had asked if we could celebrate together, which we did. There I am, celebrating Mother’s Day without my bio daughter and with my husband’s former spouse! I had a good time.
May God’s grace abound towards you on this Mother’s Day, Stepmother’s Day (3rd Sunday of May if you acknowledge it), and beyond. I am praying for you.
If you missed Women in Blended, or wish to revisit the conversation, you can click on one of the links below.
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