Laura Petberbridge serves couples and single adults with topics on spiritual growth, relationships, marriage enhancement, and divorce recovery. As someone in a second marriage herself, she is also a stepmother. In fact, last fall she released a book titled The Smart Stepmom, co-written with stepfamily expert Ron Deal.
In this book, she devotes a chapter to the complicated dynamic of holidays and special occasions in the context of a stepfamily. She recently took some time to talk with us about Mother’s Day, and the angst that can sometimes accompany this special day for many stepmothers.
“Mother’s Day can be such a painful day for a stepmother, because she has all of the hard work associated with the mother role – cooking, carpooling, financial strain – but doesn’t have the ‘perks,’ like love, loyalty and devotion that come along with being a biological mom.”
She further explains that Mother’s Day can be a sobering dose of reality for many stepmothers, who start the journey with the intention of being good, loving Christian influences, but find that they are not able to pour into the lives of their stepchildren like they had hoped – simply because the children will not allow it.
“This is an opportunity Christians in this situation to be victorious. We have the mind of Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. There are many times when we need to simply pray, ‘Lord, I need Your mind…and Your attitude. These kids just hurt me right now.’
How should stepmothers adjust their thinking and/or their actions to prepare for Mother’s Day?
Petherbridge says stepmothers need to lower expectations. “The stepmother who expects her stepchildren to honor her on Mother’s Day is in for a big disappointment. Many of these children are still grieving the loss of their family. These children tend to feel trapped in the middle or disloyal to their biological mother by honoring their stepmother, even if they have warm feelings toward her.”
She says children should be with their own mom for Mother’s Day. So many stepfamilies want to acknowledge the stepmother on Mother’s Day through the children. This is not wise, particularly if their biological mother is still alive.
All adults involved in a stepfamily should keep the focus on the biological mom when it comes to Mother’s Day, and the children, whether or not they are grown, should not be pressured to make a big deal out of Mother’s Day for their stepmothers.
“I do want to add that it is perfectly acceptable to honor a stepmother on Mother’s Day if the idea of acknowledgment comes from the child.”
She also suggests dads should be the one to make their wives feel special, as the stepmother of his children.
“Stepmothers need to know that their husbands see the little things that his kids don’t appreciate her for, and that he wants to honor her for what she does for their family,” said Petherbridge.
In fact after one or two years of sad Mother’s Day experiences, Patherbridge needed to talk to her husband about how this special day made her feel. She suggests that there are other stepmothers who need to do the same.
“I had to go to my husband, and let him know that it would make me feel appreciated if he did something special for me. There is a misconception that husbands cannot honor their wives on Mother’s Day for what they do, because they are not their mothers. It’s just simply a way of validating his wife in her role.”
She says that this does more than lessen the sting of not being appreciated by the stepchildren. “It strengthens the marriage, which is the primary relationship in any home. Besides, women don’t need a big hoopla. They just want to be appreciated.”
To learn more about Laura and her ministry, be sure to visit her Web site.