Mother’s Day brings positive emotions for many mothers. But for stepmothers, which by one estimate, make up 30 percent of the women in remarriages, this can be a sad and unfulfilling event. Read below for practical, Biblical advice on how stepmothers (and their husbands) can make the best of this holiday.
Laura Petherbridge 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. Several years ago, she released The Smart Stepmom, co-written with step-family expert Ron Deal.
In this book, she devotes a chapter to the complicated dynamic of holidays and special occasions within the context of a step-family. She candidly described 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 said that Mother’s Day can also 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 for 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.'”
So how should stepmothers adjust their thinking and their actions to prepare for Mother’s Day? Petherbridge said that lower expectations are the key.
“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,” she explained. “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.”
When it comes to the actual holiday, Petherbridge said that children should be with their own mom for Mother’s Day. All adults involved in a step-family should keep the focus on the biological mom when it comes to Mother’s Day, and the children, grown or not, 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.”
Petherbridge knows this from personal experience. After two years of sad Mother’s Days, she took the initiative to communicate to her husband about how this day made her feel.
“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,” she said. “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.”
For Petherbridge and other stepmoms, this can do more than lessen the sting of rejection 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.”
Originally published May 3, 2010.