How Stepmothers Can Avoid Disappointment on Mother's Day


As Mother’s Day approaches, we are reminded that it is often a day of disappointment for stepmoms.

My parents split up when I was 13 years old.  My father was remarried by the time I was 16.   I always thought of his wife as his wife, not a mother figure to me.  I already had a mother and didn’t need another.   One year while still a teenager, I was feeling uncharacteristically generous and sent my father’s wife a stepmother a card on Mother’s Day. My father called me and said, “You just made [your stepmom] so incredibly happy with that card.  And it meant so much to me, too.”  Well, now I’d done it. I could never NOT send a card again or I would not only disappoint my father’s wife, but more importantly, I would disappoint my dad. So every year for the past three decades, I send a card to this woman I now refer to as my stepmother. And why not? It takes little effort and makes everyone happy.  Even me.  

Fast forward many years and now I am a stepmother.  Since I first started dating my husband, I have found myself considering my own experience as a stepchild when making decisions as to how to deal with my stepkids.  I have considered it a huge advantage to be able to look at things from both perspectives.

As Mother’s Day quickly approaches, we are once again reminded that it is often a day of disappointment for stepmothers.  As Laura Petherbridge, international author and speaker on topics that include divorce recovery, wrote, “ . . . many stepmoms feel as though they have all of the pain, frustrations, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent, but none of the rewards or joy.”   

Shouldn’t we expect acknowledgement for what we do as stepparents?  A wise friend once told me, “The sure way to be disappointed is to have expectations.” Truer words have never been uttered. People, especially children, are not mind readers. They do not automatically know what you want, and if you assume they do and they don’t come through . . . boom! Instant disappointment.

One reason for lack of recognition from stepchildren might have absolutely nothing to do with their feelings for their stepmother. Unfortunately, many children are not raised to recognize special occasions.  They may not even realize it’s Mother’s Day.  Not that that makes us feel any better, though, right?

So, what’s the solution?  First, curb your expectations as much as possible.  And guess what!  Did you know that there is actually a Stepmother’s Day? It’s the Sunday following Mother’s Day which this year falls on May 15th.   But while it’s great that the day exists, most people don’t know about it. So, tell your husbands (I do every year), tell your stepkids and take comfort in knowing that there’s a day just for you.  And if no one is thoughtful enough to celebrate you, then celebrate yourself. You know you deserve it. And maybe next year, who knows?  Maybe your stepkids will surprise you -- like I surprised my stepmother all those years ago.

If you are a stepparent and would like for you and your partner to gain a greater understanding of the unique challenges of living in a stepfamily structure, you should attend FamilyKind's "Recoupling and the Stepfamily" workshop.

This article was authored by Linda Paul, Stepfamily Foundation Certified Coach and Stepfamily Educator for FamilyKind.