How to avoid Mother's Day Disappointments for Stepmoms
Lisa was so excited…she didn't have any kids of her own yet and this was her first official Mother's Day as a stepmom! She had good reason to have high expectations - over the past year, she'd poured herself into her five-year-old step-son, Lucas.
Lisa fixed Luca's favorite meals, played the games he loved, read him bedtime stories and surprised him with special gifts. Not to mention washing his dirty clothes, cleaning up messes and struggling through parenting issues with her husband. It was a lot of hard work, but it was clear that Lisa was devoted to Lucas and loved him.
The big day arrived and the family headed to church. Lisa's heart raced when she saw that all the kids had made lovely Mother's Day cards during their time in Sunday School. Lucas proudly displayed his card which expressed love and appreciation on this special day.
Then he announced that he couldn't wait to go to his mommy's house later so he could give her the card. Lisa's heart sank. Her step-son didn't even acknowledge her on Mother's Day.
She was left feeling disappointed, unappreciated and excluded.
Three Survival Tips
Mother's Day can be tough for well-deserving step-moms. But a little thought and preparation before the big day can help you to cope with the emotional roller coaster you might find yourself on. If you're a step-mom (or the a husband of a step-mom), here are three tips to help you navigate Mother's Day.
1. Be Patient with Loyalty Binds
One key challenge for kids living in stepfamily dynamics are Loyalty Binds. Loyalty binds create internal conflict for children, they think:
"If I acknowledge, enjoy or show affection toward my step-mom, then I'm betraying and hurting my mom".
Lucas might have wanted to make Lisa a card, but worried about how his mom would feel about that.
The reality is, special occasions like mother's or father's day can be especially stressful and confusing for kids. Loyalty binds are normal and they can intensify when kids are faced with a special occasion.
Parents and step-parents can help kids handle a loyalty bind and work through them. Coming alongside kids in the tension and offer empathy and a safe place to process their feelings is an effective way to help.
According to stepfamily expert, Patricia Papernow, a "Loyalty Bind Talk" can be delivered by any trusted adult. This can help free them up from loyalty binds - it goes something like this:
"Having a stepparent can be kind of confusing. I want you to know that your mom has a special place in your heart and that will never change. I hope you come to care about your stepmom someday. And if you do, her place in your heart will be a totally different place from your mom's place."
Let kids know it's okay for them to care for all the adults in their lives. But do this without pressure or expectations. Be patient and respectful as they express their emotions and work though their loyalty binds.
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2. Redirect Your Focus and Expectations
Leading up to Mother's Day, a key strategy for Stepmoms is to keep your expectations realistic.
It was clear that Lisa's expectations were out of line from the beginning. This is why she was so crushed when Lucas failed to acknowledge her on Mother's Day.
Rather than building up big hopes for this one day of the year, choose to redirect your focus onto other times when your step child has shown appreciation and care for you.
Lucas was a thoughtful boy who had done sweet little things for Lisa over the past year — things that touched her heart and made her feel accepted and loved by him. If she had been mindful to keep her focus on those things, rather than expecting her step-son to engage on Mother's Day, she may have saved herself a lot of heartache.
If your step-child has acknowledged you in the past or if you've enjoyed a special experience with them, intentionally put those memories front and center (on the bathroom mirror or fridge). Then choose to lower your expectations of Mother's Day and keep your focus on times when your step-child has included and acknowledged you.
Don't let one day of the year negate the positive affirmation you've already received from your stepchild. Choose to keep your expectation in line and redirect your focus.
3. Husbands Can Make a Difference!
As Lisa shared her painful experience with us, I could see that her husband was hurting for her. He was certainly disappointed with Lucas's lack of acknowledgement toward Lisa, but he was at a loss about how to help.
Husbands, look ahead to special occasions (and don't forget birthdays!). Do what you can to prepare for them. Your intentional efforts will spare your wife from painful disappointments.
Here are some ways you can approach Mother's Day with sensitivity and awareness:
Initiate a Conversation with your Wife — Had Lisa's husband initiated a conversation prior to Mother's Day, they would've had an opportunity to explore possibilities and openly express feelings.
Discussing the possibility of kid's loyalty binds can be helpful too. These kinds of conversations can ease tensions and prepare your wife so that she isn't blindsided with disappointment on Mother's Day.
Initiate a Conversation with your Kids — Talk openly to your kids about the upcoming holiday. Casually ask your kids if they can describe any positive thoughts they have about their stepmom. Lisa's husband might have heard something like: "She's really funny when she reads me stories, I like that".
Then help your kids to capture their thoughts on paper to give to her on Mother's Day. Sweet nothings from Lucas would've made Lisa's day a whole lot sweeter!
A word of caution on this: Parents need to allow kids to set the pace and not push an agenda or put words in their mouths. If your child is willing to express gratitude toward their step-mom, encourage them to do so. If not, patiently wait for their connection to develop and do what you can to encourage healthy bonding.
Celebrate Your Wife — If your child is unable to express affection or appreciation, you certainly can! Let your wife know how much you cherish her and express your gratitude for all she does to support the family and care for your kids (and by the way…she need to hear this regularly, not just on a special occasions)!
You might also consider setting aside another "special day" to honor and celebrate your wife! If you didn't already know, there actually is an official day for this — May 19th is Stepmothers Day!
Mother's Day doesn't have to be tainted with disappointment. This year, choose to set yourself up for a better outcome — one where YOU get to shine. Keep your Mother's Day expectations realistic and focus on the positive experiences you've enjoyed in the past.
Work as a team to steer clear of potential heartache and help the kids navigate loyalty binds. And find creative ways to honor your role as step-mom and celebrate the dedication, care and brilliance you bring to your stepfamily!
QUESTION: How will you emotionally prepare yourself for Mother's Day? Leave a comment below…