Being a stepmother on Mother's Day: Tips to make the holiday a happy one

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockI was a stepmom long before I became a bio mom, and for years Mother's Day was one of those awkward times that we didn't really know how to handle in our household.

Of course it's important to feel acknowledged and appreciated. But as much as I love my stepkids and think of them as my own, I am not their mom. And on Mother's Day, I think the focus rightly belongs on the woman who is.

There are millions of stepmothers who disagree with me. For them, Mother's Day is about frustration, not celebration. It often underscores the fact that they feel unappreciated, and can heighten resentment about the realities of life in a blended family.

"All they really want on Mother's Day is to have their stepchildren say, 'Happy Mother's Day' or give them a a card or small gift," says Rachelle Katz, a psychotherapist, stepmother, and the author of "The Happy Stepmother: Stay Sane, Empower Yourself, Thrive in Your New Family." "They don't want to usurp a biological mother's role; a token acknowledgement by stepchildren will not take away from the biological Rachelle Katz, author of Rachelle Katz, author of Mother's Day."

"There really shouldn't be any discussion about who is more important. That's not appropriate," says relationship expert Karen Stewart, founder of Fairway Divorce Solutions. "Being a stepmom is an incredibly important role. It's not the same as being a mom-there's no question about that. But it's still an incredibly important role."

"I've been both," Stewart adds. "And they are totally different. But you can embrace and have gratitude for both of them."

Stewart says that focus should be on keeping the stress levels low on Mother's Day-and that it's up to the adults in the family to do so. Having the step mom and the bio dad on the same page can go a long way toward making the day go smoothly.

Katz has noticed the same thing. During one of her recent stepparenting workshops, she says, "The women unanimously agreed that their husbands must step to the plate and teach their children what to do." And that includes celebrating the kids' biological mother as well.

Karen Stewart, founder and CEO of Fairway Divorce Solutions.Karen Stewart, founder and CEO of Fairway Divorce Solutions."When children are very young-toddlers to 8 years old-their fathers will have to help them pick out a present for their biological mother," Katz advises. "I don't think it's the place for the stepmother to do this, just as I don't think it's the place of the biological mother to help their children buy a present for their stepmother. Keeping boundaries clear prevents lots of problems for children."

"I do believe that children need to recognize all of the mothers in their lives," Stewart says. "The tone is set by the parents, but the how-to is set by the kids."

So how can you make Mother's Day happier, even if it doesn't go the way you wish it could? The experts offer a few tips:

  • Manage your own expectations. "I don't think there are any hard and fast rules how step families should celebrate Mother's Day as long as the step mother's contributions are acknowledged," Katz says. Some children may feel that they're betraying their bio mom if they celebrate with their step, so don't expect them to-being ignored isn't personal. "Shouldn't the children be more attached to a biological mom, in a perfect world?" asks Stewart. "Lighten up."
  • Tell your spouse how you feel. "Many divorced fathers are unaware of the significance of Mothers' Day to their new wives," Katz says. He also may be traumatized by his divorce, she says, and need help seeing how much you do for his kids. Regardless of whether you decide to celebrate your role or keep things quiet, managing Mother's Day is much easier when there's a plan in place.
  • Celebrate on another day-or in another way. "I know Stepmother's Day is the Sunday after Mother's Day, and some step families can choose to celebrate on that day," Katz says. "I feel it's second best, and rarely do stepmothers feel good about being honored on this day." This year, she's choosing to celebrate the day with her own mother and focus on the positives in her life. "I have learned that when I focus my energy on her, I feel good," she says.
  • Be happy with whatever form of gratitude you get. "I don't think Mother's Day is about mothers," Stewart says. "I think Mother's Day is about teaching gratitude and teaching the value of mothers." And gratitude doesn't necessarily come in the form of a big, expensive gift. "It can be words, a hug, a sticky note... I don't care what it is, it has to be some form of gratitude," Stewart says. "When you leave it to kids, then it's from their heart." Even if it's something that can't be wrapped or brought up on a tray at breakfast.

Also on Shine: