Over at Shine, I'm sounding a positive note: Tips to encourage stepmoms to have a happy Mother's Day. And I couldn't agree more with what relationship expert Karen Stewart, founder of Fairway Divorce Solutions, told me in an interview: "I don't think Mother's Day is about mothers," she said. "I think Mother's Day is about teaching gratitude and teaching the value of mothers."
Even though I love my stepkids like they're my own, and even though I happily did many of the things that mothers do for years, when they were small and staying with us for weeks at a time, we didn't really celebrate Mother's Day in our house. Why not? It was pretty simple: Because as much as I adore my stepkids, I'm not their mom. (In fact, we didn't even create a Mom-like name for me; they just call me Lylah.)
Once our youngest kids were born, celebrating Mother's Day became an easy thing. But even before their births, I felt loved and appreciated for who I am and what I have done—I have a stack of notes written in magic marker and crayon that testify to it, even if they weren't given to me on the first Sunday in May.
Here are five tips for stepmoms, to make Mother's Day go more smoothly:
- 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," says Rachelle Katz, a psychotherapist, stepmother, and the author of "The Happy Stepmother: Stay Sane, Empower Yourself, Thrive in Your New Family." 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.
- Tell your spouse how you feel. "Many divorced fathers are unaware of the significance of Mothers’ Day to their new wives," Katz says. 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. This year, she's choosing to celebrate the day with her own mother and focus on the positives in her life. You can also consider celebrating in September, on National Stepfamilies Day.
- Don't compare yourself with their mom. "There really shouldn't be any discussion about who is more important. That's not appropriate," says Stewart. "Being a stepmom is an incredibly important role. It's not the same as being a mom... I've been both, and they are totally different. But you can embrace and have gratitude for both of them."
- Be happy with whatever form of gratitude you get. Gratitude doesn't necessarily come in the form of a big, expensive gift—and it might not come on Mother's Day itself. "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.