Celebrating Mother's Day with a Stepmother
40% OF MOTHERS ARE STEPMOTHERS
It's May again and time for mother-- stepmother, grandmother and mother in law-- to be honored. The position of stepmother, in most cases, is the most complex job of all.
Some stepmothers will receive traditional acknowledgements for their, often heroic, efforts at managing their stepchildren. Some receive cards, flowers and special attention Mothers’ Day.
The stepmother is the norm in our culture of divorced moms and dads. She may see the children every other weekend or they may live with her and their father. Many stepmothers have their own children. Most do not. The average stepmother is a woman in her late 30’s, who may or may not want a child of her own. His children visit every other weekend, once during the week and alternate holidays.
The stepmother needs special credit for her work. Here are some tips about how to make Mothers’ Day a special day for the stepmother.
- Cards! There are stepmother cards and a note of thanks makes it extra special
- Flowers, picked out by dad and the children
- A surprise breakfast in bed prepared by all, the Saturday before Mothers’ Day
- A coupon for a day-off. It’s a day when the stepmother does NO work. Everyone else does her jobs around the house.
- A big kiss of love and thanks from her husband.
Tips for the Stepmother
- Know the couple needs to agree on the House Rules. Ask Your Partner to Work on the House Rules with you ASAP. In a biological family, house rules just evolve. Norms do not just evolve in a stepfamily. In fact the lack thereof is often a cause for conflict between stepmother and her mate. Therefore the couple must as soon as possible create and agree on the house rules.
- Couple strength and the ability to partner when only one partner is the parent is perhaps the most difficult and important. House rules, roles, forms and norms, and discipline styles are the cornerstone and must be discussed and agreed to by the couple. The couple needs to immediately work out roles, rules, responsibilities and respect. What are the children’s expected behaviors, manners and duties in this house – whether they are just visiting or living at home. For example, “we say the couple decides on the house rules, the biological parent disciplines, whenever possible, and the stepparent reminds, ‘in this house your dad/mom and I have decided that…”
- Recognize that the stepfamily will not and cannot function as a biological family. Don’t try to place the expectations and dynamics of the biological family onto the stepfamily. That’s like trying to play chess using the rules of checkers. Stepfamilies are JUST that much more complex.
- Sexual bonds and blood bonds are often in conflict. In the intact family the couple “pulls together” for the sake of their child. In a stepfamily there often exists a conflict as to who comes first – my child or my sexual partner?
- What we call the conflict of loyalties follows right on the heels of the opposing forces of blood and sex. However, it involves more of the extended stepfamily. The child often feels, “If I like my stepparent, then I am not loyal to my biological parent.” The conflict of loyalties goes all the way around in the nuclear and extended stepfamily.
- Recognize that he has had many more years playing father to them than lover to you. You may have to make allowances, give him time. Remember that there are limits. You are the adult and are to be treated as such. He is their father, and to be treated with respect. Counseling will enable you to define them realistically.
- Competition often occurs between a new love and his children. You may feel like you are directly competing with them. You may be. Remember the couple comes first.
- If you are close in age he may treat you like one of the children. This diminishes your authority, and his too. Gently, point out how he does that. Get an agreement between both of you.
- He feels the need to "catch up" when they are together. Usually he feels that he has not had enough time with his children. Guilt may be the motivating factor. Discuss and agree on expectations about time spent with you and time spent with his children.
- The issue of money, the "buy me, do me" wants of the children, plus the allocation of money in general may come as a "negative surprise." Talk about it in a "non blaming" way.
- Guard your sense of humor and use it.
Reprinted with the permission of the Stepfamily Foundation. © 2008, Stepfamily. All rights reserved.
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