Special Event Survival Guide for Stepmoms: Advice for Managing Life’s Milestones With Dignity and Class By Brenda Snyder, LCSW
Before I became a stepmom, Spring was my favorite season. Tulips. Freshly-tilled earth awaiting farmers’ attention. Robins. Thunderstorms rolling in. The passing of cold Winter months and the anticipation of warm Summer days beckoned. And I willingly answered!
Until I realized what else came with Spring. First Communion. Mother’s Day. (That’s a different article entirely.) Senior recognition banquets. Graduations. Weddings. The common denominator of Spring became that which underlined my greatest insecurities: When it came to family events, I didn’t know my place.
And, so, I came to dread the very occasions which my husband and stepchildren so eagerly anticipated. I am not unusual in my experience. We stepmoms eventually figure out our household routines, as do our stepchildren. We get along, or don’t get along, in expected patterns. Everyone plays out what comes to be our normal, everyday roles in our stepfamilies.
Yet, the familiar vanishes when the big, one-time affairs arise. Each family member has a unique expectation of the anticipated occasion and no role is immune to the necessity of breaking out of regular patterns:
⊲ Biological parents are eager to celebrate milestones with their children.
⊲ The child may be excited for the day but must navigate between parents who may or may not be able to sit together or even speak civilly.
⊲ Siblings are aware of any existing tension and accommodate for it in either supportive or negative ways, depending on their relationships and coping skills.
Stepmoms are hit full in the face with the realization that—regardless of their place in the day-to-day grind—their contributions to stepfamily life are often largely ignored when landmark events take place. Fantasies about emotional displays of gratitude, or even quiet looks of acknowledgement, from their stepchildren go unfulfilled.
A stepmom is left wondering if she means anything to these children into whom she has poured so much of herself. It is unfortunate that we, therefore, must look to mere survival tips to make it through those occasions. It would be nicer to focus on centerpieces and party favors, but we are generally wise to prioritize our own emotional health before attending to the details of such celebrations.