Mother’s Day is this Sunday! Are you ready?

Mother’s Day, divorce, and the fractured family

Divorce_Mothers dayI thought I’d covered just about everything regarding Mothers Day–but I forgot about how many families are celebrating Mother’s Day in a political minefield, caught between the mother who gave birth to them and the stepmother who is married to their fathers. A stepmother anguishes over Mother’s Day here:

(CNN) — Mother’s Day is a sad occasion for many, but not all of the 15 million U.S. stepmothers who have stepchildren under the age of 18.

As it approaches, I am reminded how disappointed and hurt I used to be when my stepdaughter didn’t acknowledge me on this day. From the time I married my husband when my stepdaughter was only 4 years old, I always felt she viewed me as his wife rather than as a stepmother. […]

Being wished a Happy Mother’s Day by my parents and friends also felt bad. How could I sincerely accept their considerate remarks when my stepdaughter didn’t recognize or appreciate my efforts in this capacity? I felt fraudulent as a stepmother.

Thankfully, my feelings have changed and, now I am in a better place where I accept and understand why my stepdaughter will not reach out to me on Mother’s Day. I just wish other stepmothers wouldn’t have to go through similar or far worse emotional distress. […]

These other stepmothers intuitively knew how I felt, and this made me feel much better even though my situation did not actually change.

These women also helped me understand that my desire to be acknowledged by my stepdaughter on Mother’s Day was not unreasonable, but it might be too much for her to give me. They helped me understand the dilemma that many stepchildren face on Mother’s Day.

Their loyalties may lie with their mother, and they believe she will be offended if they acknowledge their stepmother. I respect my stepdaughter’s love for her mother, and never want her to feel any loyalty binds.

So, I worked on developing a thicker skin to shield myself from being hurt.

Where do I even begin?

I know people who still, as adults, suffer the pain of their parents’ divorce and subsequent remarriage, no matter how young they were when their parents decided that their wedding vows were only temporary and non-binding, instead of permanent and lasting. I know people who fear relationships because of what they endured when their parents divorced, people who are permanently and deeply scarred and emotionally wounded by the example of their no-longer-married parents and those parents’ new partners. I know people who lie awake after the slightest marital tiff worrying that the next sounds they hear will be the front door slamming and the car driving away, as their husband or wife repeats the pattern of abandonment and betrayal that they learned from Mom and Dad and stepmom and stepdad. Knowing these things, I tend not to have a great deal of sympathy for the stepmother who thinks she should be treated like the child’s mother and honored and celebrated on Mother’s Day.

Sure, there are times when that sort of honoring might be appropriate–the woman who marries a widower, for instance, and raises his children with cheerful love for them is certainly entitled to such considerations, as is the adoptive mother who is often the only mother her children will know. But let’s be honest: divorce is a messy, ugly, life-shattering business, and expecting children to shower both Mom and Stepmom with cards and flowers on Mother’s Day is expecting far too much.

We like to maintain the fiction that divorce is no big deal, that children don’t suffer much–and anyway, they’re resilient–that it’s better for children to bounce between the homes of two sets of adults who are in good relationships with each other than to stay in an intact home that is less than perfect. But holidays, in particular, have a way of dissipating that fiction like fog on a hot morning–Hallmark ™ holidays certainly, but even more so the big ones like Thanksgiving and Christmas, when happy families are supposed to gather in joyful peace, goodwill, and love, but fractured families end up with a “game plan” that is more complicated than the campaign plans of most Republican presidential hopefuls these days, and that keeps them hopping from one holiday event to another while remaining silent about the time they spent with The Enemy side.

So perhaps some stepmothers feel left out on Mother’s Day. Perhaps they instinctively feel the ordinarily-hidden hostility their stepchildren have, as they wish silently for the millionth time that Mom and Dad could have made things work. Perhaps these few days on the calendar are a reminder that the “happy divorce” is a fairy tale adults like to tell themselves to ease their guilt. And perhaps that’s not something that needs to change.


About The Author

Red cardigan is a Catholic. Period. Not to be confused with “I’m Catholic, but…” I’m conservative. Not Republican. Yes, there is a difference. I’m a homeschooling mom. No, I don’t know any good crafts. Crafts at my house end with something glued somewhere it shouldn’t be. All my art is abstract, if ‘lumpy’ is synonymous with ‘abstract.’ I write because…well, I like this quote from Mason Cooley, “Writing about an idea frees me of it. Thinking about it is a circle of repetitions.”

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