How to LOVE or just survive Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

by Amy  - April 25, 2022

Mother’s Day in the US is in May.

This holiday can be a complicated holiday for some people. I am one of those people. Mother’s Day is a complicated day for me.

On the flip side other people don’t understand this complication – they are completely unaware of the challenges.

I have a complicated relationship with my own mom.

Not so unusual … I know. 

Grab my book, Blend! by Amy Stone

As a result of my own situation, I don’t think I have any good childhood memories of Mother’s Day. None. Not a single one. I know — boohoo for me. I’m not asking for sympathy. This makes me sympathetic to people who are not huge fans of this celebration.

As a young adult I think I probably ignored Mother’s Day completely.  

Then poof in my 20s I was a stepmom and then a mom and Mother’s Day was seemed an unavoidable part of my world.

As a stepmom without my own kids it wasn’t complicated. I didn’t expect anything we made sure the kids had presents for their mom and spent time with our moms.

Once I became a mom — bizarrely Some things about the holiday did begin to make me a little cranky. Mostly that included when I was asked to drag my small kids to a crowded restaurant and pretend that we were all happy about that. I wasn’t happy and before you write me about this – I don’t do that anymore.

I thought that me being a little cranky was just me being a little cranky. It happens. I didn’t put much thought into it.

How I first learned that other people don’t love Mother’s Day

Then I learned that a long time friend of mine took a long weekend for herself over mother’s day. When I learned this story and the backstory around why I will admit this changed how I thought about this holiday and also perhaps more important – how I approached it for myself and for others. 

I learned that my friend went away for the entire weekend of Mother’s Day by herself and cut off all contact with pretty much everything for that entire long weekend. The reason my friend does this is that her daughter died years before. Exposure to people celebrating being moms is very upsetting to her. She shields herself and protects herself from this pain but putting some distance between her and the world. 

Hers is a tragic story. It’s a story that I knew. I had just never thought about how it would impact her on Mother’s Day.

This kind of story is not altogether uncommon. It’s also worth noting that not all women who have experienced tragedy in this way react this way to this holiday. Each of us is different. 

This is why it’s important that we talk about it. For this woman who is my friend she is the first person who I learned really struggled with Mother’s Day. This is not uncommon. 

Situations where a person might feel that Mothers Day is no fun

Mother’s Day can really be a tough day if it makes you feel like you are not deserving of being a part of the celebration. This is because its purpose is to celebrate and highlight a specific group of people – which automatically excludes everybody else. 

Who might feel yucky on Mother’s Day… hold onto your seats folks because this is a long list. 

  • People struggling to conceive or battling infertility
  • People estranged from their mothers
  • People who were adopted 
  • People who have experienced miscarriages or other sudden or unpleasant endings to pregnancy including termination or stillbirth.
  • Children currently in foster care 
  • People whose moms are ill or deceased
  • Women who are pregnant and may be unsure of that in their life
  • Mothers who have lost children or whose children are sick
  • Mothers whose children are estranged or just separated by long distance like those in active military service who may be unable to be in contact
  • Single people who are unmarried that wish they were married
  • Married people who are childless who either feel judgment about that decision or wish they had children
  • Mothers of children who battle addiction or mental health issues or who are incarcerated
  • People who are unable to engage in a frivolous celebration because their current finances or life situation just make that tough.
  • Anybody in a non-traditional family caregiver role which includes stepmoms.

I probably forgot some here. There are undoubtedly circumstances and situations that I am unaware of due to my own unconscious bias. Because it’s unconscious I am unaware. So if I didn’t list something – please let me know.

It is wonderful and loving to celebrate people in our lives who we love and appreciate. In many instances this also shines a light where not everybody may want to focus. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate. It just might be a good idea to be aware that not everybody feels the same way.

I support stepmoms and stepdads so this is a big reason that I’m writing this article. 

Why do we celebrate Mothers Day?

My mom used to call this a greeting card holiday. She said that some holidays just exist to sell greeting cards.

I don’t know if people even buy greeting cards anymore but there is a nugget of truth in here. 

Holidays are invented. At some point somebody will say … we should celebrate this. If you can get enough people to agree then… POOF… you get a holiday. 

The history behind this holiday is that in the early 1900s a woman named Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her dead mother and the sacrifices that all mothers make for children. 


So … even to start the idea could be said to be a little on the grim side.

The next part of the history aligns with why it can be so aggravating. Jarvis later spoke out against the holiday because she felt it became too commercially focused. 

This was way back in the early 1900s … can you imagine what she would say if she could see the holiday today? 

The socialization and commercial expectation of Mother’s Day

Socialization is simply the process by which we as humans pick up ideas about what is normal in our society.

We learn this from the group that surrounds us. It can change as we shift our group.

If you grow up surrounded by people who shower mom’s with flowers and food on a Sunday in May you learn that’s what is done. It’s normal – it’s a custom – it’s what we do. Sometimes societal norms can obscure details. We don’t see them because we aren’t looking. 

The people who push the commercialized glamorized celebration of mothers on a day in May are businesses. Restaurants, flower sellers, balloon sellers, card sellers and so forth. 

Some of these are small businesses and some are large businesses. 

You might very much enjoy supporting businesses like this.

I think it’s helpful to reflect on this. Depending on your views of the world you may or may not change how you feel about the holiday simply based on the idea that it’s a commercialized holiday. I do just want to offer a thought to consider, which is that you can choose how you want to see this day and how you may want to celebrate it for yourself. I think this about a lot of holiday celebrations especially in blended families.

Story Time

I tell this story all the time because I think it’s cute. This is my memory of the events. There are other people involved – it is possible that they will remember this slightly differently.

My stepson was born in May – his exact birthday doesn’t always fall on Mother’s Day but usually very close and it’s connected in his mind and his mom’s too.

I was dating my husband and he and his ex were navigating their new to them custody arrangement. They were not having big issues or anything – it was just new because they had only been divorced a little over a year.

I was not even a very serious girlfriend when this happened. I was a bossy, 20-something know it all.

I discovered that my boyfriend was a little frustrated because his ex was asking for a change in the custody plan. He wanted to stick to the plan – because it was the plan – that’s the point of a plan, to follow it.  The plan did not include a provision for this holiday so the standard weekend rotation would have the kids with him over Mother’s Day. The conflict was that the mom – his ex was hoping to have the kids with her on Mother’s Day. 

I want to restate how much of a nobody I was when this happened. Not a wife. Not a lawyer. Not a mom. Not even a serious girlfriend. 

As the bossy person I am, I just piped up and said… I think you should let her have the kids for mothers day. 

He said, why? 

I said, because it’s Mother’s day and it means a lot to her. She wants to be with the kids and I bet the kids want to be with her.

He did not at the moment particularly want to embrace my opinion. I don’t remember what he told me but something along the lines with that it was none of my beeswax. 

That was absolutely accurate. I wasn’t really involved in this scenario at all. I wasn’t a part of his family. I cannot stress enough how inappropriate it was at the time for me to add my opinion to their family discussion. 

I did it anyway.

He grumbled for a while and then he let it go. I remember sitting on his couch later when he called his ex. This was in the days of cordless wall phones. I was sitting on the couch – he was standing in the kitchen and I hear him say, “ my girlfriend thinks you should have the kids with you on Mother’s Day.”

Which is accurate. But also my heart pounded a little because he was kind of throwing me under the bus a little – eh? 

Fast forward 20 years and we went on to get married and today I have a lot of training in conflict resolution and working with a whole variety of families on custody communication. 

This may not work in all families. I’m not suggesting this as a rule for all blended families. It did happen to work in this situation. 

I want to share with you why I had this opinion at the time. 

My instinct at the time as a young lady who knew nothing about very much was simply based on my personal experience living as a child of divorced parents. My parents had a very contentious and litigious divorce and custody battle. They lived hundreds of miles away from each other. My mother suffers from a mental health condition that made her unable to be my primary caregiver for a lot of my life. The struggle with holidays was tough. I can remember being with my dad on Mother’s Day.  I remember making things for mom in school and not being with her. I remember being embarrassed to tell my teachers and friends that I had no way to give my mom those gifts. In my personal case, there wasn’t another option. For my stepkids it was a pretty easy switch at the time I thought was a good idea for the parents and kids.

Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

There are no rules about how you might want to celebrate or not celebrate this day as a Stepmom. 

Blended families come in many different forms. You may be a stepmom in a family where the biological mom is a big part of her children’s life or you might not.

Some stepmom’s feel left out on this day. Some stepmoms will feel jealous of the attention biological parents get on this day. That may or may not be followed by guilt.

You may be in a family where the biomom is not a big part of your stepchildren’s life for a whole variety of reasons. This may bring up complicated emotions for you as a stepmom and also for the children in the situation.

You may be in blended family where there is a lot of aggression and conflict from a former spouse or extended family about your presence in the family. That may feel extra yucky on Mother’s Day.

Whatever your situation is I simply hope to support you in your journey to hopefully find a way to feel calm, supported and loved on this day in a way that works for you and your family.

My simple thinking on how to enjoy Mother’s Day as a stepmom 

An oversimplification of the key to happiness can be as said as putting yourself in a position where you want what you have. 

I didn’t come up with that idea. It was on my sheets when I was a little girl. They were Snoopy cartoons and one said happiness is wanting what you have.

Nonetheless, my imperfect strategy for situations like this that I am happy to offer you is to think about what you would enjoy on the holiday and then go about creating it for yourself. 

A second thing I will say about this. This is my own personal creed. Somebody else’s happiness is just not worth my sadness or misery. If people are asking you to do things that make you miserable, it’s okay to say, “I love you. But, no thank you.”

Gifts on Mother’s Day

Some people give big gifts on Mother’s Day. I will share a little bit about my thoughts on gifts … just understand that these are just my personal thoughts and you may or may not agree which is perfectly fine.

Before I was a mom I thought that homemade Mother’s Day gifts were lame. 

As a stepmom and a mom I completely reversed my opinion on this. 

There’s nothing I treasure more than imperfect school-made gifts that came with a hug. That surprised me about myself. 

I think I might generally be a little weird about gifts. I find that I generally reject holidays that tell me I need to buy things on that specific day. I will also admit that I am a total hypocrite because I do not feel this way about birthday gifts or Christmas / Hanukkah gifts. 

That’s just me. I am not suggesting that anybody take on my personal attitudes about gifting or receiving gifts.

How does this relate to Mother’s Day?

After I had kids my husband’s mom asked him what she should get me for mother’s day. He then asked me and I said, “why would your mom get me a gift?”

He looked at me with surprise and said, “Because you are a mom.” I responded, “But, I’m not her mom.”

We’ve had several versions of this conversation. 

And here’s a thing about this story. It includes my mother-in-law but I want to clearly say that she is a loving and generous person who enjoys giving gifts. I consider myself lucky to be in her family. 

I am perhaps a bit of a weirdo about gifts. This is about me and it probably is very connected to the fact that my mom and her family had a conditional concept of gift giving in her family and I’ve had to work to overcome that. 

As a result I don’t expect my stepkids to buy me gifts for Mother’s day – because I’m not their mom. When they were little after the divorce their dad did help them get gifts for their mom – now those kids are adults and they do it themselves. 

My stepkids might send me a text on mother’s day  – which is nice. I do love to hear from them. 

While I didn’t personally experience anguish about this I do understand that many stepmoms do feel stress around  this. I honor that. 

What I offer is … do what makes you happy and try not to feel pressured to do things you don’t want to. 

Meals on Mothers Day

Did you know that Mothers day is the biggest revenue day of the year for restaurants? I think it’s true. Here’s a source for this random trivia.

Why is this? Is it because in our patriarchal society it’s a mom’s role to cook? So to celebrate them we let the mom’s not cook. Perhaps.

When you read that does it sound silly? 

In my personal opinion it is dumb that we put the burden of cooking mostly on women. It’s also dumb that we think that one meal out each year would make up for that. 

More directly to me and my personal annoyance with eating out on Mother’s Day it means that the restaurants are all super crowded and annoying on this day. 

Which is why several years ago when I had little kids and I found myself chasing toddlers around a fish restaurant after fighting with the kids to get dressed and generally having a terrible time I decided that eating out was not what I wanted to do on Mothers Day. 

Interestingly, this created a little bit of conflict in my family because my husband and his mom prefer to eat out any day of the year. They did eventually come around to accepting my choice of what I wanted to do on Mother’s Day. 

That’s how I’ll end this today. 

What I will say next might seem a little dramatic but this is my true feeling. 

It’s not my job to make anybody else happy. Not even my mom or my mother-in-law on Mother’s Day. If I really don’t want to go to a crowded restaurant with small kids because it makes me miserable I don’t have to do that because it makes me miserable and I don’t choose to do things when I know they make me miserable. It’s also not anybody else’s job to make me happy. That’s my job for myself and one way I can do that is by being clear on what makes me happy and speaking up for myself. 

When I began to embrace this I got so much happier. When I got happier so did the people who live with me.

We only get this one big beautiful life. I think it’s worth it to make that experience as wonderful as we can for ourselves and for our families. 

What you can do if Mother’s Day bums you out

If this day bums you out I encourage you to lean in a little bit to figure out why that might be.

Once you have an inkling. Then I might suggest working on that to attempt disempower the outside influence. This is something a life coach or therapist may be able to help with. 

This is especially helpful if you might be craving praise or acknowledgement because of the word mom. If you can get to the point where it’s a word that you can choose to embrace or not and it’s a holiday that you can choose to celebrate or not then you may find yourself more empowered and in control of regulating your emotions.

Here’s what I mean. I am aware that I don’t love this holiday in all its iterations and because I’ve done a lot of personal work on my relationship with my mom, my idosynchrases with being able to give and receive gifts. understanding my own self and my brain and how it works I can participate in this day in a way that I enjoy. I can see things that I don’t love and they don’t bother me as much as they once did.

That being said. 

You can and may want to opt out of Mother’s Day completely. I support this for whomever needs it with my whole heart. ((hug)) 

Many companies are even speaking up and offering an option to not receive mother’s day themed promotions. Which is nice. I wish it wasn’t needed but it is nice.

If you have a lot of emotion and pain that comes up on this day. Log out of your email. Turn off your computer and your phone. Go somewhere remote and choose to be away from the influx of media and pressure that swells up on this weekend. Take care of yourself. Love yourself and know that there are people like me who support you in this decision.

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent

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Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created

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