It's a new generation, and blended families are the new norm. This realization struck me yesterday, when my stepdaughter, a third-grader, relayed the details of her day at school.
Preparing for the upcoming Mother's Day celebration, her teacher passed out construction paper, scissors and crayons, instructing the children to create an invitation for their mothers to come to the classroom to celebration Mother's Day. Our child's hand immediately shot up. "What if you have two mommies?" Wait. Stares? Awkward pause? Not at all. In our child's classroom, many of her friends have a mom, a dad, a stepmom and a stepdad. And some even have ... wait for it ... two mommies or two daddies!? To her teacher's credit, without missing a beat, she handed out a second set of materials to any student with multiple moms. On the way home from school, I was proudly presented with the handmade, purple invitation, with a personal sentiment written inside. My eyes welled-up. She'll never know (at least not at this age) how much her gesture meant to me. Her genuineness in wanting to include me... right along side of her "real" mom... made me realize that my role as "extra mom," "bonus mom," or any other term of endearment means something.
A decade ago, there was no dedicated holiday acknowledging the role step parents play in blended families. No Sunday brunches, no flowers, and no colorful cartoon ties wrapped up and presented to simply say, "I love you." For many stepmoms and stepdads, Mother's Day and Father's Day were just two Sundays every year, where awkwardness and exclusion merely highlighted their undefined role within the family unit. However, September 16th has now been dubbed, "Step Family Day," which is a special day created and reserved to appreciate and recognize the importance of stepparents in blended families.
I am a stepmom to three children, with no biological children. Once a year, on every Mother's Day, I face a dilemma: Do I split the day with my childrens' mother thereby interrupting her special day with her children (and their special day with her), or, do I insist that they spend the entire day with her thereby missing the opportunity to feel special myself? Let me state at the outset of this article that there's no correct or incorrect answer here. However, I am curious about how others have tackled this problem.
In the past, I've done it both ways. On one Mother's Day, I intentionally traveled out-of-state to visit and spend the day with my own mother. On another Mother's Day, when our timeshare with the kids happened to fall on a day when they were at our house, they spent the morning and afternoon with their mom, but then came home to have dinner with us. On my very first Mother's Day of all, and the one I remember best, we both (bio-mom and I) spent the day with the kids because our son was in the hospital with a sudden appendicitis attack! Welcome to Motherhood!
There are many variations and endless possibilities to how Mother's and Father's Days could be spent. But, is there a particular way that they should or must be spent? While many divorce decrees and marital settlement agreements have provisions addressing that Mother's Day is reserved for the mother and Father's Day is reserved for the father, few consider stepparents in the timeshare schedule. With today's blended families and blurred lines around what defines the family unit, is such an overt exclusion still in the best interests of the children? As a divorce coach , family law mediator, and stepmom, I am sensitive to the conflicting feelings of the parents/stepparents and children/stepchildren involved. Every relationship is different, and for some, there may be no dilemma at all! But for those of us who struggle with offending the other parent or hurting the children, or for those children who love all of their parents equally, there are options that will allow everyone to celebrate and honor a loved-one and enjoy the Hallmark moment!
Consider the following:
• How do you react to managing holidays as a co-parent?
• What message do you think your actions communicate to your children? How do you think you are being perceived by your children?
• What Mother's and/or Father's Day traditions are observed by your family today? Are there new traditions that you could create that would be beneficial for your new family?
• Years after your divorce, does your Marital Settlement Agreement (or Final Judgment) still address time-sharing of holidays adequately? If you and/or your spouse now have new spouses, does the arrangement still fit your family needs?
Co-parenting is not limited to biological parents, so let's celebrate the love showered upon our children by all parents, either by including step parents in Mother's Day and Father's Day, or by encouraging our kids to acknowledge their stepparents on their own special day. For me, this Mother's Day will be celebrated in a third-grade classroom, surrounded by 9-year olds, their moms, their step moms, and most importantly, my stepdaughter.