For many women, Mother’s Day is a happy time—a time to be recognized and praised by husbands and a day when “her children rise and called her blessed.” It’s a day of reflection and gratitude for the woman who basks in the gift of motherhood.
Yet, for other women, Mother’s Day is painful. It’s a day that serves as a reminder of what never was or never will be. Most of these women walk through the valley of infertility or have suffered at the hands of miscarriage.
For others that fall into this category, this day is painful because they haven’t had the chance to become a mother—simply because they would like to have married years ago, and there is no suitor in sight.
Thankfully, the church is having conversations that breed sensitivity toward the women who fall into these categories. And that is great news.
But there is another group of women who find Mother’s Day to be particularly difficult, or at the very least, awkward. They are a relatively silent, yet growing number of women.
They are stepmothers.
My friend and stepfamily expert Laura Petherbridge explains this quite plainly: “Mother’s Day can be such a painful day for a stepmother, because she has all of the hard work associated with the mother role—helping with homework, cooking, carpooling, financial strain—but doesn’t have the ‘perks,’ like love, loyalty and devotion that come along with being a biological mom.”
In my seven-year experience as a stepmom, Mother’s Day isn’t as much painful as it is awkward. For example, when someone wishes me a happy Mother’s Day, I am torn between offering a simple “thank you” and going into a full blown explanation of my situation.
After all, there is nothing simple about being a stepmom.
The Mother’s Day church service can get particularly awkward for those of us stepmoms who do not have any children of our own. On that particular morning, well meaning pastors ask all mothers to stand and be recognized.
Moments like this put us in a quandary: If we stand, we feel like frauds because we are not real moms. If we stay seated, we feel guilty because it may send the message to our husbands—and to others in the congregation—that we don’t want to claim our stepchildren.
I am thankful to have positives in my situation that are not present in other stepfamilies. I have a good relationship with my teenaged stepsons. And their mother and I don’t just get along; we have developed a friendship over the years. I am grateful for such blessings.
However, stepfamily life—even mine—is still complicated. Here are some ways the church can minister to stepmoms (and stepfamilies, in general) on Mother’s Day—and beyond.
1. Acknowledge our roles
This can vary from church to church, but I have found that there are people who are afraid of saying “stepmom” or “stepdad.” They just don’t know what to do with us. But we live in a fallen world where people divorce and people die. Don’t be afraid to use honest language, as long as it doesn’t tear down or destroy.
Also, please understand that you may get a complicated answer when you ask, “How many kids do you have?” When I get that question, my answer is, “I have two stepsons.” Most stepmoms don’t have an answer that tidy, as many of them brought children of their own into the marriage. And some of those have had additional children with their current spouse.
In acknowledging their role, there must be understanding as you learn about the stepfamilies in your church. There are no simple answers, because—again—there is nothing simple about stepfamily dynamics.
2. Sympathize with our struggles
As you grow to understand the stepfamilies in your church, you can minister to them by sympathizing with their struggles.
Stepfamilies have unique challenges. One example of this is holidays. Holidays are often the most stressful times in the life of a stepfamily. For the biological parent, this is especially difficult because they are without their children, depending on the sharing arrangements. And if the blended family couple does not have other family in their lives, or nearby, these times can prove especially lonely.
By getting to know the stepfamilies in your church, you have a window into struggles like this one. And in doing so, the opportunity to minister presents itself. Perhaps there is a lonely blended family couple in your church without their kids at the holidays that could benefit from an invitation to your home this Thanksgiving or Christmas.
3. Include us, don’t single us out
Those of us who are in Christ, and who are also stepparents, possess spiritual gifts just like married couples in a traditional family.
The tendency is to segregate according to life stage. When it comes to church life, I have observed that stepparents get similar treatment as singles. Singles are often relegated to their own exclusive singles ministry, but they have so much to bring to the table when it comes to ministry and serving alongside married adults, children, seniors and students.
While I believe that there should be targeted ministry to stepfamilies within the church, we should not be singled out when it comes to serving. We are members of the Body of Christ, and we have a role to play.
Along the way, we will probably stumble upon someone else who is struggling through stepfamily life, and through our experiences, “we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).