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by Robert Klopfer, L.C.S.W., Co-Director

The second Sunday in May is a busy day for florists, confectioners, and restaurants. Mother's Day is as American as Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. For many women it is a day of reckoning, a day of apprehension. These are women who are caring and thoughtful. Some are full-time homemakers and full-time parents. They are women who care and support their children and the men who fathered them.. These women are stepmothers.

With the divorce (fifty percent) and remarriage rate (eighty percent) remaining steady for several years, American stepmoms are large in number and small in voice. Being a stepmother is the hardest job in a stepfamily. Especially if you are a full-time stepmom.

Some biological parents have limited contact with their children. Often they reclaim their children on Mother's and Father's Day. Many children feel a stronger case of loyalty conflict on these days. Children are not sure if their biological parent will understand their positive feelings for their stepmom. Most want to recognize both of the women who mean so much to them. Kids know we cannot have too many people who love us and care for us. But they are unsure of how Mom will react. Sometimes they fear hurting Mom. Sometimes their fears are real.

Stepmothers wait to see how Phillip or Trisha will treat them on this special day. Will they get a handmade card, a picked bouquet of wild-flowers, or a phone call? Will they be saluted or ignored? Will their stepchild find a way to show appreciation, something many children have a hard time doing. Will their consistent caring and support be acknowledged? Will they get a good grade this year?

Emotional dangers are always present on these Hallmark holidays. Being acknowledged is important to most of us, especially to stepparents. Teaching children to show caring and love allows them to give back a precious gift to the special adults who love and care for them. Celebrating on another weekend works just as well for some families. The date is secondary, the message is primary.

In newer stepfamilies these days may have some rough edges. Planning helps a lot. Understanding the needs of the child is always important. Taking the children out of the middle if loyalty issues arise is an act of love and compassion. Setting up realistic expectations to avoid disappointment makes sense. Having a partner with whom you share your feelings is a most significant advantage.

Many stepfamilies developed their own traditions over the years. One family that has been together for fifteen years uses the Saturday before Mother's and Father's Day as Stepparents Day. The stepmother and stepfather involved look forward to planning a dinner where they choose the menu and the now grown-up children bring gifts and cards.

Other families find their own style to recognize the non-biological parent in a significant way. And if the children are not around to celebrate on Mother's Day, a nice day out can be planned by the adults who frequently are couple-time-deprived. Stepfamilies need to have resourceful members who make the most of the comings and goings of the individuals who inhabit their family. When couples respond effectively, stepparents feel like they get a report card filled with "A"s.