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Stepmother's Day

Special family days highlight the differing bonds between biological parents, stepparents, and children.
By Ron L. Deal

If there is one day of the year that can trigger elation or sadness for a stepmom, it’s usually Mother’s Day. And while stepfathers often find Father’s Day awkward, children and grandparents may find both days very uncomfortable.

Conference speaker and stepmom Laura Petherbridge tells how her husband wants to honor her on Mother’s Day for loving his kids, but he isn’t always sure how. She writes in our book The Smart Stepmom, “My stepsons call and wish me ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ but we both know I’m not their mom, so it feels awkward. I do not expect my stepsons to honor me on Mother’s Day—because I’m NOT their mom. However, I do desire for my husband to do something nice, such as brunch, as a gesture of gratitude for all the years of working toward building a bridge with his kids.”

Laura is most certainly not alone. A couple of years ago I posted a question: Do you think stepparents should be acknowledged on Mother’s and Father’s Day? The responses poured in, more than for any other question. Danielle wrote, “God put those adults in the lives of those children to be a parental figure. To exclude them is just wrong; it's almost like a slap on the face. Not acknowledging them is ignoring the part they play in those children's lives and not recognizing God's ways for that family.”

Everyone else also agreed that stepparents should be acknowledged, but doing so was often awkward for the entire family.

Relational tensions

Special family days highlight the differing bonds between biological parents, stepparents, and children. Everyone feels the tension when a stepfather tries to carve the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time (and perhaps the tenth) when that role was previously reserved for the father. It just doesn’t feel right. Similarly, Mother’s and Father’s Day will bring to the forefront any ongoing relational tensions within a stepfamily.

A child, for example, may feel that a parent who stands up at church when mothers are honored is trying to take his mother’s place. A stepparent, on the other hand, who has all the pain, frustrations, negative emotions, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent—but none of the joys—may feel slighted for not receiving a greeting card. As one stepmom put it, “I get all the grief of parenting but I don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom.”

What can families do?

Specific advice on how to honor the stepparent in your family depends on how accepted he or she is within the home. This is a function of time and relationship; the more bonded the stepparent, the more celebratory the family can be. Here are some suggestions to consider.

  • Biological parents can spend the day with the stepparent. Treat him or her like a king or queen; lavish the stepparent with something they really like. Remember to tell them that you recognize that their role is not easy, and that you appreciate how hard they work at caring for your children.

  • Don’t force your child to do something special for the stepparent on Mother’s or Father’s Day. He may feel it is dishonoring his mother or father to show appreciation to the stepparent. This will depend greatly on how the former spouse responds to the stepparent.

  • On the other hand, if children feel comfortable giving a gift to the stepparent, encourage them to do so. One stepmom wrote, “My first Mother’s Day his girls took me out for breakfast. While we were eating they gave me a beautiful card, with wording that was extremely touching. It brought tears to my eyes and I started to cry. The youngest, age 14, also started to cry as well. She really made me feel special by recognizing my deep feelings on Mother’s Day.”

What can churches do?

For many of you reading this, the most important action you can take is to share with your pastor how difficult Mother’s and Father’s Day is for stepparents. Educate them on how frequently stepparents dread going to church that day because of the way it is handled. Elains says, “The way our pastor says ‘mothers,’ you know he only means those by birth. He has the women come forward, and then he prays a blessing upon them. As a stepmom this has always been an awkward moment for me.”

For years I have encouraged church leaders to acknowledge all caregivers of children—foster parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, and stepparents—on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Just use the word stepmom, for example, and you validate her as an important caregiver in her home and remind stepchildren that they too should give her thanks for what she does. It may not seem like much, but a simple word from the pulpit on Sunday goes a long way.



Educate your pastor

It may be obvious to you how confusing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are for both children and parents in stepfamilies, but it is far from the minds of most pastors. However, it is my experience that once enlightened, many pastors are more than willing to acknowledge stepparents as they never have before.

  • To educate them, give them a copy of this article prior to Mother’s Day so they can plan out their words.

  • Perhaps take them to lunch and share your heart for stepfamilies.

Pastors: What you can say

1. Special family days present a perfect opportunity for you to communicate awareness of the complexities of people’s lives and grace for their circumstances (foster dads or stepmothers, for example).

2. Consider utilizing these words as a way of connecting with and affirming the stepparents in your church and community: “This morning is Mother’s Day, a time to honor God’s gift we call ‘mom.’ If you are a mother, a stepmother, an adoptive mother, or a foster mother would you please stand so we can honor you this morning?”

Adapted from The Smart Stepmom © 2009 by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge. Bethany House Publishers.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 

Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit and 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g.,,, in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.



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