April 30, 2013
By Judy Hevrdejs
Mother’s Day should be simple. Dad helps kids make homemade cards and serve mom breakfast in bed. Or everybody takes her to brunch and calls it a day.
Hold on, you say, that doesn’t sound anything like your family’s celebration.
Your family has multiple “moms.” Maybe stepmoms, grannies, stepgrannies, great-grannies plus an aunt or two.
This proliferation of mother figures is not surprising, with divorce, remarriage and longevity part of the equation. But it means that Mother’s Day can completely overwhelm kids faced with so many moms jockeying for attention.
Helping kids navigate the challenge, experts say, is best handled when parents sort out their own issues with all these “moms” long before Mother’s Day.
“It is OK for a child who has a mom and a stepmom to feel connected to both. If they are competing with each other, then it is the adults who put that kid in a terrible triangle,” says professor Evan Imber-Black, director of marriage and family therapy in the school of social and behavioral sciences at New York’s Mercy College. “What kind of relationships do they value their child having? … One would hope that a kid can have two or sometimes more than two grandmothers and grandparents. That’s a good thing. These are people who bring new resources into a child’s life.”
By addressing such issues early in the marriage or divorce process, she says, “you can save yourself a ton of grief later if you can say, ‘You know what? The more people that love my child the better.’
“Unless you’re talking about somebody who is totally evil — and let’s hope they’re not — you can manage,” says Imber-Black. “For children, particularly in terms of their biological parents, they need a way to experience that they are connected to these people even if they don’t see them very often, and they don’t need to have them bad-mouthed by other grown-ups in their midst, which happens unfortunately all too much when there are divorces.”
And parents bad-mouthing their parents in front of the kids has consequences too.
“When parents say negative things about their own parents in front of the children, it puts them in a sibling relationship with their children and also diminishes the dignity of their relationship with their parent, which invites their child, unwittingly, to diminish the authority and the dignity of their own parents,” says parenting expert Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and author of “The Blessing of a B Minus” and “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” (both Scribner).