When Being a Nice Stepmother Is Not Enough: 7 Steps to Enjoying Your Stepchild’s Graduation

“I know that no matter what I will say or do Corey’s biological mother will refuse to include me in his graduation ceremony and party. I have been married for 9 years now and helped raise my  stepson but his mother refuses to acknowledge my involvement in his life. Please help. What should I do?” asked Kelly with great sadness.

Unfortunately, this is a common issue.  Stepfamilies facing life’s milestones, like graduation, experience a great deal of anxiety.  It’s made worse when the relationship between two households is challenged due to an insecure parent feeling threatened by a stepparent.  Your goal is to celebrate the occasion.  If the parent resists your efforts to coordinate joint plans, simply make plans without them.

Consider the following steps to help you and your stepfamily enjoy your child’s graduation celebration.

  • Assess, with your spouse, the maturity, congeniality, and flexibility of all who would potentially be involved with a joint celebration with the other biological parent’s household. This will help you decide whether a joint event can succeed.
  • Separate feelings from behavior.  Your feelings inform you, but you choose whether and how to react to them.  Do not act out all of them.  Even your positive feelings can seed strife.  E.g., carefully decide whether to hug your stepchild in front of his biological mother, first evaluating how she will react.
  • Dine with the other household, if possible. A graduation dinner is a great way to celebrate this life’s landmark. Invite your extended family and friends to help diffuse potential tensions between the adults of the two households.
  • Buy a joint gift with the other household.  This is a good option, but not a must. If you can reach an amicable decision in a short conversation or e-mail, do it. Otherwise, gift separately.
  • Attend the graduation ceremony. Many schools offer a limited number of tickets.  You may get some extra tickets if you explain your stepfamily situation to the school. If you still don’t have enough tickets, prioritize.  The immediate biological family and grandparents need to be included; only then the stepfamily members can be invited.
  • Host a party for your graduate. Invite the biological mother only if both you and your husband are comfortable with her presence and behavior in your home.
  • Appreciate the biological mother’s efforts to make this milestone meaningful and happy.

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