Editorial: Greeting Card Companies- What About my Stepparents?

Greeting Card Companies: What About My Stepparents?

The fact that my Stepdad and Stepmom are always swept under the rug in retail greeting card aisles has not escaped me. It’s something that has bothered me for a long time. Here’s my take- what’s yours?

I visited a card shop last week on a mission to find four special Father’s Day cards. For my husband and for each of our dads, there were no shortage of options, from sappy to funny and everything in between. But, as with every occasion and holiday that ever comes up, I was disappointed while trying to find the last one.

For this fourth card, I had to search for quite some time and when I finally found it (yes “it”, as in, there was ONE option from which to “choose”), it wasn’t what I wanted. It was plain. Vague sounding. Boring. Ugly.

I go through this every time.

This ever-elusive card I was hoping to find is for my Stepdad. A man who has been with my mom since I was 4 years old, and who I lived with for most of those years until I got married, and who has tried his best to be a caring Father figure, not just to me but to his own 3 sons from a previous marriage. A man who puts my feelings first and invites my biological Dad and Stepmom (both of whom I adore) to his house for my sons’ annual family birthday party. In short, a man who deserves to get a heartfelt and appropriate card.

I’m not nitpicking here. Finding a great card for someone is a big deal. If it wasn’t, greeting cards wouldn’t be a billion dollar industry. Sometimes a card is your only way of communicating your feelings to someone, and finding just the right one can open doors, repair relationships, and express those deep down feelings that are always so hard to put into words. And for members of blended families it’s always slim pickings.

As it was last week. There were 27 columns of cards in this particular store’s Father’s Day section; each column with 12 rows of cards in it.

Just for kicks, let’s do some math…

27 × 12 = 324

That’s three hundred and twenty four cards that say “Dad”, “Daddy”, “Father”, or “Papa” and open up to Stepdad-inappropriate sentiments such as “You’ve always been there for me, since the day I was born…” or super-vague options like “Thanks… (on the outside) … for everything” (on the inside).

It’s getting old. Finding cards for Stepfamily is always challenging. I call my Stepdad Steve. I call my Stepmom Donna. I have never called them Dad or Mom.

Steve happened to be at my house when I wrote this- he comes over twice a week to play with my sons so I can work. I asked for his opinion and he said “To me, you’re either a Father or not a Father. It doesn’t matter if a Father is “Step” or not.” He also mentioned that he would prefer not to recieve a card that said “Stepfather” on it. I can understand why he feels that way, after being a fixture in my life since I was very young. Although I have never called him “Dad”, he feels “Stepdad” seems too informal. I asked my Mom about this as well and her thoughts were similar: “I don’t like the term “Step”, I don’t like how that sounds” she said. Maybe it’s that age-old stigma about Stepmothers of the Cinderella variety, but I know what she means.

 Admittedly, I can see where greeting card companies might have a challenging time coming up with a sensitive solution to the awkwardness that surrounds this dilemma. But how hard are they trying?

There are people like me who would prefer to see some cards that say “Stepmother” and “Stepfather” as alternate options, and there are others who don’t feel comfortable with the “Step” term at all. And of course, each blended family has its own comfort level with these terms, and with each other. There’s clearly no one-size-fits-all solution, but that doesn’t mean a solution shouldn’t exist. Perhaps in light of these differences, there could be multiple solutions. You know… options. Just like all the options available for traditional-style families.

I asked friend and fellow mom blogger Maureen Turner for her thoughts, and I LOVE her take on this:

Quote from Maureen Turner on stepfamilies

Beautiful relationships. In blended families? Absolutely. Can we please end that stigma that all blended families have strained and awkward lives together?

I would love to see a “blended families” category in the card shop with a variety of appropriate sentiments, organized in a discernable space. Card companies, if you’re reading this- I have slew of thoughtfully-written examples to share, because over the years I’ve had to write them myself. If your creative team can’t come up with any, talk to me.

 My point is, it’s doable. And if it’s doable, why is it not being done?

To further my research, I went to the mall (aside: how awesome is my job that going to the mall can constituteactual research??), in search of another card shop, and a better card.

There was a Hallmark store, so in I went. And kudos to them for making an effort- in their Father’s Day section, to my delight they had a new category: “Any Dad”. The “Any Dad” cards were simply stated, vague (on purpose, I presume, so they really could be suitable for anyone) and had ultra basic designs. As in, plain beige backgrounds with hand-drawn black images. Ok for someone who doesn’t want to share too much sentiment, and on the blah side, but it’s a start.

By the way: I counted again. I may or may not need to get a life.

This store had 504 different Father’s Day options. To break it down for the blended family set who may not want a card that says “Dad” or “Father” on it, there were:

  • 33 (plain / understated) “Any Dad” cards
  • 4 “to someone special” cards
  • 3 “you’re like a Father to me” cards; and
  • 3 actual “Stepdad” cards

So, someone like me had 43 options. Not too shabby, Hallmark- actually the best selection I’ve seen in a store to date. As I mentioned above though, it would be nice if they were organized into one discernable section (they were all randomly placed)- just like the Father, Grandfather, Uncle, Nephew, Son, and Brother sections that are, and always have been, there. Stepfathers, if I’m not mistaken, do also exist.

Also? Once again, most of these 43 cards were exceedingy simply stated, leaving much to be desired for those of us who want our loved ones to know how loved they are.

Since I was already there, I took my research to the birthday aisles. I scanned the cards carefully. Do you know how many Stepdad / Stepmom cards I found? Goose egg. Interestingly though, they did have a “unique needs” section with cards for Godparents, Great-Grandparents, “Aunties”, Nanas, Paw-Paws, In-Laws, neighbours and more uncommon titles. No step parents.

Why are card companies not doing enough to acknowledge blended families?

According to Stats Canada in this article there were 464,335 Stepfamilies in Canada in 2011. 12.6% of Canada’s families with children. That’s a large group of people being ignored.

Greeting card companies: Is it not in your best interest to sell more cards? Do you know how awkward it feels to hand your Stepmother a card that says “Mother” if you happen not to always call her Mother (or, for younger kids, cards that say “Mommy”), or, alternatively, how impersonal it feels to hand her one that says “To a Special Someone…”? She’s not my mom, and although she IS very special, she’s so much more than that. And she deserves better. My Stepdad deserves better.

Blended families deserve better.

What a disappointment it is to walk into a card store and, among multitudes of options, only be able to find one semi-appropriate card which you must settle for, or leave without.

When my Stepparents open their cards, I want them to be wowed. To feel special. To know I cared enough to make a sincere effort. I have yet to find a store-bought card that can do that.

This post isn’t just a rant, although it is one that’s been a long time coming for me. This post is a call to the card companies and the retailers out there to catch up. To get more creative, more thoughtful, more sensitive, more aware. To give blended families more options in the card store.

And while I’m at it, this is a call to other groups as well. While reading up on Stats Canada’s 2011 findings I also learned that study was their first (ever!!) formal count of stepfamilies . In 2011! Never once in my blogging life have I had the opportunity to say I was gobsmacked, but here it is: I was gobsmacked. I had to read it again, because seriously. This was the first time? I guess it was nice of them to finally include us.

Maybe I should send them a card.

 Does this happen to you, too? Do you know of another group being left out of the card aisles? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and welcome your comments- please share below!


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I founded Mums 'n Chums in 2009 after realizing that the area I live in was drastically underserviced as compared to surrounding areas for support and activities for growing families. Mums 'n Chums grew popular very quickly and I have been dedicated to nurturing that growth through frequent networking, social media engagement and in person meetups. By the end of its first year, Mums 'n Chums had close to 500 members and was receiving regular inquiries from fans outside of its service area, asking when we would be expanding to serve them as well. After much careful research and polling, I expanded the site in May of 2011 to cover the entire North end of the GTA (from Cambridge to Markham), areas I believe are still receiving far less attention than they deserve from other sites and family services. We also changed the focus from small scale local mom and tot meetups to more of an informative purpose, closing down our forum and adding several talented contributors to the blog. We do still offer several large scale family events per year, such as our popular Birthday Bash events and our Holiday Bash in December. Our contests have also become a member favourite, and we strive to offer amazing prizes from trusted brands like Babies R Us, La Roche Posay, Johnson's Baby and many more. In March of 2016, after months of work spent migrating all of the site's content to a new platform, Mums 'n Chums re-launched with its fresh, new look. The changes and expansion have proven a great success and we're still getting inquiries from several other cities within the Greater Toronto Area, whom we have decided to serve as well. I have built this site and its' reputation carefully and look forward to continuing its growth!