Mother’s Day is next Sunday.
It’s supposed to be the day that we honor mothers, but it’s also a tough day for many people. My therapist says that, next to Christmas, it’s her busiest time of the year. I’ve spoken with many other people about this topic over the years, yet I struggled to write about it. I re-wrote this article three times. I worried this list was too depressing. I was afraid this list glossed over very painful subjects.
But the mother/child relationship is an emotionally-charged topic. Family dynamics are complex. It’s rarely all good or all bad.
It may seem like no one else is struggling, but that is not true. Understanding that there are others who are wrestling with the same issues can be a big step towards finding peace.
Even if you are feeling fine about May 8th, maybe some of your friends or family would identify with this list. If so, send a little extra love their way. A quick text or call to check in with them can make a huge difference.
It’s a complicated day, made even more tricky because of our expectations about what it should be.
Please remember, you are not alone if:
You wish you were a mother.
I know a lot of women who have struggled with infertility. They have gone to baby showers and children’s birthdays with a smile pasted on their face — and then come home and cried. This day can be a painful reminder that yet another year has gone by without a baby.
It’s hard to explain who your mother is.
Step-mothers, adopted mothers, mothers who couldn’t be a good mother, families with no mothers, mothers who checked out, and mothers who are no longer part of our lives. There may be a lot of emotional baggage, or perhaps just a backstory that you would rather not get into. There are also many families who have simply don’t fit into the “traditional” North American model. You may even feel that there is a woman in your life who deserves the title mother more than your biological mother.
You are grieving.
I don’t know if it makes much difference whether a mother left in the middle of the night to start a new life, or if she fought for her life until that last dying breath. The pain of losing a mother is deep, and my heart goes out especially to those who lost their mother this past year.
Some are secretly mourning a miscarriage or a baby that they felt they had to give away.
Some have had to attend their child’s funeral. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. I can’t imagine the painful reminder that this day is for those mothers.
You chose not to become a mother.
This is my category.
I will never have biological children, but I have many nephews and nieces that I love as if they were my own. For some of them, I am more like a second mother than an Auntie. Mother’s Day is bittersweet. I celebrate other mothers, knowing it will never be my turn. I’m okay with that, but I would be so happy if we could remove the stigma that still exists around not having children.
You have a strained relationship with your mother.
Sometimes old wounds have not yet healed.
Maybe she struggled to accept part of your identity. Maybe she couldn’t reconcile that you were different than her idea of a perfect child. Maybe her own pain was so great that she didn’t know the first thing about loving someone just as they are. Maybe she screamed at you, called you names, or worse. Maybe she didn’t protect you the way she was supposed to. How do you pick out a Mothers’ Day card when you are still struggling to heal past pain?
The mother/child relationship can also go through a dramatic shift in adult years—one that brings new challenges.
Did you know that children can have a biological reaction to a significant change in their mother’s behavior over the years? As babies, we are wired to recognize our own mothers. This helps to keep us safe. As we grow older, we still carry this impression of our mother with us. If she goes through a radical transformation (even if it’s for the better), we have a subconscious response to reject this “new” version of our mother. It’s like that children’s book, where the baby bird wanders around asking other animals, “Are you my mother?”
If you find yourself struggling to feel excited that your mother is extending the metaphorical olive branch, there’s biology behind that. The good news is that we can move past this initial response.
Finally, some mothers require extra attention as they age. More and more women find themselves part of the sandwich generation — caring for aging parents while they have school-age children at home. They are the dutiful daughters and the dutiful mothers, and at times it’s all just a bit too much. Guilt and resentment can build up.
A few suggestions to create some breathing room.
Acknowledge that it’s hard. Don’t beat yourself up that you are struggling. Don’t set expectations of yourself regarding how you should feel or act. Allow yourself to just feel what you are feeling.
If you need to take a break this year, explain as clearly and as lovingly as possible to the rest of your family what you need. They may just surprise you with their response.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, focus on your breathing (slow, deep breaths) and try to go for a walk — sitting down when you are on the verge of a meltdown can make it worse.
Reach out for help if you need it. Whether it’s working with a licensed therapist or a coach, sometimes we need help getting unstuck.
You’ve got this.
Pssst…want more tips for taking better care of yourself? Grab your free Secondhand Therapy eBook, Start Investing in Your Emotional Wellbeing: 25 Practical Tips for Moving Past Survival Mode. Just enter your info below…
As published in The Huffington Post on April 29th, 2016.