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How to Cope with Mixed Emotions on Mother's Day: A Guide for Those Struggling with the Holiday

For some people Mother’s Day might be an uncomplicated chance to honor a beloved mother, stepmother, grandmother, or other caregiver with time together, a nice meal, or a thoughtful gift, and/or a time to feel celebrated for your role as a parent or caregiver. But, if Mother’s Day brings more difficult or complicated feelings for you, know that you are not alone. There are many reasons people have a hard time on Mother’s Day. Just a few of these include

  • Grief following the death of a mother, stepmother, or other caregiver, or even the death of a child. As with other holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries of a death, you may struggle with a resurgence of grief on Mother’s Day.

  • Estrangement from a parent or adult child. Periods of intentional non-contact or permanent non-contact in parent-child relationships are not uncommon. Whether this is a necessary choice for your well-being, or something you didn’t choose, the absence of the parent-child relationship can be painful and holidays can be triggering.

  • History of abuse or neglect. For those for whom a parent was an abuser, idealized images of motherhood can bring up sadness, anger, hurt, and other complex emotions. It may also trigger trauma-related thoughts of self-blame or difficulty trusting your own experience.

  • Infertility or pregnancy loss, or other unfulfilled desire to be a mother. Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of the desire for motherhood or the loss of a child. 

It’s okay to acknowledge that this is not a happy day for you. To take care of yourself, it may be helpful to think ahead and make a plan for Mother’s Day. 

If grief is a part of this day for you, it can be valuable to name, acknowledge, and make room for your grief. This is true for the grief that might follow a loss like a death, but as important for the less obvious forms of loss–like the loss of the relationship you didn’t have with a neglectful parent, the loss of the parent relationship you once had, or the loss of an opportunity to be a parent. If it feels helpful for you, consider participating in a grief ritual that feels connecting or meaningful. Following the death of a beloved person, that might be lighting a candle, making the person’s favorite meal, or contributing to a cause that was meaningful to them. For losses related to estrangement or trauma, this might mean activities more focused on the present, the future, and on your own story of healing. Examples might include writing, making artwork, identifying hopes for the future, or just engaging in an activity that makes you feel most like your present self.

Although it’s important not to ignore emotions, it is also okay to honor your own limits. If you are concerned about becoming overwhelmed or spiraling, it’s okay to use some distraction to care for yourself. For some people, planning a pleasant or productive activity that has nothing to do with Mother’s Day might be helpful. You get to choose when is right for you to engage with loss or trauma, and this might not be the day. Consider what things might be triggering for you and how you might manage those triggers. For example, you might take a break from social media if posts about Mother’s Day will be too much for you.

Whatever your plan, consider reaching out to any supports you have in your life who will listen and empathize. Sometimes even a brief conversation opening up about why this day is hard for you can help you feel less alone and more ready to move through it. Also, be flexible. If you’re dreading Mother’s Day, you might feel better, worse, or different than you imagine when the day comes. Listen to yourself and be ready to respond with as much compassion as you can.

If struggles with grief, trauma, or family problems are too much for you to manage alone, therapy can help. Reach out today for a free consultation.

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