Our parents and parent figures shape who we are, whether that is by their presence or their absence. The relationships we have with the people who raised us are unique, complex, sometimes hard to even describe. Come each May and June, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day give us the chance to honor and thank the parents of the world. For some, this is a relatively simple and happy occasion. But these holidays can also be a mental health challenge. If you struggle with reminders and expectations this time of year, you may need a plan to attend to your own mental health.
These are just a few of the reasons that Mother’s and Father’s Day may be difficult.
Grief and loss. Like birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays, these holidays can bring pangs of grief and a return of intense emotions for those grieving a parent who has died, or grieving the loss of a child. Early in your grieving process, you may need to opt out of marking the day altogether and identify strategies to care for yourself and reach out for support. When you are ready, you may benefit from finding meaningful rituals, ways to remember your loved one, and ways to make space for whatever emotions are present for you. Grief is not a predictable, linear, or universal process, so it is important to pay attention to where you are in your own journey, make room for your emotions, and be patient with yourself.
Infertility, barriers to parenthood, and pregnancy loss. For those who yearn to become a mother or father, but have struggled, or those grieving the loss of a pregnancy or the loss of the life path they’d hoped for, these holidays can also be difficult. Along with sadness, you may be confronting long-term uncertainty, frustration, anxiety, and other complex emotions. Acknowledging your feelings, practicing self-compassion, setting boundaries when you need to, and reaching out to trusted supports can be helpful.
Estranged, absent, or abusive relationships. These holidays may be very difficult for those who have chosen to stop contact with a parent, coped with a parent’s absence in their life, or had to navigate a dysfunctional or abusive parent relationship. Emotions with these situations can be complex and painful, and even accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame, as well as sadness, anger, and loneliness. Some may even experience trauma triggers or painful memories. To cope, practice self-compassion and ask yourself what you need right now. That might be setting boundaries regarding communication or time, creating an alternative activity or ritual that is healing, scheduling restorative activities for yourself, identifying self-soothing strategies, and a focus on connecting with people who will accept and support you no matter where you are with your family relationships.
Families that don’t fit the mold. Even for those who want to use these holidays to spend time with, honor, and thank their parents, things can be complicated. Celebrations, cards, and media depictions, and even the names of the holidays themselves, are full of gender and class assumptions. I’ve often found myself baffled by a greeting card aisle full of cliches that seem completely alien to my family’s life. You might feel the same if you were raised by a single parent, have parents who are LGBTQ+, were raised by someone other than your biological parents, or if you grew up in a culture or circumstances that lack representation in mainstream media. In these cases, creativity and embracing the strengths of your unique family can go a long way. What is a celebration that would feel genuine and positive for your family? Maybe that’s giving one or both of the holidays a new name, thinking outside the box for a family activity, or just a blank-inside card with a note that says what’s on your mind.
Family relationships can be difficult, and our experiences growing up affect us throughout our lives. If you are struggling with your past or your present, therapy can help. Reach out to schedule a free consultation today.