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Apr 29, 2024

Navigating the Complex Emotions of Mother’s Day

Sheila Tucker

Photography By

However, it’s essential to recognize that this day can be a painful reminder of complicated emotions and challenges for some. 

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Little hands wrapped tightly around your leg, those mischievous eyes looking up at you, and the warm embrace of a mother’s love. It’s that time of year again. 

Mother’s Day is a beautiful celebration of motherhood. It’s filled not only with last-minute purchases of flowers and cards (you know who you are) and questionable breakfasts by eager little hands but also with immense love and adoration of our mothers. 

However, it’s essential to recognize that this day can be a painful reminder of complicated emotions and challenges for some. 

To the women who are involuntarily childless and who have endured infertility treatments, being poked and jabbed without receiving the ultimate payoff; to the women who are grieving the unimaginable loss of a child or their mother; to the women estranged from their mothers who live with a combination of resolve, guilt, and shame – I see you. 

I wish I could wrap my arms around each of you and squeeze you with just the right amount of compassion to ease your pain.

Instead of experiencing Mother’s Day as a time of togetherness and connection, you’re more likely feeling left out, isolated, and alone, mourning what was or what may never be. 

I’ll admit I haven’t perused the Hallmark card selection lately, but there isn’t a Mother’s Day card that addresses the heartache some of you feel on this day. 

Sheila Tucker

There are no seasonal cards for the involuntarily childless woman who says, “This day must be painful for you. I’m so sorry about your infertility.” Or one that addresses Mother’s Day while suffering the grief of losing a child or a mother. Or another that says, “I’m sorry about your estrangement from your mother. I’m thinking of you as you navigate this emotionally challenging day.” 

For these and other women in similar situations, there’s only a faint half smile with a muted “thank you” as a reply to the barrage of cheerful “Happy Mother’s Day” greetings tossed your way when “happy” isn’t the first feeling word that crosses your mind. You hesitantly accept a brightly colored carnation shoved into your hands because you’re of a certain age, so you must be a mom, all while feeling like an imposter made to embrace a day for everyone else, but not for you. 

That feeling is topped off by remaining seated in your church pew while the mothers around you stand to receive their applause. You try to look happy for the women standing while you are feeling like a failure, wishing you could vanish and wondering why you left the house. 

The words to describe what you’re feeling are often elusive, and there might even be a part of you that thinks you’re thinking too much or not allowed to share sadness on a day of celebration. 

How do you navigate Mother’s Day if you’re estranged from your mother, childless but want so much to have children, or have suffered the loss of your child or mother? 

The short answer is “delicately and with compassion.” Here are a few suggestions for what to try to avoid on Mother’s Day: 

Do something kind for yourself. 

Go for a walk, read a book, sleep in, do something creative – anything that nourishes your soul. Do absolutely nothing. You don’t have to leave the house. 

I’m going to guess that today, of all days, you don’t want your loss at the forefront of your mind. Instead of plastering on a smile and saying “thank you” for all the Happy Mother’s Day gestures, consider this your permission slip to stay home. Go ahead and skip a get-together. Don’t go to church. You don’t have to declare a reason. (For tips on saying no, check out CH2/CB2’s April issue: “No Is A Complete Sentence.”)

Do focus on what you have.

It’s incredibly easy to focus on what you don’t have. By no means is this a suggestion to paper over your hurt and pain, pretending that it doesn’t exist. Instead, use this as a reminder that you have a successful track record of adapting to and coping with challenging situations. You are a resilient woman.

Don’t scroll social media. 

While scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, you’ll no doubt see photos of beautiful mothers and their children smiling in a show of togetherness with captions that read “Blessed,” “Being a mother is the most amazing job,” or simply “World’s best mom.” 

Seeing these comments reminds you that even though you long to be a mother, you are not. Or even though you long to have a loving and supportive relationship with your mother, you do not. Go ahead – put your phone down and slowly back away. 

You don’t need to post anything or read copious posts and comments about other people celebrating Mother’s Day, their gifts, or photos of beaming generations of women looking lovingly at one another. You can always call or text the moms you want to celebrate. 

On the other hand, if you know or suspect a friend or family member is struggling on Mother’s Day, here are a few ideas for being supportive: 

It’s OK to acknowledge their pain.

Recognize that Mother’s Day might bring forth a range of emotions, from joy and gratitude to sadness and longing. Let them know their feelings are valid and that you are there to listen and support them.

Respect their decisions and boundaries. 

Don’t pressure them to go out or talk about their feelings or experiences. Especially for estranged mother-daughter relationships, be sensitive to family dynamics and avoid pressuring reconciliation or engaging in interactions that may be emotionally challenging.

Offer support. 

Small gestures of support can go a long way in showing your care and empathy. Consider sending a thoughtful message acknowledging their feelings and letting them know you’re thinking of them. Offer to spend time together engaging in activities they enjoy, whether a nature walk, a movie night, or a quiet conversation over coffee.

Validate their emotions and experiences. 

Allow space to express their feelings. Avoid minimizing their experiences or offering unsolicited advice. Sometimes, being a compassionate listener is the most meaningful form of support.

Finally, encourage self-care practices that promote well-being.

Mother’s Day can be a challenging day to navigate. Take this time to honor yourself, practice self-compassion, and surround yourself with understanding and supportive friends and family members. 

For all of the mamas out there, Happy Mother’s Day. I see you, too, and I appreciate all that you do.  

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