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The Shadow of Mother's Day

Mother's Day is supposed to be a joyous day. But it isn't for all.

Key points

  • For some, Mother's Day can be stressful, anxiety-provoking, and even distressing.
  • The uncomfortable truth is that there are unloving and uncaring mothers.
  • The people who feel unable to love their uncaring mother are often perceived as ungrateful.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

For many people, Mother’s Day is full of joy. People skip to the shops to select the best thoughtful gift representing their love for their mother.

Mothers may also rejoice in celebrating the love for their mother and receiving the love from their children. This is the ideal story. A wonderful story. The one we love to hear about.

But unfortunately, Mother’s Day is not such an ideal story for everybody. For some, it is not a joyous event full of love. It is a time of stress, anxiety, and even distress.

When a day like Mother’s Day approaches, I notice how the conversations with my clients change. Some of them ask for support in preparing themselves for the day.

The uncomfortable truth is that some mothers are not loving and caring enough, and some hurt their children very much, unintentionally or intentionally.

Some mothers made many parenting mistakes when their children were young and have since realised the impact of their mistakes and apologised to their now-adult children. This can be healing for their adult children, and a new, better relationship between the two may emerge.

But some mothers are just as unloving in later life as they were when their children were young. Some mothers do not want to reflect on their mistakes. Some mothers continue to hurt their adult children.

The pervasive narratives we often hear: ‘you only have one mother,’ ‘you’ve got to make it work, she’s your mother after all,’I’m sure she does love you’ aren’t helpful because they encourage people to dismiss the pain that their mother inflicted on them in the past or even currently, and they potentially encourage people to keep exposing themselves to the toxicity of their unloving mothers.

When people feel ‘unable’ to love their mother, they blame themselves: ‘I must be such a monster for not loving my mother.’

An unloving mother is perceived as such an abomination in our society that nobody wants to acknowledge them (surely they don’t exist). An adult child who doesn’t love their mother is considered taboo and monstrous (what a horrible, ungrateful person). These judgmental ideas leave the adult children of unloving mothers more hurt when they feel the pressure to ‘be kind’ on days like Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is to celebrate motherhood, but many people have not felt the love of their mothers, and celebrating it feels so incongruent, or, as many people describe it: ‘a big fat lie’. Some people describe feeling so much resentment at having to choose a Mother’s Day card. They might want to be kind to their mother, but they’re also stifling their truthful voice and pain.

Should we just shut up about it and carry on? Surely, it’s not that hard to ‘be nice’ to our mother for just one day, so we don’t upset her. But, it isn’t just one day—those who grew up with unloving mothers associate Mother’s Day with multiple stories of disrupted attachments.

Indeed, very few things are more painful than experiencing the absence of love and care from our mothers. It is easier not to face it. It is easier to buy the Mother’s Day card and ‘be nice’ on the day. It is easy to make excuses like ‘she had a bad childhood herself, after all.’

Even with all the excuses that we might want to lay on top of the pain, the pain does remain, and sometimes it turns into poor mental health and disrupted relationships in adult life if we keep ignoring it.

Of course, unloving mothers are not monsters either. They have major struggles, people with their own broken hearts. But validating their struggles should not trump their impact on their children.

It is painful to face the horrid truth that some mothers are incapable of loving their children as they should. It is awful to see people choosing to be parents and not understanding the enormous responsibility in shaping another human being’s life.

But it is even more harmful to minimise or dismiss the stories of the adult children who grew up with such mothers. If we don’t acknowledge our broken heart, we can’t begin to heal it.

Often, people can heal from disrupted attachments with other loving relationships, friendships, or romantic partners. We can get hurt the most in a damaging relationship with a parent, but we can also heal with a repairing, loving relationship.

For people who consistently get hurt by their mother’s attitudes, behaviours or words, and there are no signs of improvement, it is okay to decide to minimise exposure to their mother. People who realise that their mother won’t change might decide to find what we call a ‘family of choice.’

The ’family of choice’ is more prevalent with marginalised populations, such as LGBTQ+ people, whose families of origin actually reject them.

If it feels awful to force yourself to get that Mother’s Day card because you do not share the sentiment of the day, slow down, take some time to honour your feelings and your own story and ask yourself what is the most honest and loving thing you can do for yourself.

For some, it is indeed to force themselves and buy that card, biting their lips, to avoid their mother’s wrath or the aggression of other family members wanting to protect the mother’s feelings. For other people, the best thing to do is not to be near their mother and do something affirming for themselves instead.

Whatever you choose to do, keep fully aware of your decisions. Are you making a decision based on your protection? Or on the hope to your mother will become a better one?

If it is a difficult day for you, use some self-care strategies, and permit yourself to do what feels right and congruent. It might be upsetting for your mother not to receive a card from you, but it might go a long way in healing your own broken heart.