Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

Celebrating Mother's Day with Your Adult Children

Take charge of your own Mother's Day

Posted May 07, 2010

Kids of all ages are planning ways to celebrate and honor their moms again this year on Mother's Day, as mothers await with anticipation the flowers, phone calls, gifts and cards that show them love, respect and appreciation. It's a heartwarming and deeply personal holiday as each child tries to let his or her mom know and feel how very special she is.

Yet, tensions can also build up around this day-tensions that arise because families are not always in perfect harmony and relationships between parents and their adult children are strained. This year, why not make an extra effort to ensure that Mother's Day will be special for both you and your adult children?


• Spoil it by having too many expectations. Your adult children have lives of their own, often filled with time restraints and responsibilities with their own children. They don't know specifically what would make you feel loved and respected on this particular day. So rather than expecting them to meet a standard you've set up for them, let go and allow them to surprise you with their own way of honoring you.

• Make your children feel guilty by saying such things as, "When am I going to have grandchildren?" or "Why don't you visit me more often?" I once had a therapy client whose mother commanded her to appear for holidays. My client attended begrudgingly, but the feelings she had of being forced to be with her mother permeated the atmosphere and led to unpleasantness rather than celebration. Guilt rarely produces feelings of warmth and tenderness and may cause your children to prefer to stay away from you.

• Make your adult children feel obligated to you. If you play the martyr and expect them to fawn over you, you may be disappointed. Holding back on your subtle but manipulative demands gives them the opportunity to give to you genuinely-out of the goodness of their hearts, with sincere love and caring.

• Criticize, judge or lecture your kids. They don't need to hear how they should be raising their children or that they're making bad career choices, spending too much money or gaining too much weight. Throwing out careless or critical comments in the midst of a family celebration will turn the entire atmosphere sour.

Rather than sitting back and depending on your children to fulfill your day, take charge of it yourself. Expand your view of Mother's Day by acknowledging your membership in the world's largest private club: motherhood. Get in touch with the real meaning of Mother's Day by including mothers everywhere in your celebration.

Here are some tips for making it a great day of love and appreciation-not only for you but for others as well.


• Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. There's no such thing as a perfect mom, but if you've loved and supported your children, respected and cared for them, then you deserve to celebrate yourself. Being a mom is the toughest job you'll ever have, so give yourself credit for doing a good job.

• Take a step back and look at your relationship with your children. Even when they are adults, it's a good time to make some goals for positive change. I've never known a child-at any age-who didn't want to have a good relationship with a parent. So today is a good day to start to repair, renew and improve your relationships and make them the best they can be.

• Pick up the phone and call your kids. Thank them for giving you the opportunity for the enriching, fulfilling, life-changing experience of being their mom. Your children have given you myriad chances to learn, grow and expand your view of the world. Tell them how much you appreciate it.

• Make Mother's Day your day to affirm your adult kids (and even your children-in-law) yet one more time. Tell them how proud you are of who they've become, how much you value them and what a treasure they are to you. Ask them about themselves and show them how interested you are in the details of their lives.

• Think about your own mother-or someone else who has been an inspiring parent. Share with your children her beautiful characteristics. They will cherish your stories and the legacy she has left to you and the world.

• Connect with your grandchildren and let them know how much they contribute to your life. Plan ways to become a better grandma and more intimately involved with them.

• If you're lucky enough to have your adult children with you, sit back and enjoy. Count your blessings because so many mothers won't have that special joy this year.

This is your day. Most of all, plan a great one-with your spouse or with friends-doing your most favorite activities. If you miss that anticipated Mother's Day call from your kids, you can call them back later. They'll be happy knowing that you have a rich, full life of your own.

For more information on parenting, please see my book, "Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life." 

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