Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

When Mother’s Day Hurts

Sadly, not all mothers conform to the saintly maternal archetype

As the avalanche of greeting cards and obligatory sentiments that make up Mother’s Day fast approaches, adult children of narcissistic mothers will be taking a deep breath, waiting for that second Sunday in May to turn into Monday morning. Somehow, buying the card that declares “The Best Mom in the World” is just another act of denial. While struggling with the card purchase, many men and women will also be triggered by thoughts of unloving and emotionally detached mothers. Many write to me about this holiday, wondering how to handle it and what to do.

But it takes courage not to buy that card and opt out of Mother’s Day entirely since we all know that good kids love their mothers, no matter what. Everything our culture holds to be true about mothering—that mother love is instinctual, automatic, and unconditional, and that all women have the capacity to empathize and nurture—shackles an unloved child’s spirit and helps to keep him or her floundering in self-doubt. The myths of motherhood are so strong that, when the mother-child relationship fails, it’s usually the child who’s held accountable. Ironically, these cultural views keep an unloved daughter or son in the place they’ve been since childhood—knowing that something’s wrong but not being able to name it and, even worse, wondering who will ever love them if mother doesn’t.

The centrality of the maternal relationship to a child’s sense of self is well-documented but the myths of motherhood prevent us from acknowledging how the lack of maternal empathy affects that sense of self, not just during childhood but over the course of a lifetime. For these adult children, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of basic emotional needs unmet or love withheld.

Because mothering is learned behavior in our species, acknowledging that there’s a full spectrum of maternal behaviors – from good to good enough to downright toxic—might be the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day in the end. It is helpful to break the code of silence so there is a point of connection for mothers and children to heal. We have to be able to discuss relational issues in order to recover.

Because the topic is taboo, it is ignored by the media and untouched in our families. But, daughters and sons of narcissistic mothers are out there. Often they think they are alone in this quagmire of inner conflicts, feeling they just flunked childhood and it’s all their fault.

Let’s give them a voice. Let’s talk about it. Being our authentic selves is a major part of recovery for daughters and sons of narcissistic mothers. We get to deal with and acknowledge those feelings that haunt us. Staying in denial and being good kids when Mother’s Day hurts is not necessarily healthy. It’s ground-breaking that many adult children of narcissistic parents in our nation and around the world are speaking up.

We propose that this Mother’s Day, we honor those mothers who have loved well and to the best of their abilities, but also the truths of the daughters and sons who have or had mothers who do or did not fit the saintly maternal archetype. And let us applaud those mothers out there who are working recovery and changing the legacy of distorted love learned in narcissistic families.

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book:  Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop:  Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives:  One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

“Is this your mom?” Take the survey: