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Late last year I wrote a post called Surviving Christmas. It can be very difficult when our feelings are seemingly not in step with the dominant narrative. For many Christmas is a time of stress, mourning, triggers and feeling that if you fail at Christmas, you are failing at life.
We all have our personal anniversaries that can provoke strong emotions, however some events can be particularly difficult. Mothers Day, this year on March the 6th in the UK, is one such day. The following is just my thoughts on the topic, feel free to add any suggestions or ideas in the comments.
There is no right way to feel.
Shoulds are toxic. How you feel is how you feel. It is easy around events like Mothers’ Day to internalize messages about how you should be feeling, what you should be doing. People who suggest you should want to visit on Mothers’ Day, you should be grateful, you should be spending money you don’t have are not helping, in fact they are sometimes actively harmful.
This applies also to those of us struggling as mothers. I remember my very first Mothers’ Day as a mum. I was shattered, I had severe post natal depression, a child who wouldn’t feed and couldn’t think of a single thing to celebrate. My inlaws turned up, insisting on the traditional meal out at a pub. I dont think crying in the toilets was on the menu. Looking back I wish I had known it was OK to say, I am struggling, I feel like a crap mum and the last thing I need is this. I was caught up in shoulds though.
- Try not let others tell you how you feel about Mothers Day, give yourself permission to feel the way you feel.
- Tell yourself “I am not other people, I am me, this is how I feel, and that’s Ok”
- Stop conversations that try to use guilt, politely if you can. use phrases like “I understand that’s how you feel, but this is how I feel” “I understand you think I should visit/call but I feel differently, and I want you to respect that”
This brings us to;
Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries.
Giving yourself permission to feel however you feel, rather than how Hallmark cards tell us you should, allows us to set boundaries. A really useful tip for surviving Mothers Day is to set your boundaries in place before the day. Some people will be fine with a call, others with a visit, others will want no contact at all. For some a family meal out will be embarked on as usual, but afterwards they will need time and space to decompress.
By considering what boundaries you are OK with, in advance, (and remembering shoulds are toxic) it is easier to keep to them. If you have a significant other or friend who can help with the boundaries then involve them, make them clear, list what you will and wont do, write them down if that helps. Planning can really help with saying no, and sticking to what you want to say yes to.
Grief and Loss
There are those who struggle with Mothers’ Day for a different set of reasons. The death of a loved one can be like an old, partially healed scar. We think everything is going fine until we knock it, and then the pain resurfaces. Days like Mothers’ Day can be a knock, a reminder of what we have lost.
Remember shoulds are toxic. It is ok to mourn, to grieve, to miss a parent. There are no rules on how long someone grieves for, or how we react to a death. Anyone who tells you that you “should be over this” or “should remember the happy times” is frankly, not helping. Just as with those who don’t want to see their mothers how you feel about Mothers’ Day is how you feel, no ifs, buts or shoulds.
Some people find marking the day can help, even if it is just spending some time remembering their mum. For others getting together with family members can be a lovely way to celebrate a life. However don’t be the should bringer here, some people prefer to be alone with their feelings, thats OK too.
If you are the partner of someone who has lost their mum, talk to them, remember what I have said about shoulds, and simply ask them how they feel. For some people Mothers’ Day is just another day, for others it will be a poignant reminder of loss. Don’t assume, but do be willing to have the conversation.
An often hidden pain on Mothers’ Day is that carried by those who have lost a child, or not been able to have children. They may seem very different on the surface but both are struggling with what might have beens, with loss, and with the fact society as a whole considers only some people to be parents.
Perhaps here the advice is best aimed at the rest of us, to choose our words with care, to not assume childlessness is always a choice, or that someones current family is their only family. Many people are grieving, many people are carrying pain in their hearts, and many people might like a friendly word or comforting hug on Mothers’ Day.
If this post has resonated with you, and you would like to explore your feelings further in counselling you can email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07442808719.