When Mother’s Day hurts

Mother’s Day is often a bittersweet holiday for the many of us who struggle with mother loss.  And mother loss wears many hats. Just recently, 36-year-old Lara came into my office in tears.

“I went to buy a card for my mother,” Lara said, and proceeded to describe her frustration. After 20 minutes of browsing through the store’s Mother’s Day cards she had remained undecided, so she left and walked into the bakery next store where she  bought herself two of her favorite chocolate cupcakes.   

“Why is it always so hard to find the right card for my mom?” Lara asked. “I love my mother but … why couldn’t I find a card? And why did I have to fall into a pothole and go to the bakery?”

In the many years I’ve been a therapist, I’ve heard the words, “I love my mother, but….” more times than I can count. And now, since publishing The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother, my inbox is filled with people yearning to resolve issues with their mothers.

There’s no simple answer to the question of making peace with our mothers, because even in the best of circumstances, our relationships with our moms are complicated. In addition, there are many difficult situations, each posing different questions requiring different solutions. Look at the list below and think about your own relationship with your mother and with  Mother’s Day:

 

  • My mother and I have a close relationship.
  • My mother and I are not really close, but we get along.
  • I lost my mother when I was a small child—I will miss her forever.
  • I wasn’t a child when I lost my mom, but she was too young to die.
  • I ‘m watching my mother succumb to a slow, debilitating disease.
  • My mother is in a nursing home.
  • My mother lives far away and we have lost touch.
  • My mother lives nearby but we are emotionally distant.
  • My mother and I are estranged.
  • I am a mother who has lost a child and I will never get over this pain.
  • I am struggling with infertility.
  • My childbearing years are over and I have had only miscarriages.
  • My mother is dead and my childrenlive far away.
  • If I grieved my lost relationship with my mother, I’d never stop crying.

What did you notice as you read this list? How did you feel inside?  If you have a happy relationship with your mom, congratulate yourself and count your blessings. You may, however, recognize that your situation brings you face to face with grief. Unfortunately, we live in a fast-paced world where we are often encouraged to move away from difficult emotions and “get on with life,” rather than face and work through our pain.

I’ve learned that the first step in getting over anything is accepting it. Learning to be with our pain, disappointment, regret and life’s unfairness is never easy, which is why often we flee from facing this first and most crucial task.

If you are wondering how to face your grief, first, know that by anticipating a difficult situation you have the opportunity to make a plan to care for yourself. Instead of falling into a predictable pothole– binging or drinking to distract yourself,  here  are some suggestions:

Take inventory of who you really are

Ask yourself: Who am I when no one is looking over my shoulder? What brings me pleasure ? Staying in bed sleeping? Reading? Watching a movie? Playing tennis or taking a bike ride? Connecting with old friends on the phone? Hanging out on my phone, playing games?

Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. No judgment.

Find a quiet place to write

Bring something to write with: a computer or a pen and paper- even a scrap of paper or the back of an envelope will do. Befriend your feelings. Write a simple sentence that expresses your pain. Here are some examples:

Mom, I miss you.

Life sucks.

Why did I have to get gypped?

I hate to see other happy people when I’m feeling so awful/angry/devastated.

Write your sentence over again three times. See if another sentence pops up for you. Allow your pen to flow. I love this saying: “Name it to tame it.” Naming our dark feelings helps us accept them. Allow yourself to be with whatever happens.

Go to your favourite online book site

Explore the website for a book you have been wanting to read — or feel curious about. Buy it and read as much as you like. If you don’t enjoy it, stop reading and move on.

Ultimately, growing up means learning to mother ourselves, and each of us needs to find what actually nourishes us. I want to share an excerpt from one of my favorite poems that nourishes me:

BLACKWATER WOODS

Mary Oliver

To live in this world 

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

 

About Judy Rabinor PhD

I have recently published my memoir, The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother (She Writes Press, 2021). I have lived in the metropolitan area of New York City for most of my life; my roots are here, sturdily planted. My grandmother was a writer and she passed me the torch. I became a psychologist in my late 30s and have managed to juggle these two amazingly interesting and creative career paths. I am a therapist, writing coach, workshop and retreat leader and have written dozens of articles and two previous books: A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger, Hopeand Healing in Psychotherapy (Gurze Books, 2002), Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex (New Harbinger Publications, 2012).

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Email: jrrabinor@gmail.com

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All articles by Judy Rabinor PhD

3 Responses

  1. Karyn Baltetsch says:

    Thank you so much for your post on Mother’s Day hurts. My lifetime with my mother has been going for 63 years. My mother was 20 when she gave birth to me. She came from a very loving family…she would sit at the kitchen table and tell me about her childhood adventures.
    My mother was a beautiful young lady. She was in love with Frank before her family left a country town. He was her partner at the debutante ball. She told me of her heartache when she was told the family were leaving the countyside to move to the city so that my Grandfather could get some work. This is where life changed for my Mum. The next episodes were not so nice. Not ones l choose to remember but l do. I was a child too. After Mum met my Father she became pregnant. In those times it was shameful and my grandparents wanted my mother to go away and have the baby and pretend it didn’t happen. My mother in a bitter/ sweet situation, married my father without much choice. She often spoke about Frank, how much she loved him. Now l know it was a deep grief for her. I know she was having to make choices where she didn’t really have a choice, and l’m grateful because it wasn’t me who she was pregnant with; it was my older brother.
    Something else l loved to do with my Mum was look at photos, her photos of those early happy country carefree days.
    Every Mother’s Day for me has been different. It’s a different choice of card every year.There was a time when the words in them made me sick. They were too nice to be real. Then there have been the pretending cards when l wanted to prove to my Mum l always tried to protect her in her own way. Sometimes l made them, sometimes l cringed when l walked past them. Sometimes l was so sad because l felt l had lost my Mother and her respect because l felt so deserted as an adult/ child. Trying to have a family with perfect dynamics but suffering so much inside because of my childhood. Never did we speak about the episodes of abuse that she ignored, for whatever reason.
    This year it is one from the two dollar shop but as my mother is now 84 l still love her. I still want what is best for her…and l have come to terms with the fact that the one who didn’t deserve ME is dead and in the ground.
    Mother stories are many for me. I remember when all l wanted was my Mum but she didn’t show up, she wasn’t around, and after working hard at trying to “build a healthy relationship with my Mum” l have learnt that it is unrealistic to try so hard. It is what it is. As a daughter of a lady everyone loves, Mother’s Day is really just another day to me…for me…and despite everything, l’m still grateful that today, in this moment, l still have my Mother. I carry her in my heart for always because, at 20, she gave birth to me….

  2. Sheila Rindler says:

    That was a beautiful article on mother loss or grief in general that would be relevant and helpful to everyone! I especially love the writing exercise!

  3. looking forward to reading this! Great stuff Judy!

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