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The Complexity of Mother's Day

Mother's Day is the next best day after your birthday, right? Your family is obligated to celebrate you in all your glory because...you're a mother. Biological, adoptive, foster, and stepmothers. Godmothers and grandmothers. Great grandmothers and church mothers. All mothers are elevated each second Sunday in May.


Mother's Day doesn't hold the same level of reverence for everyone, though. While many people have warm, supportive, close relationships with their moms, all relationships tend to get complicated if they last long enough—and the mother-child relationship is no exception.

There are many people who experience a host of negative emotions from sadness to panic to anger when Mother's Day rolls around. Think of these souls as you walk into Mother's Day weekend and send positive energy their way. And, if you are one of these souls, know that you are seen. You have value, and you are worthy of expressing your truth and experiencing every emotion that this day brings.


Grieving Souls

There are two types of grieving souls when it comes to Mother's Day. There are those who have lost their mothers (and grandmothers, godmothers, and mother figures). This loss can create joyful AND painful memories, ultimately making Mother's Day difficult to navigate, no matter how long ago you experienced the loss. Some people have even been caught off guard when they have had several Mother's Days in a row where they have thought fondly of mom and were able to "hold it together," only to be hit with a splash of emotions they thought were resolved several years later. Some years are just tougher than others, and there are a host of reasons why.


Tip: Accept this for what it is. Grief doesn't have a predictable course. Have grace with yourself and understand that, "Last year I was able to hold it together, but this year I was more emotional." Sit in your discomfort; it's a major step of healing. The more you push grief away, the unhealthier you become.


Another type of grieving soul is the mother who has lost their child(ren). Whether you have lost a child who you have never met face-to-face (through a miscarriage) or a child with whom you spent decades, the wounds can be raw. Again, grief can be unpredictable and induce anxiety. These moms may brace themselves for an emotional onslaught on a child's birthday or death anniversary and make it through the day pretty well. But then on other days, they may be completely caught off guard by their grief. Mother's Day is often one of those days, but it doesn't have to be a holiday or even the day of a major life event (like a wedding or graduation). It can be a day that is unique to your child and you, like your last beach vacation or the last time you danced in the living room. The bravery that it takes for grieving souls to function is incredible.


Tip: Stay off of social media if you will be overwhelmed. It can be extremely hard to see tributes from other moms’ children. It's not that you aren't happy to see such strong relationships between mothers and their children, so don't allow your guilt to make you feel that way. It's completely normal to hold two feelings at once. That is, you can be happy to see tributes between mothers and their children and be sad that yours is no longer here for a hug.


Longing Souls

Women who desire to be moms can take this day hard. Keep in mind that, for many women, desiring the role of motherhood is one of their earliest memories. That is, they grew up wanting to be a CEO or dentist or preacher AND a mom. When they have trouble conceiving, it can feel devastating to consider that a major life goal may not be accomplished. There are many routes to becoming a mother, but most women only think about biological motherhood as they walk through their formative years. Learning that pregnancy is going to be more difficult than expected can feel like someone dropping a brick wall in front of your vehicle as you drive 60 miles an hour on the highway.

Adrienne Stokes, mother of two, knows this all too well. She had seven miscarriages before successfully carrying her son in 2008 and daughter in 2010. She said, it feels like "you've done something wrong, and you're being punished for it. It's almost like you're angry at God, but you can't say it out loud." The longing was so great for her that she didn't open her eyes for the first several minutes of her son's life. "I couldn't believe it was real."


It should be made clear that women who want children typically aren't resentful of women who have them. They simply long for their own mothering experiences.


Tip: Consider joining a support group for women who are also longing. It can be healing to share space with other women who may have similar experiences. It can also help to hear others' feelings and thoughts and realize that you aren't alone. This idea is called universality, and it's a very powerful concept within group therapy, according to Irvin Yalom, a major influencer in psychology.


Unreachable Souls

When you have a mother figure who has been affected with dementia, a progressive brain disease that gradually impacts memory function, it can leave you feeling helpless. After all, your mom is physically reachable, but not emotionally reachable. Some have said that Alzheimer's Disease, which is the most common form of dementia, is like death before death. Mom is there, but she's not in there.


Our constellation of memories contributes to who we are. No one else on the planet has the same group of memories that you have, even if you share a memory with another person. In other words, even though you share a wedding day with your partner, you both have some memories that are divergent, even if most of the memories are similar. When you realize that your mom doesn't remember who you are or doesn't hold memories that were once important to her, your sadness can be palpable. Dreading Mother's Day as it approaches is normal.


Tip: Find a way to reconstruct a memory for yourself and include your mom. If she was a gardener, plant a rose bush. When it blooms, give her a rose. She doesn't have to remember that she loved gardening to enjoy the rose. You know the significance and you have created a memory in that moment. If she forgets that you gave her the rose the next day, you still have the memory of her face when she accepted it.


Marginalized Souls

Wait for it...not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman grew up dreaming about motherhood. And there's more…women who don't have children aren't leading empty lives; they are leading quite fulfilling lives.


In fact, the worst part about Mother's Day for some women is the experiences they have when others find out they don't want to be mothers. This is especially true for women who are married. There is an assumption that the only reason that women get married is to have children.


Women report being looked at as apathetic or abnormal when they disclose that they don't have or want children. It can also be harmful and awkward when others assume they have children. If you drill it down, Mother's Day is about celebrating women who have nurtured others through growth periods. It isn't a day to impose shame and guilt because of your own preferences. Be kind to others and practice cultural acceptance, which "involves positively receiving and/or welcoming another person's way of being" (Carter, 2018, p. 17). Think of motherhood like sexual preference. What happens in someone else's bedroom and with someone else's body is their decision.


Tip: If you feel shame from someone about your decision to not have children, call it out gently. Of course, ignorance is bliss. The offender may not have ever imagined meeting a woman who doesn't want children, so you don't want to exchange one shaming comment for another. However, you do want to bring their bias to their awareness.


Disconnected Souls

Every mother-child relationship doesn't feel like running through a field of daisies. There are some that are just oil and water for various reasons. It could be related to old wounds that haven't healed or current life decisions that impact the relationship. While these partnerships don't go so far as estrangement, they certainly are not deeply connected and loving relationships. Mother's Day can be hard for this group of people because it can feel disingenuous. They are connected on this day only out of obligation, not desire. What's more, our society looks down on those who don't revere and honor their mothers and mothers who don't make efforts to connect with their children. In other words, Mother's Day becomes a day of obligatory behavior that they dread leading up to Sunday and spend the next few days recovering from.


Tip: Consider ways you can find common ground and build on that. If you don't like your mother's new husband and you don't want to have dinner with him, can you take her to brunch on Saturday?

Tip: Take small bites. Don't plan an entire day together if you generally can't get through a few hours. Plan to spend 90 minutes exploring the new farmer's market or one hour getting pedicures together.


Estranged Souls

There are millions of mothers who are estranged from their children and vice versa. Estranged souls are different from disconnected souls in that estranged people have usually halted all communication and connection. In these cases, the offending party is too harmful to maintain an active or even passive presence in their life. Mother's Day can be particularly difficult for this group because the mother or child is physically available, but not safe for you to engage with. Just ask April Yvonne Garrett, a smart, articulate focused woman who has been estranged from her biological family for the last six years. "Mother's Day is generally not hard for me as I refrain from applying the standard definition of motherhood to my life because that was not my experience." April practices her own healing rituals on Mother's Day and other days that may have heavy social expectations around family in the traditional sense.


Tip: Determine what you need from your mother. Then, give it to yourself. You can honor the concept or idea of mothers even if you don't have anyone in the position. For Mother's Day 2021, April plans to "rejoice in celebrating other mothers who honor their roles beautifully."


Tip: Honor another mother in your life. Do you have a professional mom (i.e., someone who has nurtured you through your career)? Do you have a church son (i.e., someone you have mentored religiously)?

For many souls, this day can be difficult. However, it can also be reflective and meaningful. Your opinion and experience about almost anything can change if you reframe your definition. If a mother is a woman who has nurtured you through a growth period, you can embrace many different types of moms this weekend and ease your soul.

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© 2023 Dr. La Keita D. Carter