Mother’s Day: Tools for coping when celebration brings pain

By | April 28, 2019

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. As an infertility counselor, I always greet the holiday with mixed emotions. I look forward to the lilacs in full bloom, the feeling that spring is finally here, and the chance to wish some of my clients a long awaited “Happy First Mother’s Day,” knowing that they struggled for years with infertility or recurrent miscarriage.

However, I am also reminded of what a difficult day this is for many women –– not only those struggling to become moms. It’s hard for women who have lost their mothers, mothers who have lost children, women who placed children for adoption, mothers who are far from their children geographically or emotionally, and anyone grappling with family conflict. Among all the flowers and sweet Mother’s Day brunches lives a lot of pain.

The build-up to Mother’s Day

I have struggled for many years with how to help reduce the sting of Mother’s Day. It’s only one day, some may think, and surely there are ways to cope with the fuss and fanfare of that day.

If only it was so simple.

In the greeting card section of every store, on restaurant websites, and in ads in every newspaper and glossy magazine, the build-up begins at least a month before Mother’s Day. Tune in to your local public radio station for news of the day, and instead you hear the yearly “send flowers for Mother’s Day” fundraiser. Some might argue that the lead-up to Mother’s Day is actually more stressful than the day itself.

Tools for coping

So how can we cope with the discomfort, and often pain, that Mother’s Day brings? Over the years, I have seen people adopt different coping strategies for Mother’s Day. There is no magic bullet, but here are some approaches you may find helpful. Some are directed mainly to women experiencing infertility. Others may help anyone.

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Avoidance. If your mother lives at a distance, a phone call and card can cover Mother’s Day responsibilities. With neither a mother nor a mother-in-law on hand to wrestle through crowds for a restaurant brunch, you can pass the day enjoying a nice hike or bike ride, or an afternoon engrossed in a good movie or book.

Strategic planning. Many people would love to avoid Mother’s Day but can’t. Mom lives nearby or is coming for a visit, and there is no option other than to celebrate with her. Consider strategic planning. Figure out what you can do on Mother’s Day that will please your mother (or mother-in-law), while sparing you the pain that comes when you are in a restaurant where the staff is wishing every woman a “Happy Mother’s Day.” Strategic planning may be cooking at home or bringing nice takeout to your mom. Or find an outing not built around Mother’s Day, perhaps theater tickets or a day-trip adventure.

Positive activities. Positioning Mother’s Day as a time for a positive activity can be win-win whether you are on your own or spending the day with your mother. You might appreciate a Mother’s Day peace walk, where you (or both of you) can join together with other women and men to combat gun violence, child abuse, or other scourges of our world. Or you might try environmental acts in celebration of Mother Earth. Positive activities sidestep the commercialism that many find so unsettling on this greeting card holiday.

One more tool

Joining in. For some, the most comfortable approach to Mother’s Day is simply to join in. Yes, they may feel sad in a church service that honors mothers or at a park where families frolic. But some women find trying to avoid or counter Mother’s Day isolating. It only adds to their pain. They may feel proud of themselves for being able to camouflage their feelings, appearing to be very much a part of the Mother’s Day celebrations. Joining in challenges them in ways that they feel they can handle. It may even offer hope for easier Mother’s Days to come.

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Let me finish with a hope for comfort on Mother’s Day. This year, I hope that as you listen to the ads for flowers, pass the array of greeting cards, and perhaps cringe at a banner announcing Mother’s Day brunch, you know that you are not alone.

Harvard Health Blog