Mother’s Day is so many things to so many people. I was blessed to have one or two Hallmark-worthy experiences. Breakfast in bed of soggy cereal and burnt toast (pro tip: a dog is very useful in these situations!), handmade gifts and cards. I cherish those memories and warm, fuzzy feelings from my emotionally healthy, attached children. I cherish them even more now that I know a far different reality exists.
One year, my older son bought a card for my younger one to give me. He didn’t look at it after his little brother signed it, so was horrified when I opened it to find “I hate you, I hope you die,” complete with a detailed drawing of him holding a bloody knife while I lay on the ground in a puddle of blood, the proverbial Xs standing in for my eyes. If you’re wondering how to handle that, well, I did what any therapeutic mom would do. I complimented his artwork.
Later that same day, a visibly upset Sunday school teacher approached me. She had planned a lovely Mother’s Day craft for the kids. My son and the three other children in the class were excited about this craft and worked diligently on it for weeks. As the teacher complimented each child, my son offered his project to her. She declined, reminding him that it was for his mom. My son then left the room and as the teacher watched, smashed the gift to bits then threw it in the trash. The poor teacher was so distraught that I found myself comforting her. In my life, this type of scene had become normal.
It is hard to have kids who want to celebrate and kids who hate the very idea of mothers living under the same roof. One of my sons lost his biological mother the day he was born. His early experiences included many female caretakers, all of whom left after a shift or a visit. Staff rotated. He was moved around. So even though I have been his mother for 12 years, he cannot trust that. In fact, he hates that he needs me. Mother’s Day makes him angry. Sometimes very angry. This makes it hard for me as well.
My son is not the only child I know who dreads this holiday. I have friends grieving the loss of their own mothers. Others are grieving mothers they never had. Some are grieving abusive childhoods – it’s hard to honor a woman who hurt you. Some have more than one mother figure and experience conflicted loyalties. One friend’s mother is living but no longer recognizes her own children. All of this causes grief and pain.
There are mothers who grieve during this time as well. Some are grieving the ability to have biological children. Others grieve placed for adoption. And how many mothers have lost children? Permanently, to miscarriage or death, or for unknown amounts of time, to prison, residential treatment, hospitalization, or estrangement? So many spend this holiday praying their child is safe wherever she or he may be. So many must face the stigma that society places on the mothers of children who break laws or are mentally ill. So many grieve the people their children could have been had trauma not disrupted their lives.
How then to handle Mother’s Day if you or your child are grieving? That’s really for you to decide. You might choose to celebrate with a healthy person in your life, maybe someone who helps fill the role of mother or child. You may choose to ignore the holiday all together and spend some quality time alone. Or you could do what most of us do, paste on a fake smile, and power through. Whatever you do, give yourself a gift. Be good to yourself.
And remember, you are not alone.