by: Julie Beem
It’s coming. There are ads, ads and more ads for flowers, clothing, chocolate…and Hallmark. Any preschool worth its weight is making handprint art and churches are planning luncheons and other celebrations. Ugh…it’s Mother’s Day!
What a train wreck this holiday can be for families of traumatized children, especially those who were formed through adoption, fostering, kinship, or stepparenting. Our children have more than one mom – and which one should be honored and celebrated? The children even wonder, “am I being disloyal if I honor the one I’m with, or the one I’m starting to feel close to and not the other(s)?”
My family is not alone in dreading Mother’s Day. I know this because Mother’s Day is often a day I receive crisis phone calls and emails. And the online support groups pick up in activity in the days leading up to Mother’s Day (Thanksgiving and Christmas too… but often not as much as Mother’s Day).
So, in case no one has ever said this to your family – here’s your permission: “Do whatever works for YOU and your family on Mother’s Day!” It really is ok to ignore the holiday (if you can), plan to not celebrate it…yes, even skip church if it’s too dysregulating. As a therapeutic parent you know that sometimes it’s just safer to proactively decide not to participate in something that can wreak havoc with the safety and balance of your family. Yes…even if it disappoints your mother-in-law.
For years we did very low key lunches at home with Dad and older kids cooking, allowing my traumatized daughter to be in a safe place and just react however she was going to. And the reactions were big episodes of grief, of anger if the other children brought me gifts, etc. It was a day where our goal was just survival. But in the beginning, it was rough – really rough. Here are some reasons why:
1. My daughter’s mind was a swirling tangle of grief, fear, disloyalty and confusion. She missed her birthmom. She felt abandoned. She was starting to love me and that felt disloyal. She saw the other children’s overt love and celebration of me as a threat. She wanted to be like them, but also wanted them to feel her pain. Her pain boiled over like lava onto everyone each Mother’s Day. To this day, anytime she feels this magnitude of negative feelings she will shout “Welcome to Mother’s Day!” It’s a signal that all those big grief, loss, fear and shame feelings are welling up inside of her. Ironic choice of a signal, huh?
2. Our other children had expectations…and so does society. Children who have a healthy attachment with their moms want to celebrate them. They want to present their handcrafted gift along with breakfast in bed. They want to dress up for church and snuggle in close to mom. It’s hard for them to understand downplaying it. In our church there’s a Mother-Daughter banquet usually the Saturday before. It’s a beautiful frilly event where everyone dresses up and giggles. Nope…not for us. There were years that I “snuck away” with the older girls, leaving dad on duty…and we all swore to secrecy about where we had been. But skipping church that Sunday morning was a must…and something that none of our friends or family truly understood.
3. My expectations and disappointment ALWAYS cropped up. Like the older children, I was always disappointed that we couldn’t just have a peaceful Mother’s Day. Even when we weren’t actively celebrating, she still felt this swirl of negative emotions and the day was always chaotic. It wasn’t fair…and inside I was pouting about it, even if I held it together on the outside. After all, just like every therapeutic mom I know, motherhood is VERY important to me. It’s my main priority, my heart’s desire and frankly even though I’m far from perfect and this is a tough, TOUGH gig…I’m good at it. I should get to celebrate something so important and cherished. So…
I finally realized I could have my Mother’s Day and batten down the hatches too. We started planning Mother’s Day celebrations individually with the children and/or my hubby on days after “the big day”. We were stealth and secret. I’d steal away for lunch on another Saturday, or movie, or shopping. It was both a chance to celebrate motherhood and surviving another Mother’s Day. And when I was filled up from all this self-care, and my daughter was calmer, I’d schedule a secret date with her too (it took me a few years to realize the need for this). She was hyper vigilant and generally figured out that I was out having a good time with the other kids. I certainly did not want to add to her shame. But, I was filled up and in a better place to be therapeutic. So we’d usually go for a pedicure!
Remember — “do what is best for YOU…and your family” this Mother’s Day. Give yourself that gift!
P.S. If you need hope that it gets easier with time, here it is: This year my daughter and I are going to the Mother –Daughter Banquet. I’m a bit anxious about whether it is a good idea, but she’s insisting. Her older sisters are grown and not joining us. She’s excited about it being “our thing”. I hear a twinge of joy in her voice. Wish us luck!