When Mother's Day comes around, it's almost like we can sense it in the air: trees and flowers begin to blossom, grocery stores display bouquets of flowers out front with Mother's Day signs, and targeted ads show up on in TV commercials and across our social media accounts encouraging us to remember Mother's Day, and while we're at it, buy our mom a gift so she knows how much you appreciate her!
But for many, Mother's Day is a day of dread. When the month of May starts, we know it's only a matter of time until Mother's Day is here, and we feel a mix of emotions. Anywhere between hatred, dread, guilt, sadness, contempt, anger, frustration, longing; all are common to feel among people who grew up with moms that aren't worth celebrating on Mother's Day.
For moms who are parenting their children in healthier, kinder, gentler, more emotionally connective ways than their mom parented them, this day can feel even more confusing. While you're excited and grateful for the gift of being a mom to your babies and maybe even look forward to spending time with your children on that day, you might also feel guilt in not feeling the same way about your mom that your children feel about you.
So, how do we move forward?
How do we celebrate Mother's Day when we had a mom who wasn't worth celebrating?
How do we embrace all of the complex emotions that come with this day, giving ourselves permission to feel, grieve, and celebrate where we are today?
How do we celebrate a day that hurts?
Let's Remove Some of the Pressure
Let's face it: there's a lot of pressure on holidays that are about family or parents. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc., all of these holidays have a major focus on the family system, which isn't necessarily a negative thing! For people who grew up in healthy family systems, it's really fun and connecting to join together with family around the holidays.
But for people who grew up in toxic family systems, pressure around the holidays, like the pressure we feel on Mother's Day, can feel super overwhelming, especially if you're still in a relationship with your parents but know the relationship isn't healthy, or something's off. On Mother's Day, you might feel pressure to spend time with your mom, call her, send her a card or a gift, or plan something for her. In toxic family systems, a lot of that pressure is unspoken pressure from the mom and possibly the dad, if he's enmeshed. Growing up in a toxic family system, you learned how to get one step ahead of your emotionally immature parents by appeasing them before they could rage. Mother's Day can feel oddly similar to that: you know not doing or saying anything will cause an outrage, so you do or say something anyway, just to get one step ahead of the behavior.
Can I remove some of that pressure for you? That's a lot for you to hold.
Sit with yourself for a minute. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. You're safe in this moment.
In your mind's eye, evaluate your relationship with your mom in the present.
Then, ask yourself what feels true to you in how you should acknowledge Mother's Day this year.
Is it sending a quick text?
Or nothing at all?
Any one of those choices is okay.
You are not responsible for the feelings, behaviors, and responses of someone else, including your mom.
You are only responsible for your own.
Take Back the Day
What if instead of celebrating your mom on Mother's Day, you celebrated you? After doing whatever feels right for you in acknowledging or not acknowledging your mom on Mother's Day, what if you turned your phone off and did an activity that made you feel alive? That grounded you and brought you back to the present?
Mother's Day can be one big giant emotional flashback for people with complex trauma. When we start to view Mother's Day as a way for us to celebrate our own healing journey and how far we've come, it can begin to be a beautiful reminder of our own progress and the inner child we've given acceptance and love to in ways our mom never could.
Celebrate the People Who Were/Are A Mom to You Now
Throughout your adult life, you've learned the difference between an emotionally mature mom and your own. You've probably watched your adult friends have incredible relationships with their moms and wished you had one with yours. Maybe your grandma or aunt became a safe mother-like figure to you. Maybe you're married to someone who has an incredible mom, and she's taken you in as one of her own and mothered you in all the ways you never received as a child. Or maybe there's a woman who watches your children for you, and mothers them in the ways you do. Maybe you have friends who are moms, and in those friendships, some of your own mother wounds have been healed.
Those sound like moms in your life who are worth celebrating. If it feels true for you, reach out to those moms in your life and express your gratitude for their ability to love you and be a safe person for you. We may not get to choose the mom we have, but now that we're adults who are free, we do have a choice about who's in our circle.
Mother's Day can be a challenging day for people who grew up in toxic family systems and are now dealing with complex trauma. Remember to take some of that pressure off: you can do something or you don't have to do anything for your mom on Mother's Day. You aren't responsible for her response to whatever you decide. You're free to make your own choices that are healthiest for you.
Celebrate yourself on Mother's Day. Reflect on how far you've come and all the hard work you put in to get where you are today. Go do something fun with your family or friends; an activity that makes you feel alive and present! And maybe, as an added bonus, turn your phone off on Mother's Day.
Celebrate the people in your life who have been mom's to you when your own mom couldn't. Those people are worth celebrating.
At Root Counseling, we understand how challenging maintaining relationships within toxic family systems can be. We're passionate about helping people understand their own complex trauma and set boundaries with others to heal. If you're interested in setting up an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.