When Mother’s Day Hurts

By Joannie Debrito, PH.D., LCSW, LMFT

Being a mum can be rewarding and gut-wrenching, sometimes at the same time. Depending on the circumstances, this Mother’s Day may be one that you anticipate with fear, sorrow, or dread.

A mother’s heart feels the joy of nurturing a young life, seeing developmental milestones reached, and celebrating special occasions. But the compassionate heart that experiences joy may also feel intense sadness when she or someone close to her faces the painful experiences of motherhood. Just as the fire that warms can also be the fire that burns, being a mum can sometimes be rewarding and gut-wrenching at the same time.

Depending on your current circumstances, this Mother’s Day may be one that you anticipate with fear, sorrow, or dread.

If this describes you, you’re not alone.

I think it’s fair to say that most mothers will have some Mother’s Days that are difficult, maybe even depressing. While each situation is unique, Mother’s Day struggles tend to fall into one of four categories: A painful childhood, illness or death, disconnection from children, and other significant losses.

Mother’s Day After a Painful Childhood

For some, Mother’s Day has always been difficult. It is a reminder of the mother who was gone for various reasons or was physically there but was abusive or neglectful.

For much of Allyson’s adult life, she experienced a lingering sadness, fuelled by a longing for the mother that she never had. Her mother was rarely around and didn’t provide a loving or safe home environment. The shared celebrations Allyson’s friends have with their mums on Mother’s Day used to cause Allyson to relive deep wounds and experience feelings of loss.  She was left wondering what she might have done to make her mother neglect and reject her.

The answer, of course, is nothing. A child is never responsible for a mother’s actions, good or bad. Thankfully, Allyson sought counselling. Allyson has worked hard to accept the truth of her childhood. Counselling may be helpful for you, as well.

Coping With Illness or Death

Mother’s Day may also remind some mums of the misery they’ve experienced while coping with a child’s illness or death. This may have exposed unmet expectations for justice and fairness in life. Or, it shattered the illusion that a mum can fix everything.

To make things worse, the grief many mums feel is exacerbated by the nagging feeling that they are partially responsible for their child’s suffering. Unfortunately, sometimes things just happen. Children are not supposed to face serious illnesses or die before their parents. But they do, and when that occurs, mums ask the “why” questions. 

Or maybe the illness or death of a mother, grandmother, sister, or spouse who shared in motherhood joys comes to mind. Our best memories are made from the impressions that our favourite people leave in our lives. Longing to see the faces and hear the voices of departed loved ones can bring on feelings of loss and hopelessness.

The death of a loved one is almost always hard to bear, whether expected or unexpected, and each loss is significant. A child’s death by suicide, however, is one of the most devastating losses.

Focus on the Family contributor, Beth Saadati, lived through this when her daughter took her life at the age of 14. To add to this devastation, Beth has recently lost her mother during the coronavirus crisis. So, this Mother’s Day is especially difficult. Remarkably, despite these losses, Beth has found a hope that sustains her as she continues to miss her daughter and mother. 

Difficult Disconnections

In other cases, Mother’s Day can be difficult for mothers of children who have distanced themselves from their parents for various reasons. Are you a mum who has made repeated efforts to reach out to an estranged child and resolve conflicts? Perhaps you have lost custody or connection? Whatever the case, because the mother-child relationship is strained or currently nonexistent, the lack of connection may leave you feeling inadequate.

If you’re feeling disconnected from a child for any reason, I encourage you to be proactive. Talk with a friend or family member to explore some ideas for establishing contact, reconnecting, and reconciling if it is possible. Or consider other ways to bless others in need of a relationship. A licensed mental health professional can offer suggestions that may help.

Other Significant Losses

Finally, you may want to celebrate Mother’s Day, but can’t. Despite a strong desire to have children, the agony of infertility or a miscarriage may be part of your experience. When other mothers complain about the challenges of raising children, you long for the opportunity to face those challenges. Pain is found in the emptiness you feel. 

Are You Hurting This Mother’s Day?

If you’re a mother who is anticipating Mother’s Day as a day of celebration, be aware of other mums around you who may be struggling to find joy. Reach out to them. Hurting mums often hear simple answers to complex problems as others discount the real pain they feel. The best you can do is listen and be willing to sit with a struggling mum. 

Are you secretly counting the days, waiting for Mother’s Day to pass this year? If this Mother’s Day brings you feelings of hurt rather than joy, I encourage you to be honest with trusted family members and friends. Let them know you’re struggling and be willing to ask for help. You’ll probably find that your honesty will encourage others in your life to open up and share their hurts with you. 

© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

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