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Mother’s Day is meant to be a day to recognize and celebrate the invaluable contribution of mothers.  But if our mothers are no longer with us – whether because they have passed away or because the relationship is fractured or never existed – Mother’s Day can bring on feelings of grief, disappointment, resentment or even anger.  For many of us, Mother’s Day feels more like a trial to endure than a holiday to celebrate.  I am not a mom, and both my husband and have lost our mothers.  Mother’s Day used to bring up a whirlwind of uncomfortable emotions, but I’ve learned several things that have helped me face the day with joy for others and peace for myself.  If you find yourself hurting this Mother’s Day, here are some suggestions for ways you too can face the day with peace – and maybe even some new-found joy.

Refresh Your Mother’s Day Traditions

Traditions can be comforting, even if you need to tweak them a bit.  If you always took mom to a particular place, go there with family to celebrate her memory and mark the start of a new season in your family.  Enjoy sharing favorite memories or laughing together about your mom’s crazy side.  Grief shared is grief eased.

That said, don’t feel obligated to do what you’ve always done. There are no rules about Mother’s Day despite what Pinterest or Hallmark want you to believe.

Honor Your Mother’s Memory

Mark the day by making a donation to or volunteering at one of your mom’s favorite charities.  Post a beautiful picture of Mom on social media and share some fun or little-known facts about her, your favorite memories, or ways she shaped the person you are today. You don’t need to sugarcoat it, your mom’s a real person and so are you!

A more intimate way to honor Mom is to light a candle in her memory and say a prayer of thanksgiving.  Give thanks for your mother and all of the positive ways she influenced your life.  Even if your relationship with your mother was difficult, there are still things for which you can be grateful.  For example: that she gave you life; that she passed on to you some of her good qualities or traits; and that she instilled some positive things in you (even if they were just hard life lessons).

Reframe the Meaning of Mother’s Day

Celebrate the women who fill a motherly role in your life.  Share with them how they have blessed and encouraged you and filled that void in your heart. Let them know how grateful you are the God has placed them in your life. My only caution with this suggestion is to make sure your words will be received in the spirit you intend.  It’s probably not a great idea to express this on Mother’s Day to someone who is childless and for whom childlessness is a source of sadness or disappointment.  It’s wonderful to share your gratitude with that person, just maybe not on Mother’s Day.

Write a Letter to Your Mom

This can be anything you need it to be. If you need closure with your mother on some issues, you can pour your heart out.  If you miss your mother tremendously, share that with her.  Fill her in on all the little things that she’s missed in your life since she passed and how you wish you were celebrating the day with her.

Don’t let this exercise become overly “griefy” or take you someplace bitter and angry.  It’s okay to be sad and shed a few tears as you write.  Just don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with grief.  If your feelings lean more towards anger than grief, this exercise can be cathartic and healing.  However, purpose to release any negative thoughts and feelings that come up, rather than nurture and fixate on them.

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Release your Expectations of Your Mom and Mother’s Day

Not all mother-child relationships are good.  And some are even non-existent.  Maybe you were raised by another relative or in a foster family.  Maybe your mother was abusive or neglectful.  Or maybe your mom put unrealistic expectations and pressures on you that drove a wedge between you.  None of those things happened to you by your choice, but you do get to choose how you will respond and deal with it.

Feelings are almost impossible to control – thoughts are not.  Don’t allow yourself to be filled with thoughts that lead to anger or regret over what your relationship was or wasn’t.  Telling yourself not to think those thoughts is not the answer – you’ll only focus on them more.  What you can do is choose to redirect your thoughts to something positive.

An Exercise to Reframe Your Thoughts

  • Make a list of any good things about your mother, your relationship with her or any ways she positively impacted your life.
  • Then add to that list all the good things and good people in your life – things you can be grateful for and celebrate.
  • When you feel anger or resentment welling up in you, reread your list and focus on what good things you do have in your life.
  • Repeatedly tell yourself, out loud if possible, “I am choosing to release my anger and disappointment.  I did not have the mother I wanted or needed, and that hurts.  There are some things I can be grateful for, and I choose to be thankful for them.  I can thrive in spite of my relationship with my mother.  I am not damaged goods, and I am not less-than.  And I can forgive her and let go of my unmet expectations.”

Maybe for you Mother’s Day can be less about celebrating your mother and more about celebrating and acknowledging the person you became without her.

Practice Radical Generosity of Spirit on Mother’s Day

This last one’s a toughie, but I promise it works.  Even if Mother’s Day is painful for you for various reasons, you can still choose to rejoice in and celebrate the women in your life who are moms or who are celebrating with their beloved moms.  I say this from a place of love, love, love (and experience) and with a desire to encourage you:  it’s not all about you.

That’s not a demeaning statement – it’s a freeing, liberating one.

We’re not all blessed in every area of our lives, and frankly that’s just how it is for everyone.  When our experiences are disappointing or hurtful, we must not begrudge someone else their blessings in that area.  The Bible tells us not only to weep with those who weep [comfort and commiserate with them] but we are commanded to also rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).  I know – that is sometimes so much harder to do.  Maybe that’s why it’s a command and not a suggestion.

If your relationship with your mother was negative and hurtful, and you just can’t find anything to be grateful for there, look around at some of the other moms in your life and find something there to celebrate.  Maybe your best friend is a wonderful mother – the kind of mother you wish you had.  Reach out to your friend and tell her that.  Be thankful for her children’s sake that they have a good, nurturing mother.  Don’t wallow in your own grief or resentment – that only harms you.  Instead, look around and take note of the things that ARE good.  Rejoice in the fact that despite one sour relationship in your life, you still have many sweet things to be thankful for!

If your sadness stems from grieving the loss of your wonderful mother, you can still take joy in all the celebrations around you.  You can wish your friends a “happy Mother’s Day” and encourage them to give their moms an extra hug and treasure that time.  I know that’s hard, but I promise it will come back to you as a blessing.

How Blessing Others Blesses You

When we set our hearts on blessing others and rejoicing with them in their joy, God reflects some of that joy back at us and comforts us with it.  Our burdens of grief and sadness can be greatly lifted if we look outside ourselves for something good.  There is always cause for joy somewhere.  Always.  The Bible never tells us to do the impossible, but what is possible with God.  This is why the Apostle Paul can write, “Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT).

That’s not a guilt-trippy command meant to belittle or demean your pain or grief.  It’s a prescription to help lift your head in a time of grief to bring comfort.  We can be thankful and joyful in all situations – not because of or for all situations – but in and despite them.

ways to cope when Mother's Day hurts

Wrapping it Up

Mother’s Day can hurt – for all sorts of reasons.  But if we direct our thoughts and our actions to things that are positive and affirming, we can face those hurts and transform the day from a trial to something positive and affirming for you.

I hope you’ve found some ideas for how you can face Mother’s Day in positive ways.  One other thing you can do is share this post with friends or family who might be struggling with their own feelings about Mother’s Day.   And you can also pin this post to refer to later if you need to.

Peace and grace,

Elizabeth