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Mental Health

Mother’s Day Isn’t Fun for All — Here’s How To Honor Mother’s Day Grief, According To Experts

Some ways to reclaim the day.

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If you hadn’t already guessed by the influx of mother-centric gift advertisements, Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 14. Many people are gearing up for it by ordering flowers, making brunch reservations, or writing heartfelt notes, thanking their mothers for all they’ve done. If you aren’t doing these things, however, you’re not alone — and you’re not broken, either. Mother’s Day pain is a real thing; it’s a holiday that can be emotionally difficult for so many reasons, and it’s normal to feel grief from hurtful or bittersweet memories this time of year. We asked our experts for loving ways to address pain and feelings of loss or disappointment, so you can reclaim Mother’s Day on your terms.

Meet our expert panel

Megan Devine, author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK (Buy from Amazon, $13.29), is a speaker, psychotherapist, and grief advocate. Learn more at RefugeInGrief.com.

Diane Barth, author of I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives (Buy from Amazon, $24.52), is a psychotherapist. Visit her Psychology Today blog.

Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us (Buy from Amazon, $27.95), teaches classes on death and grief at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Honor Grief

Allow complex emotions. Whether your mother has passed away or you have a fraught relationship with her, this holiday can churn up conflicting emotions, says expert Megan Devine. “We have to remind ourselves that whatever we’re feeling, it’s valid.” She adds this is also a time when old wounds flare. “If you had wanted to be a mom and it didn’t happen, make space for that grief too.” Letting yourself mourn is the first step to reclaiming joy.

Look a little deeper. Many women feel hidden anger, says psychotherapist Diane Barth. “You might resent how your stepmother treated you or you may have a combative relationship with your children,” she says. “Anger is often triggered by underlying hurt. Pay attention to what’s making you sad, whether it’s a feeling of abandonment or not being understood.” It’s just as important to grieve what we never had as it is to grieve what we lost.

Take the pressure off. Release expectations of what this day “should” look like, urges Barth, recalling the difficult dynamic she had with her mother. Rather than put pressure on herself to fake a perfect mother’s day, she decided one simple gesture would be enough. “I knew it was important to send a card; I wasn’t being dishonest with my feelings, because I loved my mother, but it was a tough relationship.” How much you want to engage with this holiday is up to you.

Seek Out Joy

Celebrate your big heart. From supporting our friends to mentoring young people to being kind to ourselves, “mothering” takes many forms. “Ask yourself how you can ‘mother’ yourself,” encourages Devine. “A key aspect of nurturance is growth — how can you express this?” That may mean volunteering or learning something new to honor the part of you that yearns to evolve. “There are so many facets of ‘mothering’ that we can embrace to make this day something to celebrate on our terms.”

Share genuine gratitude. Acknowledge that we can grieve and feel joy at the same time, urges expert Nancy Berns. “One way to do that is to focus on the women in your life who came along and filled that caring role, be it a teacher, an aunt, or a dear friend,” she says. Simply letting them know that you’re thinking of them makes room for gratitude in your heart that starts a ripple effect of compassion.

Create your own rituals. “When we experience loss, it leaves us with so much love we don’t know what to do with, even years later,” says Berns. She explains that finding tangible ways to channel these feelings helps us be open to and rediscover joy. “Whether you honor your late mother by cooking her favorite meal or simply share joyful memories with loved ones, connecting with your feelings will help this holiday become what you need it to be.”

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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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