Mother's Day isn't a celebration for everyone

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

    (CNN) -- Bouquets of flowers, decorated Sunday brunches and sentimental cards don't always hold the same emotions for everyone.

"There are different experiences that could lead up to why Mother's Day would be difficult for somebody," said clinical psychologist Naomi Torres-Mackie, head of research at the Mental Health Coalition.

It could be because they were born into a family without a mother -- with a single father, two fathers or nonbinary parents -- that could leave a sense of "am I missing something?" Or because their relationship with Mom has been severed. Or because they are mourning the death of their mother, she said.

Many may discount complicated feelings around Mother's Day, maybe because a lot of time has passed since the loss or because it feels wrong to grieve if a death never occurred. But Torres-Mackie said it's natural for a lot of emotions to arise around this day, especially considering we are still in the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Grief is a reaction -- it doesn't have to be a reaction to death. There are many different types of loss," Torres-Mackie said. "There's no one right way to grieve and it's not linear and time is almost irrelevant when it comes to grief and loss."

Rather than deny or minimize it, the best thing you can do is embrace your experience and take steps to care for yourself on a day honoring caregivers.

"Self-care is a nonnegotiable on Mother's Day," said Joanne Frederick, a psychologist based in Canada and author of "Copeology: Exploring Coping Techniques."

Accept how you feel -- and that it could change

Mother's Day comes with a lot of "shoulds."

"I should be happy, I should be celebrating, I should be physically spending time with my mother," Torres-Mackie said.

Or maybe you feel you should be solemn. Either way, Torres-Mackie suggests taking the should out of Mother's Day and reframing it in a way that acknowledges that grief and emotions are ever changing. What you need one year is not necessarily what you will need the next.

"You can think I am going to mark Mother's Day in this way. It doesn't have to be a happy day. You don't have to celebrate. It can be marked because it is a significant day," Torres-Mackie said.

Plan ahead

Whatever you are feeling, it's a good idea to plan for the day before the day itself arrives.

If you don't have a schedule for self-care, difficult emotions might creep up on you, Torres-Mackie said, and you could become too overwhelmed to start a plan.

It's also important to plan to avoid triggers around Mother's Day, whether that is social media posts or displays in stores, said Sarah Kalny, a therapist based in Massachusetts.

If your feelings are more joyful.


If you can't or won't be celebrating Mother's Day with a mom this year, you can still find joy or meaning in the day, psychologists said.

"If you're a mom, let other people celebrate you," Frederick said. "The first thing you think is, 'How do I celebrate my mom right now?' But if you are a mom, allow people to take you out or give you gifts, express their thoughts for you."

Even if you are not a mother, it can be a good day to schedule fun things for yourself, like a movie, a nice dinner or a bath, Kalny said.

The day can also be a way to connect with your mom even without her there. That could mean going to her favorite places, cooking her recipes, going through pictures, or writing her a letter, she added.

It might be worthwhile to start a tradition of getting together with friends and family to share stories, Frederick said.

"You can sit and enjoy it. So, whether it's tears, sadness, anger, grief, all the laughter, celebration, whether it is good reflections of the past ... keep those memories alive," she added.

If they are more difficult...

But maybe laughter and celebration aren't at the forefront. In that case, it's important to feel the difficult feelings and manage them in a helpful way.

"Don't hide or run from it because sometimes that can be worse later on so allow those feelings," Frederick said.

Kalny said it's important to utilize the coping strategies you have tried and tested, whether that is breathing, meditating or using a stress ball.

And if you can, try to stay a few steps ahead of your feelings, Torres-Mackie recommended. Identify what your feeling is making you want to do, imagine what the impact of that action would be and then decide how you would feel afterward so you can decide if the action you are choosing to address your feeling is healthy and helpful, she added.

And all three suggested relying on your support network.

"Going through something difficult, it's always easier when you're doing it in the company of loved ones," she said.

Two things can be true at the same time

You can also celebrate the community you have built while holding space for the loss you may feel around your mother.

"When I think of the word or concept of mother it means comfort," Torres-Mackie said. "Think about how you can then find that on Mother's Day from somebody who is currently in your life."

A mother isn't always someone who gave birth. The term is often defined as a person who taught, cared and shaped -- and reaching out to the many people who have done that for you can be a healing experience, Kalny said.

"We can be really happy and really grateful for the people that we have and the mothers that we have in our lives that we found in other people ... and there might be feelings of loss," Kalny said.

"It might feel like there's something missing ... because of this lack of relationship and that is OK for both of those things to exist at the same time."

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