Getting through Mothers’ Day when an adult child is estranged: Six thoughts to help
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Media bombards us with images of smiling families, their arms brimming with bunches of blooming bouquets. We see gifts of jewelry, homemade cards, and children bringing trays of food to a mother who sleeps blissfully in. All the while, sweet, sentimental music accompanies the love fest.
For mothers whose adult children are estranged, the memories these images bring up can be especially cruel. As April turns to May, we’re likely dreading the day. Do we go to our place of worship as usual knowing we’ll be handed a rose that reminds us no flowers will arrive back at home? Among the pews of intact families, a sermon to honor us can make us feel especially alone. Do we leave the house at all that day? Every store has a special display, and every restaurant a Mother’s Day special or brunch.
Getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged is no easy feat.
Some of us feel sad and hurt and lonely. Others tremble with a hope for contact we don’t quite admit, because we fear we’ll be disappointed.
Some moms dread the text or email we figure is coming. “Happy Mother’s Day,” or even “I love you,” thumbed into a tiny Smartphone screen or typed into an email doesn’t match the roar of silence the rest of the year. And then, instead of joy on our special day, we find ourselves angry and full of anguish.
Even for moms whose other children remain close, the day holds a sense of loss for the one who is missing. But not wanting to spoil the festivities, we likely hold those feelings in.
Getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged takes a little planning. Here are six ideas to help mothers of estranged adult children get through the holiday.
Scoff at schemas. Mother’s Day, like most other holidays, brings up all sorts of “schemas,” a term for the storylines and imagery accompanying events that are part of our culture. But let’s face it. How many Mother’s Days were ideal? Did you ever get to sleep in? When the kids made you breakfast, did you clean up the kitchen? Did you ever receive a crock pot when you’d have preferred a pedicure or massage? I know his little heart was in the right place, but once, one of my young sons brought a handmade card from school – – thanking me for cooking and cleaning! Although I have truly had some wonderful Mother’s Days, some haven’t been all that memorable. If you can identify, maybe it helps to scoff at the schemas, lower expectations, and admit that Mother’s Day has rarely lived up to the marketed version.
Plan ahead. If you’re dreading the holiday, take some time to really consider what’s bothering you and make some early decisions. Take control of the day. If the dreaded text will make you angry, turn off the phone (You can look at it later or the following day.) If you will be sad and don’t feel up to seeing others, reconsider your obligations. You could opt out of celebrations entirely, skip church, or do something out of the ordinary that starts a new tradition.
Make it about other mothers. The fastest way to get our minds off ourselves is to think about helping other people. One mom told me she volunteers at a local old folks’ home on Mother’s Day. Whom can you help? Is there a woman in your life who has been like a mother to you? What can you do to make her day (or even the week ahead) special? By giving to others, we help ourselves. In the book,Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, authors Stephen Post and Jill Neimark draw on scientific studies showing how ten ways of giving contribute to mental and physical health. This beats sitting around thinking about how sad you are.
Plant something. Where I live, spring weather is in full swing by Mother’s Day. Consider finding something that will bloom year-to-year around this time. A bright splash of color that attracts butterflies can connect you to the cycle of living and the perpetual rotation of the seasons. Growing a plant that offers food provides rich reward. For my Master’s Degree in Human Behavior, I conducted research for my final project about gardening’s effects on health and happiness. Tending to plants connects us to something bigger than ourselves, relieves stress, and cultivates feelings of joy. Even if you’ve never gardened before, you can succeed. Radishes are easy to grow in a container, require little care, and can be harvested in around 30 days. Hint: try an unusual variety. French breakfast radishes are my personal favorite.
Dote on pets. That’s my baby in the picture. When I went out of town for a few days, someone very close to me pet-sat. She texted the photo-shopped pic, saying my doggie missed me so much that she got a Mom tattoo. If you have a cherished pet or two, hug them close. Pets really do bring us joy beyond measure, and offer unconditional love. Studies show that pets we love attenuate loneliness, improve our well-being, and our health.
Say what you need. For some, getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged requires speaking out. One mom said her husband always makes a big deal. He means well, believing he’s helping her on what he knows is a very sad day for her. But she’d prefer he didn’t say a thing. If this is you, let your needs be known. Tell your spouse and other family and friends what you do or don’t want. For some moms, it’s a day to stay in with regular television off. DVDs or Netflix bypass the reminders. You may have other wishes. Go ahead and state your needs. If you’re alone, do what you want. After all, it’s your day.
For more ideas for getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged, read this article from December, 2013, Holidays: How to manage them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas. Also, what are your Mother’s Day plans? How about helping other moms looking for ways to get through the day. Please share your ideas. Leave your comments below. Let’s help and support each other.