By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children can be tough. For many years now, I’ve written heartfelt holiday messages to help. This year’s posting is a slight departure, meant to occupy and distract—yet practical.
Distraction can be a healthy coping tool. Research shows that using distractions such as puzzles, music, films, reading, sports, and other hobbies can temporarily halt unhelpful thinking patterns, ease anxious nerves, help to relieve even chronic physical pain, and calm the symptoms of depression and PTSD1.
For more direct thoughts about Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children and how to cope, refer to my past articles. I’ve listed some of them under “Related Reading” at the end. That said, here are a few “Mom facts” to occupy your mind. Links to articles here at the site and elsewhere offer further reading on these disparate subjects loosely related to motherhood and moms.
#1—Mom: The same in every language (almost)
Some things are said the same in every language. Like us saying “mmm” when we eat yummy food. Also, what we call Mom is almost always the same.
Common thought among linguists is that the enunciation of “mom” or “mama” matches up the mouth’s motion when an infant suckles. The “mmm-mmm” sounds are classified as “labial.” These sorts of sounds are made by pressing the lips together, and infants are thought to naturally do this because the lips are rich with nerve endings. Perhaps that’s why, with a few variations, “mom” sounds the same in so many languages. For example, the French say maman. Spanish versions include mamá, mama, ma, and mami. In Italy, Iceland, Latvia, and Sweden “mamma” is spelled with a double m. For a distraction, consider your heritage and find the appropriate term. (While most languages use these sounds/names, not all do…I wonder why?)
Try making the “mmm” sound right now. You’ll have to press your lips together. Who knows? Maybe the action will trigger a wave of physical responses that link to anything good we might have ever associated with making the sound.
Labial sounds paired with another vocal category, “wide vowel sounds,” help infants begin to form words. They press their lips together with the “mmm” sound, and when they open their mouth abruptly, wide vowel sounds naturally occur. Can I get an oooh and an ahh?
We’ll stick with “ah” for now, which makes “mama” or “mom” an easy first word, associated with a mother’s protection, sustenance, and care. Think about it. Mmm+ah+mmm+ah. Depending on when you close and open your mouth, you get mom, mama, or a string of babble. Since the “mmm” sound is so naturally made with the motion of suckling, it’s no wonder babies say “mama” first.
Later, as we become more sophisticated in speech, the ”mmm” sound is used as an encourager during conversation. We typically say “mmm,” or the variation, “mmm-hmmm,” to indicate we understand what someone is telling us. The sound encourages the other person to continue. Next time someone’s talking, purposefully offer this encouragement, and even think about the sweet baby you once knew, encouraging your love and care with labial and wide vowel sounds. Maybe everything has changed, but those sweet moments were real—and can still be savored.
Of course, Mother’s Day, for moms with estranged adult children, might be a triggering and sometimes painful time to reflect upon a child’s growing up years. But savoring good memories fosters older people’s resilience2, something I talk more fully about in my books. Right now, I challenge you to pause and remember a happy time. Choose a single moment, an event, or a day. Travel back in your mind, remember the smiles, the joy, the surroundings … and feel the goodness you experienced on that day. Life is a journey. Enjoy the pleasant stops and the memories … repeatedly.
Now, let’s switch gears and move on to another distracting mom fact.
#2—Your flesh and blood?
No, not exactly. Cells die off and exchange for new ones throughout life, so estranged adult children become their own “flesh and blood.” Well, except for some cells that migrate during pregnancy and persist, a phenomenon known as microchimerism. Research shows that mothers can carry their offsprings’ DNA well into old age. If your estranged adult child is on your mind, that might, in fact, literally be true.
While some research seems to indicate that the presence of these cells could be problematic, other studies show that they offer protective health qualities. Look up “microchimerism” for a plethora of articles as well as speculation, unanswered questions, and some facts. Or, because it’s Mother’s Day, read this one by an M.D. with a positive spin.
#3—Are you like an octopus?
As a young mother of five children, I used to wish for eight arms. I imagined how many hugs I could give (and receive) while simultaneously finishing all my work. A silly dream, of course, but one I used to say aloud. One of my daughters even drew a picture of me as an octopus!
As it turns out, an octopus mom’s life isn’t much about hugs and getting things done. In fact, these fascinating creatures become so single-minded in their parenting that they will neglect themselves for their young. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Recently, researchers discovered this self-sacrifice relates to the optic gland, located between their eyes. It’s said to be something like the human pituitary gland, releasing various hormones at different stages of life. When scientists removed the gland, mother octopuses carried on as if they’d never laid eggs. They left them to fate.
While I can’t imagine having let go of my precious children when they were young, their adult lives become their own. Remembering this fact can help any mom. This may be especially true on Mother’s Day for moms with estranged adult children.
Next time you find yourself sacrificing your own precious life moments for negative thinking, wishes about what could be, and worries over adult children’s choices, think of those octopus mothers with the optic gland removed and imagine you’re free. Get those legs (arms!) pumping and take a deep dive into the colorful reefs of your own life possibilities. If you have any trouble, consider the question: Are you an octo-mom? I wrote an article to help.
I hope you found this article a helpful distraction. Here’s a final thought: The word “mom,” turned upside down, spells “wow.” That’s what I think of all the moms who write to me and encourage each other at this site. Wow! Just wow. You are amazing women.
What do you have to say? Leave a comment. List a few thoughts about how the helpful distractions you choose. Or offer what thoughts came to mind about what was included here. How can your thoughts help on Mother’s Day, for moms with estranged adult children? I know you’ll wow me.
- Dolcos F, Iordan AD, Kragel J, et al. Neural correlates of opposing effects of emotional distraction on working memory and episodic memory: an event-related FMRI investigation.Front Psychol. 2013;4:293. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00293
- Smith, J.L. & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19(3). doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.986647