Mothers’ Day when your adult child is estranged

Getting through Mothers’ Day when an adult child is estranged: Six thoughts to help

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

getting throgh Mothers' Day when an adult child is estrangedMedia 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.

getting through Mother's Day when an adult child is estrangedDote 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.

Related articles:

Father’s Day when an adult child is estranged

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6 thoughts on “Mothers’ Day when your adult child is estranged

  1. Dawn

    Thank you for writing this article. Mother’s Day is doubly painful for me as my mother passed 26 years ago. I was in my late 20s then mother died, and we had come to truly admire and love each other for the women we were. I still miss mom deeply. Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of mom’s absence if not only my mother, but my best friend.

    My own adult children, 28 & 33 make little, or in my son’s case, no effort or acknowledgement of the day. I’m at a loss. My husband, their father is also at a loss, other than to say, “It’s their generation, if it’s not about them, they don’t care”

    The tears will come again this year, I really like your ideas, especially keeping the tv off and focusing on my fur baby, and celebrating the HAPPY memories I have of my mom, recalling her voice as she would say, “Aww, wash your face and cheer up, buttercup.”

    To all the mother’s who read this, “Cheers! You are wonderful!”

    1. Karen

      My adult daughter starting rejecting me 3 years ago. I was the only one she trusted, or relied on to look after the children whenever she needed. I was fully involved in my grandchildren lives. We were so close. Slowly, as they grew older, by daughter started pulling away. When I would mention some of the things I started to notice, she would tell me I was making a big deal out of nothing. I started to doubt myself. Around the age of about 11 years old my granddaughter began to reject me. And the same pattern played out. If I said anything, it was my fault. My grandchildren are adolescents now and hardly speak to me. Now, when I see or speak with my daughter, or grandkids, it feels like they “tolerate me”. The sting of rejection is prevalent on a daily basis, it reaches deep into my soul, leaving a constantl ache un my heart. I was once so involved in their lives. These past three years I have been in deep depression. I have struggled greatly trying to come to terms with owning my part in the hurt and pain caused and knowing the difference between my issues and ‘not mine to own’. I am a recovering alcoholic; 28 years sober. I caused my daughter (only child) much hurt, pain and trauma in her childhood. I own that. My grandchildren has never experienced my drinking, nor will they. I am proud of who I am today. It is a journey and I continue to evolve. I accept that my daughter deserves to heal from her past trauma. She does not want a close relationship with me. She has told me this. It has taken me three years to accept her wishes. So on this Mother’s Day, I am digging deep to honour myself and spend the day reflecting on what it is I need to continue to heal. I know my relationship will not be what I had hoped between my daughter and me, she was the reason I stopped drinking. I did not want her to live another day with a drunk mother. I did not want to be a drunk grandmother. I fulfilled that dream. Today, I am sober for me. Today, May 10/2020 I honour my strength and my vulnerability. Happy Mother’s Day.

  2. Debbie

    Thank you Sheri, for always remembering to send a message and a article on special days of the year. It really helps to show us we are not alone with this terrible experience. It is especially hard this year due to Covid19, to think that they don’t even care enough, that our life could be taken away in a minute with this Virus.Well, it is going to be 8 years for me, not hearing from my Son and daughter. I fortunately have a daughter who is still in my life and I have 4 beautiful grandchildren, that I love deeply. Love to hear from you, Happy Mother’s Day to you, and, all the other Mother’s who know how painful it is. It is their loss. Thank you.

  3. Christine

    On mother’s day Friday, I texted my girls. Both of them 27 and 25 minister in the Salvation Army. I text them scriptures from time to time. They hate me because when they were teenagers I started seeing someone and got pregnant out of wedlock. I raised them in church. But they can’t believe that God’s grace is just as sufficient for me as anyone else. Oh how it hurts. “Everything you ever did as a parent was wrong”. “You were abusive”, “You are the reason our father died.”. and most recently “You are a narcissist.”. I’m like you couldn’t spell it if I didn’t teach you how to spell! So on mother’s day I cried, again. I moved from Ohio to Texas they are mad about that but I finally was able to get my teaching license and a great job. I don’t understand why they feel this way but I will not tolerate the disrespect. I texted them back and told them I will not come back to Ohio and they can come to visit me when they are ready to apologize and forgive. I’m done going on the guilt trip with them and feeling like my accomplishments are not important. I still have a 21 year old son with autism and a 12 year old daughter to take care of.

  4. Pam

    After searching for some emotional help for the off and on again situation with my estranged 41 year old daughter, I was overjoyed to find this website where I can communicate with someone who has experienced the same type of situation. I’m most interested in reading the comments from other moms and what they’re going thru. I can relate to many of them. As I sit here at my little cubbyhole of an office, I’ve decided to create a “healing space” for myself. When I see encouraging comments that particularly strike a nerve, I print them out and tack them to the wall. At 71 years of age, It is now my intention to pull myself out of the gutter of self-pity and stand tall knowing that I am not the wicked witch of the west as my daughter has led everyone to believe. Did I do everything right when I was rearing my children, of course not. Does any mother make the correct decisions 100% of the time. Of course not. Does my daughter acknowledge the many, many good things I did for her when she was growing up? No! She only remembers the incidents where she thinks I “did her wrong”. I’ve encouraged conversations with her to try to solve some issues. She’s decided she won’t discuss unless we go to a therapist. I’ve apologized to her for the things I know she’s upset about and anything else she might hold against me. She doesn’t want to hear it. I’ve asked for forgiveness. She’s not interested. I’ve told her let’s draw a line in the dirt, she can step over it and we can move forward together. No way! Let’s face it, my time is running out and she doesn’t care. For years she has suggested we go to counseling and I have avoided it. December last year, 2019, I finally agreed to go to counseling with her and told her to set it up. She lives a 3-hour drive from me. I also told her I wanted a list of whatever issues she felt needed to be discussed so I could be prepared to defend myself. I never got the list and here it is May 2020 and she’s never even mentioned counseling again. I feel like I’m going before a jury and I have to be prepared to present my case…or I’ll be executed. Wow! That’s pretty sad. She and her husband have two of the most adorable children, ages 2 and 4, and I am madly in love with them, ,and they with me and my husband. But my daughter makes no attempt to keep her children in touch with us even though it would be quite simple to facetime with us, or have the 4 year old scribble a picture and mail to us, etc. I buy clothes and send to the kids but she and her husband don’t open the packages and don’t put the clothes on the kids. If I ask what about the clothes, she comments that they didn’t like the shirt or something else I sent. The last excuse I got was that she hadn’t washed the clothes I sent yet (April) and since they could be contaminated from the COVID, she couldn’t put them on the kids. If I send cards to the kids, she doesn’t open them. I now realize that I can’t spend anymore money buying things for the kids and that breaks my heart. I’m trying to convince myself that I may not get to see my grandkids anymore. I just want to cry.


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