Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending your heartache

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

mother's day for estranged parents

It’s here again. Mother’s Day, arriving like a bunch of wilted flowers on a day you’d rather skip. You’re not up for it. Are any of us up for it? Us mothers whose children don’t want us?

I know, I know. You’re used to me coming up with something happy and bright. Some soothing words. A plan to get through the day and to transcend its sadness.

Well, I do. I have. I will.

But it’s okay to feel sad or angry or tired too. It’s okay to mourn the loss, to wish things were different, and admit you don’t like Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending the heartache

Mother’s Day for estranged mothers oftentimes comes with expectations. The day isn’t yours alone. For many of us there are other people—other sons and daughters, a spouse, other family members—who want us to be okay. They want to honor us on Mother’s Day. And some of us won’t feel good about ourselves if we don’t let them. If this is you, or even if you’re all alone for Mother’s Day, take the time to tend your heartache.

In acknowledging and tending to our hurt, we honor ourselves. That might then free us up to enjoy the way our loved ones want to honor us. Or to simply enjoy the day.

I’m not one to wallow. For many of us, wallowing isn’t practical. Follows is a list of ways to acknowledge the pain of estrangement on Mother’s Day in brief but meaningful ways—so you can then get on with your day. Use my suggestions as a jumping off point. You have good ideas and usually know what works best for you.

Use your words. Just identifying your feelings about the situation can help. Take five or ten minutes with pen and paper to identify how you feel. Don’t worry about thinking every thought through. Just write the words down. Recent studies indicate that just putting your feelings into words can help you feel better.

You might be surprised that after the most obvious words,
ones you didn’t realize come out. mother's day for estranged mothersAcknowledging those feelings might help you to deal with them. For instance, if you would underline “pressured” (as in the picture), you might then drill down. Okay, so I’m feeling pressured. Why? Because everyone else wants me to be okay. They want me to be happy, go to eat, enjoy the flowers they bring. They’re tired of everything being about the estrangement, etc. Then you can decide what to do with that feelings.

I’m using that example because it’s one I’ve felt. Identifying the feeling allowed me to then realize why, and decide whether to bow to that feeling. For me, I did want to be okay for everyone. I did want those who honored me to know I appreciated them. Drilling down like that helped me to put on a happy face. And you know what? It was okay. There have been studies about how our actions can lead to the feelings we’re trying to portray. Besides, the day passes as days do. The hoopla ends The next day begins.

Maybe identifying that you feel pressured leads to a decision that’s right for you. My solution won’t fit everyone. Maybe you tell everyone you’re not up to celebrating Mother’s Day just now, and that you’re going away for the weekend. One client with a son who is semi-estranged decided this solution was best for her. Making a decision and then acting on it can be such a positive thing.

Perhaps you enlist the help of others to come up with a new tradition for the day. Or you brainstorm some other way to deal. It’s about recognizing your feelings and taking action to let those feelings help you—not about repressing them.

Honor the missing. In another article I wrote about holidays and how to manage them, I spoke of setting out a carved wooden bird my estranged son once gave me. Maybe you do something similar. Or maybe you talk to other family members, and allow them to express their sadness or anger or frustration, too.

Many of us have mothers we miss on Mother’s Day. For estranged mothers, the love we feel for our own mother or motherly figures needn’t be overshadowed by a son or daughter’s rejection. Could you set out a photograph of your deceased mother and/or grandmother—or honor them in other ways?

Most holiday traditions involve special foods, many that are family recipes we cook and eat only on those special days. Mother’s Day seems an appropriate time to acknowledge family recipes. Maybe instead of going out, we could try to recreate a family recipe—and preserve it for future generations. Doing so is another way to honor the ones we miss.

How else might you honor those who are missed on Mother’s Day? For estranged mothers, it’s important to come up with a useful plan.

Treat yourself well. As mentioned above, you have to do what’s right for you. If that means you don’t celebrate Mother’s Day this year, that’s okay. Recognize what you need and honor yourself in that way.

Other ways to treat yourself well might involve getting a manicure, haircut, or a new outfit. If that helps you feel better, then by all means, do it.

One mother said she would be getting a massage. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? And with a massage, there is usually soft music—and not a lot of expectation for conversation. Good choice.

Maybe you get yourself a helpful gift. My book is a good choice!

Maybe you take a hike in nature, or sit by a pond and feed the ducks. Getting out in nature can be so calming.

More ideas on Mother’s Day for estranged mothers

  • Eat well (try a new food!).
  • Wear perfume.
  • Take a nap.
  • Sip a flavored coffee.
  • Get yourself a scented lotion—and use it.
  • Light candles.
  • Drink an expensive wine.
  • Use the day to plan a trip.
  • Drive to the country.
  • Walk a city block.
  • See a play.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Play a board game.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Cuddle your dog.
  • Dote on a friend.
  • Buy a new rug.
  • Clean your mirrors—and smile at your reflection.
  • Try some aromatherapy in a new easy aromatherapy diffuser. Have you seen those?
  • Shop for yourself. Here’s Amazon’s Home Page so you don’t have to go out.
  • Sign up for a new TV channel.
  • Pull a few weeds, and imagine clearing out the garden of your life.
  • Listen to feel-good music.

What will you do to help yourself?

What will you do to acknowledge your feelings, tend your heartache, and treat yourself well for the holidays.

It helps to express your thoughts. Maybe your ideas can help others, so leave a comment here. It’s your turn now. What can you share?

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8 thoughts on “Mother’s Day for estranged mothers: Tending your heartache

  1. Ingrid

    I feel like there’s a trend of adult children cutting their mom or dad along with their entire family either moms side or dad’s. I’m seeing it with my own son who also cut out my dad and my sisters but my niece has now done the same thing g to my sister and the rest of our family. My mom died in 2013, seems like everything went to crap since. I’m seeing it with friends kids as well. I feel like it’s become a common occurrence in our society.

  2. Joyce M.

    dear Sheri and all the hurting moms:

    I do see my daughter at the lodge she is staying at. She likes to see
    our dog and takes him for walks. When I drop off the dog and give
    her different things she wants from home, that is where we end.
    She had a nervous breakdown after Covid and I had to have the police
    involved and I stil don’t know what she is thinking or feeling. I do not
    askany questions of her and the man who runs the lodge is a great guy
    and cares for all the residents. About 8 of them. She volunteers and
    has joined a church which I am happy about. Unfortunately, she never
    wanted to get help or see a doctor and this is making it very difficult
    to understand, but this is part of her problem. I set some boundaries
    that shecannot visit me , I live alone and am a senior. When she was
    here last year she was very verbally abusive and it hurt me so much.

    I try to reach out to my son for visits and other people. I love having
    people come over but after they are gone, I still feel sad. Mother’ Day
    is making it harder and she will probably send me a card or when I
    take our dog over for his 3 hour visit, I will get one. I usually put cards
    and other things away afterwards as It is too hurtful to read over and over.

    I have anxiety and stress over the past year and try to work things out
    but it is very hard. I have contact with a therapist and that helps.

    I do pray that she finds her way in life, but it seems all these occasions
    arenot helpful and very stressful. I can’t wait for mother’s day to be over.

    It sounds cynical but I don’t like holidays as they are too painful.

    I hope everyone out there will find there own way and not lose faith
    and help as positive as possible.


  3. Lisa

    I found this site today when seeking ideas for how to not ruin Mother’s Day for my other children while struggling with the pain of the estrangement from my son. I think, as with so many, it’s his wife at the root of it, but that doesn’t make a difference in the pain. I am so grateful for finding this, and I’m grateful for these ideas. I’m going to try a few of these things today, and I’m going to wear waterproof mascara to church!

    1. Nancy G.

      I just found this site and read your post. I am in the same situation with my son. For 5 years and now there’s a 3 yo grand daughter we have never met. Been wearing waterproof mascara for 5 yrs and still hoping and praying this situation changes soon. Glad to see I’m not alone but sad others are going through this type of heartach and pain. Glad I found this site.

    2. Jackie

      I am in your shoes. My son is not married yet but I feel like she is enjoying him not communicating with me. I have 2 Grandsons, I get to see the youngest one, but not the oldest that he has custody of. It’s so hard, it pains my HEART!
      I hope things get better for you. I keep Praying I get to see my oldest Grandson soon.
      Hope & Pray it gets better for all of us!

  4. Krista

    I am trying so hard to understand estrangement as I have been through this probably more times than I want to admit! This last time, I had to cancel babysitting(a business trip my daughter had to go on) due to my daughter’s family having Covid ( her husband was very sick and 2 of her four children tested positive ) as I am 69 years old and hadn’t been fully vaccinated! She hasn’t spoken to me since among a series of many other incidences she estranges me for long periods of time from my grandkids! She is very narcissistic and the antithesis of me! I’m so done with this hurt… my broken heart can’t take it anymore and I have to cut off this abuse she had done to me for the last 35 plus years!krista

  5. R.

    I know that this greeting is early, but I want to thank Sheri again and to wish her a happy mother’s day. I am struck by your goodness, vision, and caring to have this site, which is so helpful to others. I read some of the articles and/or comments every day, and they help me so much. I especially like her expression, how do you explain the inexplicable? and The Boat article.

  6. Irene

    Hi. I remember a time when, somehow, Mother’s Day fell (very late) on my Mom’s birthday. I was maybe 9 or 10. We were ranchers, aka we raised (and continue to raise) your beef.

    There was a need that weekend for an urgent fence repair. I’ve forgotten the details, but I assume it was related to a localized flood near the spot where the “headgate” aka the thing that measured the legal flow of water to our fields vs neighbor’s fields) converged with a really important piece of fence, which was also part of the all important division of scarce water. Well, scarce in three weeks. On Mother’s Day it was a flipping high water ice cold splashing mess at least waist deep to young me and almost hip deep to Mom, as we both struggled with the post hole digger, the post and the weird winch thing that put all the bits together.

    Dad felt really bad to have to drag us out there to hold this contraption while he did his thing at the other end. He’d said something to me along the way that let me know he’d made reservations for a really nice dinner for us all, but of course it was a surprise for Mom and I wasn’t allowed to say anything. So I got to be on the bottom of this pile of muddy ditch and listen to Mom wax eloquent about how awful Dad was.

    She eventually super grudgingly (after being a complete bitch through the entire lovely meal and fun time) alluded that it was maybe an okay day.

    I tell this story to point out that the flower company’s ads are not realistic about Mother’s Day.


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