by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
The generally recognized founder of the U.S. Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, never profited from the holiday. She fought against commercializing it, but Mother’s Day is commercialized. And all those newspaper ads and television commercials can trigger pain and sadness for mothers of estranged adult children.
The White Carnation
Did you know that the carnation does not lose its petals as it dies? Instead, it hugs them to its heart, according to Anna Jarvis. She likened the carnation to mothers whose love never dies and who hold their children close. Jarvis was against commercializing the holiday, but she sure knew how to spin a persuasive line. So do today’s marketers. The holiday is so ingrained in our culture that mothers of estranged adult children begin worrying and talking about it months in advance. What will they do to get through the day? What won’t they do, in order to protect themselves?
Before we get into some solid answers, let’s consider that maybe all the lovely images the media projects about Mother’s Day aren’t as accurate a portrayal as they seem. As I say in my book, the Norman Rockwell image of the family doesn’t truly exist. Even the happiest of families have their troubles.
My article, What don’t you know? , features an honest portrayal of after-holiday conversations among neighbors and friends. Odds are everyone is telling the good stuff while leaving out the conflicts.
Mothers of estranged adult children may also pare their comments down rather than let it all hang out. And who can blame them? Many mothers of estranged adult children relate that they have experienced judgment. It’s common for people to suspect that a parent has done something awful to cause estrangement. But as I discuss at length in my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, it’s sometimes possible to get past the judgment. Parents can sometimes be honest, and then steer the other person’s response. You can do this by acknowledging a negative response as understandable, which lets the other person off the hook. A gentle correction can follow, because estrangement by adult children who come from regular, loving families is actually rather common. By steering people past their initial responses, we can begin to enlighten society to the epidemic of estrangement. But gosh, don’t feel obligated to do so. As mentioned, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it to yourself. Especially in the beginning.
Early on, it was difficult for me to talk about my son’s estrangement. As time has gone on, it’s grown easier. I also see it as important, so speak out publicly to shed light on the issue of estrangement. In the fall, when my story was told to a Good Housekeeping magazine interviewer, she edited it down, and then they added dramatic headlines that appeared as if they were my quotes. When I agreed to that interview, I had no idea the story would be passed along to media outlets all over the world. As a result, I was bombarded by hateful, judgmental comments. I completely understand why some parents choose not to tell anyone about estrangement.
However, beyond enlightening society to the problem, my intention remains the same as when I when I wrote the book: To help parents of estranged adult children. If parents can manage to let go of the whys and what-ifs, they can live a fulfilling life. Though the article that went viral generated hate, it also reached the audience it was intended for. I heard from many parents, some of whom had suffered alone for many years. They said they had no idea there were other caring parents whose adult children abandoned them. Just by sharing my story, I had helped!
Similarly, a mother in the support forum shared that she bought herself a beautiful bouquet for Mother’s Day—to honor herself for all she’d done as a mother. The florist asked if she wanted to sign a card, and she ended up revealing the truth. It just so happens that the florist was also a mother of estranged adult children. The two shared a hug. This story is like others I often hear, where one mother lets down her guard, and discovers she has helped another by sharing.
If you’re not ready to open up about your estrangement, don’t feel bad. I completely understand, and have suffered enough suspicious stares to know how you feel. We are each on our own path. Although we share a bond in estrangement, our individual circumstances are unique, and so are we. Depending on the duration of the estrangement and any further contact that places you on an emotional roller coaster or uncertain about hope, you may or may not be willing to open up. And it’s your choice whether to let people in on your plight. Just as a carnation holds its petals close, you may feel the need to protect your heart—and that’s OK.
Mother’s Day: not always happy
Mothers of estranged adult children are not the only ones who dread the day. Last year, a newspaper reporter gave my thoughts a little space among experts and mothers for whom the holiday isn’t all lovely and fun. The article offers helpful tips and insights from mothers in other situations that make the day stressful. It’s unfortunate that my quotes come next to a those of a therapist who suggests we mend the rift. So be aware of that before clicking on the link. Mothers of estranged adult children know mending the rift is not as simple as that (and the therapist speaks of teens rather than adults).
Mother’s Day: Manage, get through or even enjoy it
First, don’t feel bad about your feelings. In acknowledging our emotions, we honor ourselves. And that often frees us up to more fully appreciate and enjoy the day with others who love and want to celebrate with us. For more specific tips and discussion, see Tending Your Heartache.
Second, take care of yourself in the days leading up to Mother’s Day. This involves recognizing the feelings the holiday triggers and making a few decisions for your own happiness. Be mindful, and then act. Even the tiniest of steps help, because positive action for yourself results in momentum. Be good to yourself.
Third, remember that holidays can influence a person’s thinking. If you find yourself contemplating doing something out of the ordinary to try and reconnect, take a little time to reflect and consider your actions more carefully. Like one mother who felt compelled to reconnect with her adult sons, ask yourself a few key questions. You may decide, as she did, not to act. See her story here.
Fourth, realize again that you are not alone in this situation or the feelings that come with it. Recently, I reached out to the women behind a website for women. They contemplated, and then ran a thoughtful review of my book because they realized they both knew people who were estranged. These days, it’s common that someone is estranged within most circles. The support forum for parents of estranged adult children at this site is filled with parents of estranged adult children who offer one another care and kindness. You may find it beneficial too.
Fifth, take care of yourself. If that message hasn’t been set forth clearly so far, let me say it now: Take care of yourself!
More help for Mothers estranged from adult children
Throughout this article, I’ve embedded links to others with more specific tips, techniques, and strategies. Below, I’ve listed a few more of the Mother’s Day and holiday related articles to help (and the opportunity to get a free audio book). Why not get out a notepad, and as you read the articles, take a few notes about what might work for you. As always, the comments, too, contain wonderful suggestions from other parents like you.
Can you help other mothers estranged from adult children? If you have a comment about Mother’s Day that can help others, please share. Thousands of people visit this site every month, and in the weeks surrounding Mother’s Day, the traffic spikes with hurting people looking for help. I hope you’ll take a moment to make a comment here.
As a special Mother’s Day gift from me to you, I have two digital copies of the audiobook version of Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children to share. Here’s how to possibly receive one:
- Comment directly to this article with a thought about Mother’s Day to help mothers estranged from adult children. You can do this by using the box below, or by clicking on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this article. In your comment, be sure to talk a little about your estrangement–and don’t worry, although the comment form asks for your email address, that will not be shared or visible on the page when your comment appears. (Your comment will not immediately appear, so don’t worry when you don’t immediately see it. Comments are moderated for approval.)
- Do include your real first name.
- Comment between now and midnight Sunday, May 13, 2018 (Pacific time).The two winners will be chosen randomly by draw. You will receive a redeemable code to use directly from the audiobook publisher’s website. Until next time, Happy Mother’s Day! And lots of HUGS to the hurting parents.