I’ve spent many Mother’s Day shopping trips standing front of a wall of cards perplexed. Brow furrowed, I’ve stood there overwhelmed by a selection of “you’re the greatest mother ever” and “you’re my very best friend in the world, Mom” cards, not knowing what I could pick that would convey my sentiments well.
See, Mother’s Day was sometimes difficult when I was younger because my relationship with Mom was… well, challenging. Mom had bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, which made her moods and behavior often unpredictable. In fact, she wasn’t even diagnosed until I was an adult, so for many years I had no idea what caused the emotional issues. Sometimes we were close, and sometimes it felt like she was a different person entirely.
I loved her tremendously, and I’m forever grateful that she was my Mother, but there were times as a child and a young woman when I struggled to even have conversations with her. And choosing a Mother’s Day card that celebrated her as a “best-Mom-ever” mom or a “you’re-my-best-friend” Mom felt… well, insincere at best.
Other years, I’ve stood there in front of the wall o’ cards feeling sorry for myself. I’ve shopped for the obligatory card for my Mom or mother-in-law or friend with a new baby (or all of the above) and have felt the sense of emptiness and sorrow inside, knowing there would likely never be a Mom’s Day card addressed to me. (I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I would be unable to have children of my own, which led to some tough Mother’s Day celebrations, especially when many of my friends were having babies for the first time.)
Frankly, there were years I really wallowed in some oh-poor-Melody self-pity. But I am certainly not alone in feeling some anxiety around the Mother’s Day holiday. So many of us struggle – from difficult relationships, wounds from past family hurts, the loss of a mother/sister/grandmother or child, to the forlorn sadness around being unable to become a Mom – the holiday meant to be a happy celebration of motherhood can have a few barbs that poke and sting at our hearts there.
After all these years, I’ve learned a little about getting through the holiday without tears, without hiding in my bedroom, and without eating an entire chocolate cake in sorrow (usually – don’t judge!). I’ve learned that the keys to getting through a tough Mother’s Day for me are these three simple things on which to focus (instead of focusing on the tough parts):
- Focus on gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and for me that means even when I’m blue. My mother was complicated and imperfect, it’s true. (Aren’t we all?) But she was my Mom, and no one will ever love me exactly the way she did. There was tremendous redemption in my relationship with her as I got older, and when she passed last year after a long bout with Alzheimer’s and heart disease, I was blessed to have the knowledge that she was in love with being a mother to me. She was indeed my biggest fan. I am forever grateful for my Mother and all that she brought to my life because even the toughest of times served to make me stronger and show me that her love for me was unconditional, as was mine for her.
- Focus on getting moving. When I’m sad, my body does not naturally crave sunshine. Or exercise. Or anything other than the couch (or my bed), maybe a little Netflix, and a steady diet of breakfast cereal three meals a day followed by copious amounts of chocolate and Coca-Cola on ice. (F’real.) And while it sounds like those things will make me feel better, they just serve as a vehicle to propel me even further downward into a sadness spiral. What actually works, on the other hand, is to get moving. A walk, a bike ride, or even a little time at the gym can get me out of the sadness spiral really quickly. Try it. Seriously. Get up, get busy, and maybe even go outside. (I know, I know, it’s hard and it’s the last thing you want to do. Try it. Even just for three minutes. Just get up and move, and see what happens.)
- Focus on something other than self. The single greatest detriment to a good Mother’s Day for me is to focus on all the things that make it a tough day for me. And there are many of them. But licking my wounds on Mother’s Day won’t make it better for me, and it won’t make it better for anyone else either. What might actually make me (and others) feel better is to do something nice for someone else. Maybe go and visit a girlfriend who is herself likely to have a rough Mother’s Day. Look for opportunities to do something quick and unexpected to lift someone else. Why not a simple, random act of kindness? Pay for a stranger’s coffee in the drive-thru, or overtip the waitress who brought you your breakfast, and just see how it feels. For me, it’s truly amazing to experience how much healing power is held in a simple act of kindness to someone else.
This Mother’s Day, I will be going through the day without my Mom, which is (of course) both heartbreaking and completely surreal. I’ll also be going through the day without the child my husband and I are raising (he’s visiting with other family). That’s another tough situation for so many women, in fact – serving in a Mom role to a child or children but not actually being the Mom. (In my case, I’m technically “step-grandmother-slash-legal-guardian”, but in reality my daily routine is about doing all the Mom things without ever actually getting to be one. And believe me when I say no one has invented “Step-Grandmother-Slash-Legal-Guardian Day”.), but… But. BUT. B U T !
But I simply refuse to let it be a bad day. I refuse to wallow and spend the day being sad because Mom isn’t there or because the little guy is gone or because I can’t have biological kids of my own or because of anything else. Focusing on what’s missing doesn’t help. It just. Doesn’t. Help. Instead, I will get up and get out of the house. I’ll enjoy the sunshine (and if it rains, I’ll enjoy that too). I’ll think about Mom happily and I’ll smile and be grateful for her. I’ll think about the little guy and be thankful that I get to take care of him. (He’s awesome, and I’m blessed by him every day.)
I’m making the best of this day, and I invite you to join me. And if you find yourself behind me in line at the coffee shop, you might just find me paying for your coffee.