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(Un)happy Mother’s Day

When Mothers’ Day isn’t a happy day …

Mother’s Day is celebrated the world over as a day of remembering mothers; their love and their goodness, their kindness and their sacrifice. Breakfast is made by little fingers and served in bed, complete with wobbly, hand drawn cards and presents carefully chosen. Yet, as we rapidly approach Mother’s Day on Sunday, I am very mindful that for many women it is not a day of celebration and good feeling, but one tinged with complex feelings.

On a day that society tells us we should be feeling joyful, many women are met with feelings of loss and disappointment.Two mums talking The reasons for this may be many. For many women, the day may serve as a painful experience of grief and loss as we mourn a mother who has passed away, whether it be yesterday or ten years ago. The experience of missing our mother and longing for her presence may be felt on any day, yet on Mother’s day is reminiscent of something more primitive, a deep ache that no words can soothe.

For others, Mother’s Day may herald the arrival of loss and grief borne not of death, but of estrangement. Disconnection and unresolved issues seem especially poignant on a day where we are expected to feel a sense of belonging. The celebratory nature of the day can be hard to reconcile with a maternal relationship that is fraught with tension, is already stretched tight by the strain of toxic interactions or has been neglectful or abusive.

For many other women, Mother’s day is a day where they may be reminded of unfulfilled desires, of wombs that wait to be filled, of arms that remain empty of a baby. Of the memory of children who have passed away, now so painfully absent. The loss of a mothering dream feels especially powerful on Mother’s day.

And for others the day may simply be awash with unfulfilled expectations of validation and recognition of all that we do as mother’s. I am reminded of a conversation I once had with a mother whose children and husband had simply forgotten that it was Mother’s day. As she lay in bed waiting for the breakfast that never arrived and the presents that never appeared, her sadness was overwhelming. Eventually she got up, got dressed and continued with the day. As she loaded the washing machine, picked up the shoes from the floor and continued with the hundred other unseen tasks of motherhood, her eyes welled with tears on what should be a day of happiness.

The question for many women on Mother’s day is not how we celebrate it, but rather how do we survive it? On any ‘special’ day, whether it be Mother’s Day, Christmas day, birthdays or any day where there is an expectation of connection with family and celebrating our sense of belonging with each other, how do we navigate the uncomfortable feelings that may arise?

I have no perfect answers. I am reminded however of the wisdom of a young woman whom I saw in therapy for a number of years and for whom Mother’s Day evoked many of the above feelings of loss.

She consciously chose to rewrite the story. She created new rituals on Mother’s Day which helped her navigate the hours from sun up to sundown. She filled the day with self kindness, surrounded herself with others who felt like family (yet weren’t biologically related to her) and she celebrated the lessons she had learnt from being mothered and from being a mother herself. She survived the day and by sunset some of the angst she had carried into the day had lost its sting.

This may not work for all and there’s something to be said for hanging on by the skin of your teeth and just waiting for the day to end. But if our Mother’s Day story is one tinged with pain, sadness and disappointment, perhaps we can reflect upon ways to create new rituals and make new meaning of a day which, thankfully for some, comes just once a year.

Republished with the kind permission of Leisa Stathis. View her original blog post at:

Leisa is a social worker and qualified family therapist with over 20 years experience. Her book Becoming a Mother aims to help and reassure new mums and guide them through the first early, challenging days.