In June of last year, my husband and I packed up our lives and moved from New York City to Colorado—almost 2,000 miles away from nearly all of our family and friends. Consequently, this is the first Mother’s Day I’ll be spending from my mom. It got me thinking about the emotional challenges the holiday presents—not just for those of us who live far away from our mothers, but for those who have lost their moms or have strained/non-existent relationships with them. I asked several people for their advice on getting through the holiday, whether it’s sad, stressful, or an outright emotional landmine for them. The lessons I learned are not just helpful on Mother’s Day, but all year long.
APPRECIATE WHAT YOU DO HAVE
While no one can, or should, tell you how to feel, it’s healthy to try and focus on the positive. Melanie, who was raised by her loving stepmom, spent her younger years angry at the biological mother who abandoned her—not celebrating the woman who actually raised her and her sister. But as she’s gotten older and been a mother to three daughters herself, Melanie has a different perspective on motherhood. “Anyone can have a child. It takes a real mom to roll up her sleeves and put in the time—to deal with the teenage years, to be a shoulder to cry on, and to be a best friend.”
Melanie admits to being angry with and resentful of her biological mother until she was finally able to let go of the “what ifs” that had plagued her for her whole life. “I realized I was blessed to have a better woman take me under her wing and love me as her own, and so I forgave my biological mother. Her leaving ultimately led to the mother I deserve.”
ENJOY A RITUAL OR TRADITION
Another challenge many face is getting through the holiday after their mother has passed away. Debbie, who lost her mom when she was a young adult, got through the holiday for years by helping to make the day special for her sister. “She was a new mom, and I wanted to make Mother’s Day happy for her, so that kept me busy for many years.” Now that the kids are grown and do their own thing, Debbie finds comfort by bringing her mother’s favorite flowers—yellow roses—to her grave.
SET BOUNDARIES AND TRUST YOUR JUDGEMENT
For some, Mother’s Day is downright stressful, and it’s important to value your own emotional well-being and sanity. For Ann, whose parents are divorced, every holiday becomes a competition with Ann’s father—no matter how hard Ann tries to give them equal attention. She reminds others in a similar situation “the insecurities your parents present are theirs alone, and you do not have to make their issues your issues.” If you’re an adult, she adds, “you have every right to walk away from a difficult relationship for a trial period, or permanently.”
Walking away from a toxic relationship can be a healthy option for some, but what about those of us who live at a distance, less by choice than by circumstance? As my mom and I always joke, living far apart in the twenty-first century is a lot easier than it was in covered-wagon times.
Because long distance charges are a thing of the past, Fiona reminds us that every phone call doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. “Sometimes I’ll call her when I’m cooking, and she’s cooking and just leave it on speaker, even though we’re not talking as much to each other.”
Steph and Nicole agree that using technology to stay close is important. Steph, who’s lived far away for more than a decade, makes sure she texts her mom every day and that they have a phone call or FaceTime once a week. Nicole also takes advantage of video chat, especially on the holidays. “I will have her open her gifts on camera, so I can see her reaction and make believe I’m there.”
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No matter your relationship with mom, your Mother’s Day reality probably isn’t the saccharine holiday pushed by advertisers. Whether you miss her or resent her, whether you feel guilty you can’t celebrate or are entirely indifferent when the holiday rolls around, take a deep breath and accept what you feel. Appreciate what you do have: someone who stepped up, a nice memory, or even the ability to accept what you cannot change. And remember, life isn’t a greeting card commercial—and that’s totally okay.
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