When Mother's Day is Difficult

How to navigate Mother’s Day when your mum
is not your idol.

Mother's day brings with it a flood of posts on social media from people whose mums are their best friends, how they wish they could be half the mum she was, and how mums make everything better. 

But what if that's not the case? How do you navigate mothers day when you flinch each time you catch yourself sounding or acting like your own mum? When you're trying your hardest to parent in pretty much the opposite way and the complicated relationship with your mum makes many every day actions and decisions harder, not easier. 

Without going into too much detail, I should explain just a little for you to understand why I feel the need for some coping mechanisms around mothers day. 

I'll start by saying that I truly believe my mum did the best she could in the circumstances she was given. She had a rubbish start in life (born in Poland, separated from her family and adopted into a less than loving family in Germany), a lot of health struggles and a less than ideal marriage. 
That last point has had a huge impact on my own life and relationships. My dad cheated on my mum throughout their entire marriage and she confided in me more than was appropriate for a young adult. I always felt they should have separated, but never did, even though the strained marriage had a hugely detrimental effect on her mental health.

My mother's refusal to accept help for her mental health (in favour of self medicating with alcohol) has massively impacted my own mental health and how I deal with it. Knowing what I know now, especially through recently completing the Mental Health First Aid training with Mind, I am devastated about how little support my mother received from our family and that I didn't know more about mental health at the time. I felt she should have been able to take more personal responsibility for her well being and recovery. Now I know that it's not as easy as that and she needed much more support from all of us, beyond the psychiatric help that was eventually enforced. 

It's quite possibly the reason why I've chosen to share quite so openly about my own journey following post natal depression and anxiety. And who knows what my kids will think of that looking back as adults? 

My mum passed away almost 5 years ago. I miss her and wish I could call her on mother's day every year (even though I know the conversation would most likely make me upset / angry /sad or all of those together). And I feel guilty for not feeling that she was the perfect mum for me. For not having respect for her, because she didn't seem to respect herself. One of my biggest fears is my kids not respecting me as they get older. That I won't be enough, and that they'll be embarrassed of me. Because that's often how I felt about my mum. 

That's an awful lot of complicated and difficult emotions to acknowledge and work through at the best of times, but they bubble up especially around mothers day. 

So, no matter what your situation and severity of issues with your own mother, what can you do in the run up to mothers day, on the actual day and in everyday life, to work through and cope with difficult emotions? 

Here's some of my favourites, I'd love to hear if you have any to add in the comments. 

  • Lots of cuddles are always a good start. My kids are literally the coolest people I know and hugging them makes everything ok.
    Physical contact is so important to create connection, so that's always my go to. |

  • Whatever's right for you is right for you
    I've had odd looks and more than one comment when I tell people I'm not close to my family. It's not a given. Family doesn't automatically make them good people to be around. So if you need distance or mega firm boundaries or whatever else would make you feel better - go for it. It has to be right for you, and you only. 

  • Being open and honest. I share a lot of things with my husband. Like how him responding to something I've said with a "hmm", really triggers me, because that's how my dad used to respond to my mum when it was clear he wasn't actually listening.

    Be honest with your partner, your kids, and whoever else might need to know about why you struggle with certain things and why odd things may be important to you. Things don't juts have to exist in your head and you don't have to deal with them alone. 

  • Showing up. Every day. Imperfectly and messy but good enough just as you are. Being ok about having a bad day. Kids need to see the whole spectrum of human emotions so they can recognise them out "in the wild" and know how to handle them. So I don't feel bad for saying that I'm struggling with noise at the end of a busy day, or that I'm sad but I don't know why. It's all normal. It's all ok. 

  • Focusing on strengths. I think about stuff that I feel I'm really good at as a mum (like making up the bestest silly songs that stop us descending into a disaster during the morning rush) and really letting that sink in (as it happens as well as whenever I need a boost, like on Mother's Day). Letting it percolate into my brain, to crowd out the negative and critical thoughts. Practice this often and there'll be less and less room for the negative thoughts and patterns in your head. 

  • Give yourself some credit. My guess is you've come quite far. Look back to see what you've achieved (in motherhood and otherwise) and give yourself a massive pat on the back. 

    It appears that I've been taking risks and pondering ideas above my station since 1986. And I don't give most of it a second thought. But it's all gotten me to where I am today, and I couldn't be happier. You've created your life for yourself and I bet you've made it through some stuff - be proud of that. Even if you feel you're still in the thick of it, be proud of yourself for that, too. Showing up every day and carrying on. How amazing are you? 

  • Remind yourself over and over again that you are not your mother. The past is all it is. It exists in our heads only and has no power over us anymore.

  • Keep growing and improving. Read. Listen. Learn. And share. 

  • Remember the good bits. No matter how much I don't want to be like my own mother, there were also parts of my childhood I really enjoyed and aspects of my mum I liked (like singing loudly with my friends when my mum was car pooling us to horse riding. None of the other mums would let us sing). Find those nice memories and remember those on Mother's Day. Then go and create some with your own family. 

  • Don't compare. You never know someone's full story, yet the happy pictures, memes and captions on social media can really do a number on you. Log off if you have to, and do something that brings you joy, instead of looking at other people's lives to measure up to. 

  • Perspective. Now that I've had kids myself and am a lot older, I can appreciate how complicated, messy and flipping TIRING life can be / is, which definitely softens the importance of certain things and I can see them in a different light. Acknowledging that we are all winging it most of the time and no one actually likes to be a grown up helps!

  • Get help. I've paid for help to unravel some of my unhelpful thought patterns and worries left over from my childhood and it's amazing to just unload everything to someone who doesn't know you and can look at everything from a healthy distance. 

    If you feel you could benefit from this, too, go for it. 

Above all else, no matter what your personal situation is, be gentle and kind to yourself. Always, but at this time of year especially. It's emotional for many people for many different reasons and they're all valid. No one else can know exactly what you're feeling, thinking and experiencing. So it's most important that you are on your own side.