When Mother’s Day Hurts

I’m just going to say it, Mother’s Day sucks for some people. As this day approaches each year a familiar feeling creeps over me. It appears at first as irritability and fatigue but eventually reveals itself as my old friend “unresolved grief.” I lost my mom suddenly in 2005, and later became a therapist for children in the foster care system. These life experiences make me acutely aware that not everyone has a mom to celebrate on Mother’s Day. Some mothers abandon their children. Some mothers are addicted. Some are incarcerated. Some are mentally ill. And of course, some mothers are dead.

I say this not to rain on the parade of the mothers we are celebrating, but to shed light on the millions of people who are part of a club they never asked to be part of, the “motherless”. I want to connect with others who are motherless and talk about how it’s okay to feel broken, different, and forgotten. It’s appropriate to cry as you come across “gift guides for mom,” perusing the internet quarantined alone, at home. It’s acceptable to be jealous of people planning zoom calls with their mom. You are allowed to spend the day curled up in a ball in your bed crying as you wonder how life turned out this way. It doesn’t matter if it’s been six months or 16 years; it is healthy to allow your emotions about your mom to exist on this day, whatever they may be.

For children exposed to trauma, Mother’s Day can resurface feelings of the ultimate rejection they experienced in early life. They may not remember the loss and abandonment with active memories, but they will likely experience it on a subconscious level. They may have hidden thoughts like:

“If my mother doesn’t love me, who possibly could?”

“If she could abandon me, who can I trust?”

“Without my mom here, who will take care of me?” and

“Without her, who am I?”

It is common to think we are at fault for the negative behavior of those who are supposed to love us. Especially vulnerable to these thoughts are young children who were unable to verbalize their emotions and fully comprehend mental illness, substance abuse, and death.

This Mother’s Day, I would like to pause for a moment and ask if there is a better way we can approach this holiday that validates the experiences of those who have lost the relationship to the person who gave them life?

Can we look at the ugly truth – that not all mothers are available or capable of loving us the way we need them to, and acknowledge that mother’s day can be hard for the millions of people who don’t have a mom? Are those raised by grandmothers or foster mothers able to acknowledge their biological mother’s on Mother’s Day? Or does it feel like a betrayal? These are the hard questions we need to think about on Mother’s Day if we want to help those who are suffering from loss.

I know some might say I’m taking this too far, but I think it’s time we had this discussion. I know there are other’s who feel the way I do. I want to unite us this Mother’s Day, instead of silently grieving in the shadows of celebration. If we want to comfort the motherless there are steps we can take. It starts with acknowledging that not everyone has a supportive and caring mother in their life.

*If you work with children, you can incorporate these ideas into your interactions by assuming that AT LEAST ONE CHILD in the group is experiencing distress about mother’s day.


You will never be able to stop the flooding pain of mother loss, but you can be a container for it when it starts to overflow. Be willing to listen and be present with the feelings that come up when Mother’s Day presses on the wound of the motherless.

Holidays can trigger symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, or possibly a depressive episode, which is why I want to bring attention to this topic. If you know someone who is grieving the loss of their mother, I encourage you to check on them frequently, even if it’s just to say hello. With the increase of deaths due to Covid-19, adults are experiencing mother loss collectively around the world. It helps us to know we are not alone in our sadness, anxiety, and disillusionment. If you are experiencing mental health challenges, I encourage you to reach out for psychotherapy or guidance from your doctor. Tele-therapy is taking place during quarantine, and you can get help.

* I think it is important to mention that these feelings and activities apply to father’s day too, which is also right around the corner.

To learn more about coping with grief, loss, and trauma please visit my blog.

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