The idea of a child walking out on her parents might seem unthinkable, but many caring mothers suffer this sort of loss. Online forums are filled with hurting parents whose adult children have chosen to cut ties—we tackle our pain with tips, tears, and virtual hugs.
For women whose adult children are estranged, Mother’s Day can be especially cruel. Should they go to their place of worship, knowing they’ll be handed a rose? Among all the intact families, the gesture only reminds you how different your life has become.
Some mothers feel sad and hurt and lonely. Others tremble with hope for contact from an estranged son or daughter, but are only setting themselves up for disappointment.
Some mothers dread a text or email. “Happy Mother’s Day,” or even “I love you,” thumbed into a tiny smartphone screen or typed into an email can’t soften the roar of silence from the rest of the year. So, instead of feeling joy on their special day, estranged mothers find themselves filled with anger or anguish. Even for moms whose other children remain close, Mother’s Day holds a sense of loss for the one who is missing. But not wanting to spoil the festivities, they likely hold those feelings in. The family ignores the elephant that’s always in the room.
Getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged takes a little planning. Here are six ideas to help mothers of estranged adult children get through the holiday. If you know one of these moms, there’s something at the end of each tip that can help you help her.
Shape your expectations.
Like most other holidays, Mother’s Day brings up all sorts of idealized imagery and notions that are part of our culture. But let’s face it. How many Mother’s Days are ideal? Have you ever slept in? When the kids made you breakfast, did you clean up the kitchen? Did you ever receive a crock pot when you’d have preferred a pedicure or a massage? Maybe it helps to admit that Mother’s Day rarely lives up to the marketed version.
If you know a mother whose children have grown distant, perhaps remind her of all the hype. Then reminisce about Mother’s Days gone wrong. Let her take the lead, of course. One thing is for sure: any mother you admire and are close to will welcome your love.
If you’re dreading the holiday, take some time to really consider what’s bothering you and make some early decisions. Take control of the day. If the dreaded text will make you angry, turn off the phone (you can look at it later or the following day). If you will be sad and don’t feel up to seeing others, reconsider your obligations. You could opt out of celebrations entirely, skip church, or do something out of the ordinary that starts a new tradition.
If you are a son or daughter who has remained close despite an estranged sibling, help your mom plan ahead. Knowing she has a fun activity planned with you gives her something to look forward to and occupies her imagination.
Make it about other mothers.
The fastest way to get our minds off ourselves is to think about helping other people. One mom told me she volunteers at a local retirement home on Mother’s Day. Whom can you help? Is there a woman in your life who has been like a mother to you? What can you do to make her day (or even the week ahead) special? By giving to others, we help ourselves. Studies show that giving contributes to our own mental and physical health. This beats sitting around thinking about how sad you are.
If you care about a mother whose children are estranged, how can you honor her? The benefits of giving apply to us all.
Where I live, spring weather is in full swing by Mother’s Day. Consider finding something that will bloom year-to-year around this time. A bright splash of color that attracts butterflies can connect you to the cycle of living and the perpetual rotation of the seasons. Growing a plant that offers food provides rich reward.
For my Master’s Degree in Human Behavior, I conducted research for my final project about gardening’s effects on health and happiness. Tending to plants connects us to something bigger than ourselves, relieves stress, and cultivates feelings of joy. Even if you’ve never gardened before, you can succeed. Radishes are easy to grow in a container, require little care, and can be harvested in around 30 days. Hint: try an unusual variety. French breakfast radishes are my personal favorite.
To gift a mother you know, give her something living, but easy to care for. How about a pretty orchid in a pot? Or, if you know she gardens, something related like a set of shears. Or, you might ask her for advice about your own garden. In my research, one of the things gardeners enjoyed most was sharing their knowledge with other gardeners.
Dote on pets.
When I went out of town, someone close who pet-sat texted me a photo-shopped pic, saying my doggie missed me so much that she got a Mom tattoo. I liked seeing my special pup with a pasted-in Mom-heart tattoo. If you have a cherished pet or two, hug them close. Pets really do bring us joy beyond measure, and offer unconditional love. Studies show that pets we love attenuate loneliness, improve our well-being, and our health.
If you know a mother with a furry friend, make a card with a picture of her pet. Provide a gift card from a pet supply, or in some other way honor her love for her pet. With her permission, even a pet as a gift would be appropriate.
Say what’s needed.
For some, getting through Mother’s Day when an adult child is estranged requires speaking out. One mom said her husband always makes a big deal and showers her with attention. He means well, believing he’s helping her on what he knows is a very sad day for her. But she’d prefer he didn’t say a thing. We need to let our needs be known. Mothers can tell their spouse, family and friends what they do or don’t want. For some moms, it’s a day to stay in. DVDs or Netflix bypass the reminders. Other mothers may have other wishes. They should go ahead and state their needs. After all, it’s their day.