If Facebook is any indication, it can often look like everyone’s living it up on Mother’s Day with flowers and a five-course brunch. But if Mother’s Day has become a holiday that brings more bad than good, you’re certainly not alone. There are many adult children estranged from their parents who find this to be a difficult day to celebrate.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of resources for estranged adult children who need support. If you’re struggling with estrangement this Mother’s Day, remember to take care of yourself. Here are a few strategies for getting through the day.
1. Allow yourself to grieve
Most of the estranged adult children I know are survivors of abuse, both physical and emotional. Yet they have an incredible burden placed on their shoulders: the directive to forgive — whatever the cost — that abuse in the name of filial harmony. It is sometimes easier, they tell me, to say that their mother (or father) is dead. There are fewer questions that way, and no one asks you to justify yourself.
It can be helpful to let yourself mourn the loss of your parent. Or, more accurately, mourn the loss of having a parent you could have mourned for. Be sensitive to those who have lost a well-loved mother, but give yourself permission to grieve. Someone who has lost a loved one has many happy memories to draw upon for comfort. Estranged children often don’t. That is a loss, pure and simple.
2. Allow yourself to get angry
Another common feeling among adult estranged children is the feeling of being cheated. Maybe your childhood was nonexistent. Maybe your parents have taken financial advantage of you or destroyed your past, healthy relationships with other people. Sabotaged your career, destroyed your self-worth. Get pissed if you need to. Throw something. Smash something. Don’t hurt yourself, and don’t hurt anyone else, but you’re allowed to have feelings, so feel them.
3. Distract yourself
Everything — and I do mean everything — is shouting at you this time of year to show your mother how much you care. All manner of products, from water bottles to mattress stores, are plastered with pastels and flowers and are branded for Mother’s Day. It’s impossible to avoid them all, but you can work on distracting yourself. Stay inside if you need to. Paint a picture. Polish the silver. Count blades of grass. Make a blanket fort. Weather the storm. If you have to work on Mother’s Day, especially at a service-oriented place that’s celebrating the day, call off if you need to and can afford it. Stay away from social media if you can help it.
4. Choose to celebrate someone else
There are likely other women and men whose positive influence and general awesomeness have touched your life you can celebrate. Thank your mother-in-law, your high school math teacher, a college roommate, the nice man at the liquor store who always makes sure your favorite beer is chilled. Turn Mother’s Day into Other People Are Also Awesome Day, and celebrate that way.
5. Choose to celebrate yourself
Why? Because you’re awesome. You’ve endured a hell of a lot, you’ve survived, and maybe you even have a child of your own. Take back Mother’s Day, and celebrate what an awesome mom you are. You probably grew up thinking you were not lovable or worthy of love. You are. Bask in that.
Even if you aren’t a mom, take this day to pat yourself on the back, whether you are male or female or otherwise. Chances are you parented yourself anyway or parented your parents, so in a way, all thanks goes to you. Make a list of your best qualities. Read them out loud. Buy yourself snacks and a card and all of the Mother’s Day detritus, and hoard it.
6. Recognize (and reject) triggering situations
Estrangement is extremely difficult to understand for people who aren’t going through it. Sometimes you’ll be greeted with pure projection — “How selfish can you be? I don’t even have a mother!” And sometimes you’ll encounter a well-intentioned amateur family therapist — “It’s never too late to make amends, you know.”
Do not let people bully you, even if they don’t know they’re doing it, into engaging in a conversation where you are triggered by past abuse or seeking their permission to end a toxic relationship. Practice saying, “You might not be trying to hurt me, but you are. Please stop,” in a firm voice with a meaningful glare. Say it a lot. Walk away.
7. Find others who understand
Here’s another thing to repeat to yourself, as many times as you need to, until it sinks in: “I am not alone.” You aren’t. There are places online and in real life where you can connect with people who are struggling with estrangement, and if you’re comfortable doing it, you should absolutely make use of them. You can start with ASCA, or Adults Surviving Childhood Abuse, visit the RaisedbyNarcissists or parentlessbychoice sub-Reddits, or check for local support groups that can help.
8. Know when you need to call for backup
Fresh estrangement is a new kind of pain. The loneliness is staggering. You may suffer from PTSD. If you ever experience suicidal ideation, seek help immediately.
If you suspect someone might be considering suicide or you have struggled with those thoughts yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Updated by Bethany Ramos on 4/11/2016