Learning Not to Hate Mother’s Day


There’s no better place on Earth to watch the passing of time than the dollar bin at Target. As soon as one holiday is over, its shelves are filled with a new assortment of festive and unnecessary money wasters. Out with the old, in with the new, even if the next special occasion isn’t for another eight weeks. And also what kind of maniac really needs to buy a miniature throw pillow to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

I don’t really love this premature preparation for holidays because I’m both too cheap and too lazy to put in the effort it seems to be asking of me. I usually just bypass that part of the dollar section, head to wherever they keep the diapers and clearance stuff and go about my day. But once Easter comes to a close and the shelves pile up with ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ phone cases and coffee table books, I have a harder time ignoring it.

My mother died, very suddenly, almost seven years ago, of an undiagnosed heart condition.

I was living in Australia at the time and hadn’t seen her in four months. The loss has been the most profound thing I’ve ever experienced and I’m not sure I can do that feeling justice with my words here. In losing her, I felt like I lost the only person who truly loved me, just as I was. I never had a doubt that my mother cared more for me than she did herself and living without that security sent me in a tailspin. For a long time after she died, until my first child was born, I often felt as though I had lost my anchor to the earth, like I could easily just drift away like a balloon in the breeze.

People always say that grief gets easier with time. I haven’t really found that, actually. Grief, to me, is like a heavy coat that I can’t take off. Some days I get by and don’t notice it. Some days it’s heavy and suffocating and weighs me down to the point I can barely move.

Mother’s Day is that kind of day.

Unfortunately, my grief over my mom can sometimes manifest as cold, spiteful jealousy. The day after she died, my husband and I were in the Sydney airport, waiting to board our plane back to the States. Two girls in their late teens were sitting across from us, quietly arguing with their mother. I remember glaring at them and having an overwhelming urge to scream in their faces because they had the one thing in the world I wanted most and could never have back. I’m certainly not proud of feeling this way. It’s ugly and sad and unwarranted, but it still creeps up on me on bad days.

And, needless to say, Mother’s Day is a bad day.

Watching my Facebook feed blow up with pictures and tributes and collages of mothers and daughters, mothers and grandchildren, always brings out that bitter streak. I feel so left out, so lacking because I no longer have a mother to rely on or laugh with or even fight with. The worst part is remembering the gap her death has left in my kids’ lives. No matter what I do, she’ll always just be a story to them and they’ll never really understand who she was and how much she would have loved them. When I see all of the amazing moments my friends’ moms have with their grandchildren, I worry about how disadvantaged they’ll be without that relationship in their lives, and that maybe what I have to give them just won’t be enough.

Despite the fact that I myself am the mother of those children, I haven’t been able to claim Mother’s Day as a holiday for me, and not just because my husband’s response is ‘Well, you’re not MY mother’ when asked if he’s organized anything, so I usually end up making pancakes for myself like every other Sunday of the year. I think it’s a hard transition for any woman, transferring the definition of motherhood to herself and realizing that while the family she grew up with will always be important, the family she’s chosen and built is now her real family.

It can be hard to accept that you’re now the mother in your life, and the place your own mother holds in your life, good or bad, will be the place you hold in your children’s lives. The love, the reverence, the resentment you have for your mom; all the gifts she gave you and all the ways you feel like she screwed you up; all of that will be felt by your kids one day, whether you’re ready for it or not. Sometimes it’s easier to just forget that reality and focus on the past, which is what I’ve been doing on all my Mother’s Days.

So, this year, I’m going to try to celebrate myself as a mother, not just see myself as motherless. I’m going to try to take the unending love my mother had for me and make certain my kids feel that through me, because it’s all I have left of her to give. I’m going to take the throw pillows and the cards and the Facebook albums and reframe them to be about me and my future with my kids, not my past and present without my mother. I’m just going to focus on what every mother everywhere does every day: doing the best I can and hoping that at the end of the day, at the end of my life, that will be enough.


  1. I dont usually comment on the articles i read, but i just had to say i go through the same thought processes and feeling as you. My mom passed almost 5 years ago. I dont have children, but think of how that may be without my mom more then i admit. I put my focus into caring for my mom’s mom, so on mothers day i try to make it about her. Thank you for sharing! It’s comforting to feel not so alone in my mixed feelings! 💜

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