How to Handle Mother's Day when Your Mother was Abusive

How to Handle Mother’s Day when Your Mother was Abusive

Learning how to handle Mother’s Day was a hard lesson for me. My first memory of Mother’s Day was at my grandparent’s house. I’m not sure how old I was, about 3 or 4; but I spent the entire afternoon drawing and gluing glitter all over a card for my mother while I was there. When I showed my grandmother the card, she huffed and rolled her eyes and asked why I hadn’t thought to make one for her. After all, she was my mother’s mother — didn’t she deserve a card? So, I sat back down at the table and started creating another card. There was only one problem with this — I had no idea how to spell “Grandma.” And I didn’t want to ask her — I hated having to ask my grandmother anything. So, this second card read “Happy Mom’s Day, Ada.” That’s right, I used her first name. And oh what a mistake that was. I won’t go into too many details, but I didn’t get to hear the end of it. Not only did my grandmother yell at me for the rest of the day, but she yelled at my mother when she finally came around to pick me up. Then, all the way home, my mother yelled at me for embarrassing her. No, Mother’s Day has never been my favorite holiday.

How to Handle Mother's Day when Your Mother was Abusive
How to Handle Mother’s Day when Your Mother was Abusive

Mother’s Day wasn’t always that bad for me, per se. At least, I didn’t always think it was that bad. When I was a little girl, Mother’s Day was the perfect day for me to try to make up with my mother. To try to show her she was wrong about me. To try to prove that I was, in fact, a good kid and not the constant disappointment she liked to tell me I was. Mother’s Day was the day I could show her what a good kid I was. Unfortunately, it never really worked. And by the time I was 15, I ran away from home.

In fact, it was my torturous relationship with my mother that ultimately led me to going to school to be a therapist, to specialize in adolescents and family therapy, and to become a parenting coach. There’s a saying: “be the person you needed when you were younger.” You see, my mother was the product of abusive parents herself — first-born to alcoholic parents. She learned to survive by being perfect. After all, if you don’t make any mistakes, you can’t get punished, right? And because she learned to survive by being perfect, she demanded no less from me. So, I was able to use this knowledge and realize that my mother did the best she knew how to do. But unfortunately, she didn’t know how to do very well–no one ever showed her. That’s what I needed, someone to show her how to do better.

My mother and I still don’t talk. Actually, we haven’t spoken in years. I tried to reconcile with her; tried to connect and forgive. But to her, I was and always will be the ungrateful brat who ran away from home, which led to more problems. I ruined her life — first by being in it and then by choosing to leave it the way I did. Her last words to me were “I don’t even know why you keep trying…just stop thinking of me as your mother.”

So, to make a long story short (I know, it’s a little too late for that — but just bear with me here), Mother’s Day has never been easy for me to handle. And every Mother’s Day since I ran away has been a horrible reminder of just how much I didn’t like it. How much I didn’t like her. Of course, out in the “real world,” there really is no escaping Mother’s Day. Everywhere you look, there are ads running, gift ideas — everyone wants to celebrate Mom. And for me, the real kick in the pants was that I got to work in those places serving the people who wanted to celebrate their mothers because they loved their mothers. It all made me hate everything all the more. But, over the past few years, I have been able to turn this around and learned how to deal with Mother’s Day. Learning how to handle Mother’s Day took me a long time — something I am hoping to spare you by sharing a bit of my story here.

Don’t be Bitter About it

The first thing I had to teach myself was how to get rid of the bitter — that urge to roll my eyes and scoff whenever the holiday came around. I knew I couldn’t condemn the entire holiday simply because my mother isn’t deserving of the day. And if you’re still in the bitter stage, I recommend finding a way — any way you can — to learn this. The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people who love and celebrate Mother’s Day, and it wouldn’t be fair to any of them if you were to walk around boohooing them about what a garbage holiday it is. No, it is not a HallMark Holiday without meaning. No, it is not a ploy by chocolate makers to trick you into spending money. And no, it is not some elaborate prank restaurants have used to get you to check out their Sunday buffets.

It’s a real holiday, with a long history. And although you may not like the holiday or the reason behind the holiday, that doesn’t mean you should walk around and purposely ruin it for others.

No, You Don’t Have to Love Your Mother

Giving yourself permission to dislike your mother is difficult to do. For a long time, even saying the words out loud left me feeling guilty and ashamed of myself. However, it is okay to dislike your mother. It’s okay to be angry at her. It’s even okay to admit she’s a bad mother. This took me forever to figure out because so many people would try to tell me otherwise. “Yea, but she’s your mother…you have to love her.” Guess what? No you don’t. And you don’t have to celebrate her either.

And you shouldn’t be shamed into thinking otherwise.

Do You Even Want To Celebrate the Day?

Of course, you absolutely have the option to ignore the holiday all together. Doing so may require you to stay home, stay off social media, and turn off the television for about a week leading up to Mother’s Day — so this might not be the most practical way to handle Mother’s Day.

I spent years ignoring the holiday when I could — provided I wasn’t working in a restaurant serving brunch to good mothers and their loving children, or working at a florist, or the bakery. In my mind, it was like other religious holidays I didn’t celebrate — like Ramadan or Passover.

Deal with Mother’s Day by Celebrating Other Women

Eventually, I managed to come to terms with the holiday. Whether I liked it or not, every year I was going to be bombarded with it and I needed to have a healthier relationship with it if I didn’t want it sending me to bed crying every time. So, I started celebrating other women in my life — women like my Aunt, my Godmother, even my old P.E. teacher from high school. My old boss from the local pizza restaurant…any woman who had stepped in and somehow influenced my life — these were the women I sent cards to, the ones I reminisced over and bought gifts for. These were the women who, to me, embodied what a real mother would be, and even though some of them didn’t have any children of their own, to me they were exactly the people Mother’s Day was created to celebrate.

Mother’s Day and Direct Sales

Just as with every other business out there, direct sales often hold their own Mother’s Day specials and discounts, most of the time some collection of limited edition items. Given my history with the holiday, I was never a big promoter of the Mother’s Day wraps available at Jamberry (although last year I did purchase a couple of sheets for myself).

Running a small business, either as a freelancer, a parenting coach, or as a direct sales consultant, forces you to put your own feelings about Mother’s Day behind you. Like I said before, people love their mothers even when you don’t. And they want to spend money buying the perfect gifts to celebrate those mothers. So no matter how I feel about Mother’s Day, refusing to sell or talk about the special edition wraps that Jamberry has to offer is just not a good option.

Try Changing the Meaning of the Holiday

The last time I tried to reach out to my mother was when I found out I was pregnant with my own daughter. I didn’t do anything elaborate, just mailed out a card with a copy of the ultrasound, the announcement, and my address and phone number. Unsurprisingly, I never received anything back from her. I had hoped it would be like in the movies — where the grandchild finally softens the heart and brings the grandparents to their senses to make amends. It didn’t happen that way. And two months after my baby girl was born, I was facing Mother’s Day for the first time on this side of that line.

I took some time to reflect on all the things I’d learned and all the things I wasn’t. On the type of mother I wanted my children to have — the type of relationship I wanted us to have. And it was through this reflection that I was able to, once and for all, wrench this holiday away from my mother and grandmother and assign it to myself. I don’t celebrate the generations of women before me — I celebrate me. The holiday is now, finally, about me and the woman — the mother — I am.


  1. Aloma May 9, 2018
    • Naomi Nakashima May 11, 2018
  2. Susan Arrasmith May 9, 2018
    • Naomi Nakashima May 11, 2018
  3. Crystal June 3, 2018
  4. Kathy Trosclair June 4, 2018
  5. Emily May 1, 2019
    • Naomi Nakashima May 1, 2019
  6. Sarah May 5, 2019

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