Mother’s Day is a family celebration that dates back to the Middle Ages, when families would reunite on the fourth Sunday in Lent and assemble at their ‘mother church’, attend the service there, and eat delicious simnel cake.
Our 21st-century version has come a long way since this simple celebration. It is now heavily commercialised, providing booming business for lunch venues, florists and greetings cards manufacturers. From late February we are bombarded with messages about Mother’s Day, and we are all encouraged to enjoy a day of family bonding and a celebration of familial relationships.
But one size doesn’t fit all, and Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of loss and failure for people who are bereaved, separated or divorced. If that's the case for you or a friend or loved one, we've put together some advice for surviving the day.
Divorced and Separated Mothers
If your divorce has been amicable and you are on good terms with your partner, then flexibility and compromise is the order of the day. Plan ahead, and if Mother’s Day falls on a weekend when you don’t have the children, negotiate with your partner and ask if you can swap the weekend – you can always promise to do the same on Father’s Day.
If, on the other hand, you do not have the children on the crucial weekend, and there is no question of negotiating or working around it, then you must have recourse to a new set of survival tools. Firstly, don’t allow yourself to be terrorised by a date: you can explain to your kids that you won’t be around for ‘ordinary’ Mother’s Day, but that you will all be able to celebrate a ‘special’ Mother’s Day the following weekend (or as soon as possible). Plan an exciting outing, bake an elaborate cake, cook an indulgent meal, and make the day memorable – it might become an annual ritual.
Next, you will need to find ways of navigating the actual day itself, without your kids. This is when you need to enlist the help of friends and family. Be explicit about the Mother’s Day burden, and ask them to come and make your day bearable – invite them round to a slap-up lunch, or plan a beautiful country walk. You could even gather some of your best female friends together and indulge in a luxurious spa day. Avoid going to pubs and restaurants, which will be packed with happy families.
Finally, avoid social media on the day itself. People will inevitably post about get-togethers and celebrations, and you will find yourself overwhelmed with images of family groups, convivial meals, happy couples, excited children. This really is not going to help you get through a challenging day, so try to block it out.
Mother’s Day – with its flowers, celebrations and happy family parties – can be deeply painful for people who have lost their mother, especially if the bereavement is raw and recent.
How you choose to cope with this challenge is very much a personal decision. Some people simply find it easier to switch off – no television, no social media, no outings to family restaurants. Instead, they might plan a distracting and absorbing activity, a blitz on the garden, an exhausting cycle ride, a baking bonanza or a spring clean.
Other people may choose to look outwards. They may, of course, have their own children, who demand all their love and attention. Or they might choose to mark the day by sending a card to another mother they admire – an aunt, sister, close friend. Alternatively, they can acknowledge the difficulties of the day and choose to spend it with close friends.
Finally, some people will take the day as an annual reminder of their loss, and will choose to actively remember their mother – this can be by doing something as simple as looking through old photographs or watching one of her favourite movies, or cooking one of her old recipes. Alternatively, you might plan a get-together with her close friends or family, so you can reminisce together.
Remember that not everyone who wants to have a child is able to do so, and many women are contemplating, or undergoing, the arduous process of assisted conception. Bear in mind, therefore, that people in this category are not likely to be enraptured by the glorification of Mother’s Day. Undoubtedly, they accept that this is a difficult day that has to be got through, but it will help anyone struggling to become a mother, or reconciling themselves with childlessness, if you are sensitive to the issue, and don’t thoughtlessly promote the perfection of your family on social media.
If you are fortunate enough to have a close and bonded family, devoted children and a doting mother, then no doubt you will be looking forward to Mother’s Day. But spare a thought for the large numbers of people who dread the day and find it difficult. Be observant and empathetic. Think about your separated or bereaved friends, take the trouble to ask them how they are going to spend the day, and enquire if you can help or participate in any way.
You may find your own Mother’s Day celebrations a delightful endorsement of your own good luck and judgement, but don’t rub it in. Think before you post, and avoid any glimmers of gloating or self-satisfaction. Universal celebrations are great fun when you are happy and prospering, but can be peculiarly painful when things have gone wrong.
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