The month of May. Tulips and daffodils remind us that spring is a time for growth and change. May is not only Mental Health Awareness Month, it is also the month in which many celebrate Mother’s Day.
For me, this year has a particularly poignant meaning. My mom died four years ago to the day on May 13, which this year happens to be Mother’s Day. I am also a mother myself, walking the various tightropes of work-life balance, kid-marriage balance, self-care, and care for others. The day has even more meaning to me as I am adopted, yet I have a birth mother who I celebrate as the person who gave birth to me; she also plays a significant role as grandmother for my two boys after our reunion almost 20 years ago.
I share this with you because the more I speak with friends, family, and people in therapy, the more I realize how complicated Mother’s Day is for many of us. This day can bring a mixed bag of celebration, pride, and gratitude, but also shame, grief, and doubt.
My overarching message this month is that there is room for all of it. Step back. Breathe. Perhaps there are opportunities for growth, new understanding, and more empathy as we ponder the meaning of Mother’s Day and what it might mean for our own mental health.
Mother’s Day can, for some, be a simple observance with brunch and flowers for the woman who gave birth to and raised us, but as we pan out, there may be many people (not just women) who played the role of “mother” for us. I am aware, for example, that my sons’ teachers step into the role of nurturing figures for them. Many of them are mothers themselves, often missing their own children’s field trips and events because of their obligations to the school. There are also many children raised by aunts, caregivers, foster families, or grandparents. They are certainly playing the role of mother and deserve recognition, celebration, and gratitude.
For many people close to me and for many of my clients, Mother’s Day brings up complicated feelings. For those of us whose moms have died, it may be a day of remembrance and grief. Many people have struggled with mothers who were abusive or mentally and/or physically ill. Some of their mothers struggle(d) with addiction and/or unresolved traumas and were not able to give them care, support, and guidance.
Despite having difficult and complex relationships, many keep in touch with their moms, but some have expressed angst about whether and how to celebrate Mother’s Day. The traditional Hallmark sections often don’t have cards that capture these complicated relationships. “I know you have your own unresolved stuff, Mom, and probably did the best you could; thanks for keeping me alive” doesn’t have the best ring to it.
Whatever Mother’s Day may bring up for you, I invite you to greet it with space, curiosity, and compassion. If it represents beauty, gratitude, and unconditional love, celebrate that! If it brings up feelings of doubt, guilt, or shame, let that have your gentle awareness and know you’re not alone.
On the other side of that, in my role as a mom, this day makes me reflect on the pressure I put on myself in being both a therapist and a mother. Despite knowing I am just another human doing the best I can, I often have an inner critic that says something along the lines of, “You’re a therapist, for crying out loud, you should know all the answers!”
Well, here’s a confession from a therapist mom: I don’t.
Despite my having read probably 20 parenting books, I still do things wrong and feel shame like most mamas out there. Perhaps we look at the Hallmark section ourselves and wonder, “Geez, will my kids feel this magical way about me?” Perhaps you are a mom who struggles with depression or other mental health issues. We get so many messages, usually rooted in shame, that amplify our feelings of not being good enough. We of course want to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, but often, we are so paralyzed by our sense of shame and isolation that we think we are the only ones struggling. (And, of course, you do not even have to be a mom to get shame messages about motherhood: “What do you mean you don’t want to have children?”)
Whatever Mother’s Day may bring up for you, I invite you to greet it with space, curiosity, and compassion. If it represents beauty, gratitude, and unconditional love, celebrate that! If it brings up feelings of doubt, guilt, or shame, let that have your gentle awareness and know you’re not alone. Perhaps it brings up grief of a mother lost or a mother you never had. Perhaps it is “just another day invented by card and flower companies.” This stance might also have a deeper meaning. Just be curious. A therapist can help with this.
There is room for all of it. Be gentle with yourself and the people who bring a nurturing presence in your life. Happy Mother’s Day.
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