How to Spend Mother’s Day On Your Own Terms
This piece is adapted from one originally published by OptionB.Org as part of their #OptionBThere for Mother's Day program. Visit optionb.org/mothersday to find actions large and small you can take to offer extra support to your loved ones and help them find meaning this Mother’s Day.
If Mother’s Day is painful for you, you’re not alone—it’s okay if your Sunday doesn’t match the “breakfast in bed” ideal. Whether you’re grieving the loss of your mother, have lost a child, or don’t have a strong relationship with your mom, it’s valid to have difficult feelings about Mother’s Day.
Everyone deserves to spend Mother’s Day in the way that best helps them take care of themselves. These strategies can help you find strength this Mother’s Day—consider sharing them with loved ones so they can help support you.
1. Choose how you want to spend the day
Talk to friends or family ahead of time so they know how you’re feeling. Let them know that you may change your mind about plans, even at the last minute. If you’d prefer to play it by ear, let them know.
Saying no to social pressure can come with feelings of guilt and shame, especially for mothers and daughters who struggle to connect. According to Tamara Afifi, a professor of interpersonal health communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, there’s a societal expectation that mothers and daughters should be close. “When you don’t have that kind of relationship with your mom or your daughter—and you see others who do—that can be really hard,” she says.
Her advice? Let go of the guilt by remembering the following:
Not every family relationship has to be close
Not everyone knows how to feel, show, or express love
Not every strained relationship can be fixed by trying harder
2. Do only what feels right
If you don’t feel like marking the day in a certain way, you don’t have to. If you want to honor traditions in your own way, go for it. Maybe you can’t or don’t want to spend the day with your mother, but you still want to make her favorite quiche or visit her favorite park. Or if you want a complete change of pace, start a new tradition. Think about activities you’ve always wanted to do, places you’ve always wanted to visit, or special meals you’ve always wanted to make. New traditions give us something to look forward to.
3. Let people help
Even the simplest of tasks—like buying a Mother’s Day card—can feel daunting. Ask for and accept help with any of them. People who care about you will be happy to help—sometimes they just need a few ideas to get started.
4. Feel however you feel
Mother’s Day can be filled with memories and traditions that cause unexpected and shifting emotions. There’s no one right way to be. People who tell you how you “should” feel or act may mean well, but they may not know what’s best for you. Dr. Afifi suggests “finding connections with people you choose, with people who show you the kind of love you deserve.” Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are—and try to limit your time with people who don’t. If you’re being hard on yourself, try to go easy. Try to replace thoughts of how you “should” feel with acceptance of your feelings as they come.
5. Talk about it—or don’t
The question of whether and when to open up can be complicated. People who know that you’re struggling may ask how you’re doing. Sometimes, you can tell them how you’re really feeling without ruining their day. But not everyone will handle honesty well. It can seem easier to deflect the question than choose between opening up or giving a sugar-coated response. Consider making a list of easy subject changes: “What’s on your reading list?” “Seen any good movies recently?”
6. Take care of yourself
Be gentle with yourself. Self-care can make it easier to cope with stress, especially during challenging times. Eat well, stay active, try to sleep, and give yourself the opportunity to relax when you need it.
7. Hold on to hope
This particular day may not be the same as it was before. It may never quite be that way again. But it won’t necessarily always be this hard. You don’t know what the next year has in store for you, and you won’t always feel how you do right now. Watch for the trap of believing that things will never get better. If you find yourself falling into it, try replacing words like “always” with “sometimes” to remind yourself that the future doesn’t have to be like the past.
Bottom line? Mother’s Day has different meaning for everyone—and yours is valid.
Tamara Afifi is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on communication patterns that foster risk and resiliency in families. She examines how environmental factors (e.g., divorce, refugee camps, natural disasters, fast paced families, chronic illness, financial hardship) interact with family members’ communication patterns to affect stress, adaptation, growth, and personal/relational health.