How should you celebrate Mother’s Day when your mother was emotionally abusive?
Short answer: You don’t have to celebrate it.
Short answer for adult survivors who are mothers: You celebrate your being a mom, and you reflect, pray, and learn about being a better one every day.
Last year, I wrote about celebrating Mother’s Day when you have an abusive mother. But this year, I wanted to write about another option: ignoring the holiday altogether.
You can ignore Mother’s Day, you know.
You’re not under any moral obligation to celebrate this holiday. After all, it didn’t even come to existence until 1914! Anna Jarvis started Mother’s Day in the United States to honor her mom’s life and inspire people to honor their own moms. But the holiday got quickly out of control, with huge candy corporations and greeting-card companies exploiting the holiday, and by the early 1920s, Anna Jarvis wanted to abolish Mother’s Day.
Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as ‘charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.'” (Mental Floss article)
All that to say that if the founder of the holiday can hate Mother’s Day, you can, too!
1. Remember that this holiday may not pertain to you at all
Seriously. Do you celebrate every other holiday? If you don’t have an admin, do you celebrate Administrative Assistant Week? If you don’t know a nurse or aren’t you, do you celebrate National Nurses Day?
Likewise, when you have an emotionally abusive mother, you didn’t have one worth celebrating. And, as Anna Valerious wrote on her brilliant Narcissists Suck blog, Mother’s Day is for honoring good mothers.
2. Avoid social media until the Mother’s Day frenzy dies down
You don’t have to ignore everyone on social media forever. But you may want to take the next couple of days off your social media platforms.
“At its best, social media allows us to connect and keep up with friends and people we don’t see very often,” writes Mark Widdowson in his The Conversation article. “It allows us to have short interactions with them that keep the relationships going when we don’t have much free time. At its worst, social media can, it seems, feed into feelings of inadequacy.”
Do not feel guilty about giving yourself a break from social media.
Do not think it’s a sign of weakness if you need to avoid social media right now. Avoiding social media may be what your heart needs right now, and that’s OK. You need to take care of you.
Myriad adult survivors cannot bear the constant barrage right now of people sharing memes about amazing mothers or photos of Mother’s Day celebrations or text posts about how mothers are all incredible.
So, don’t expose yourself to them. If you do, you might grow more and more resentful. Worse, you may start leaving comments about your own personal pain and childhood suffering—which are not appropriate at the time. You don’t want to ruin a good mom’s happy day by leaving a long comment about how your own mother sucked and broke your heart. That may be true, but pissing on someone’s parade won’t make you feel better. (If you do want to vent, you can always come here to The Invisible Scar and leave comments on this post. Readers here understand that, no, not all mothers were loving and nurturing.)
3. Be mindful of your TV viewing
All the commercials. All. the. commercials. Anna Jarvis thought Mother’s Day was overdone in the 1920s… can you imagine what she’d say about today’s over-the-top celebrations?
Avoid seeing the commercials by not watching TV. Instead, pop in a DVD of something you’ve been meaning to see but put off. Or Netflix binge a new (or new-to-you) TV series. (At The Invisible Scar, we’re partial to Sherlock, Foyle’s War, and Arrow.)
If you feel like cutting off TV is like isolating yourself too much, then find some other non-celebratory friends and have a dinner party or movie-viewing party at home. Or do something fun in the unplugged world.
4. Go through your day like every other Sunday
How’d you celebrate last Sunday? Maybe it’s how you like to spend your Sundays. Well, you can do that this Sunday instead of celebrating Mother’s Day.
Again, you don’t owe it to anyone to celebrate a holiday that does not resonate with you.
* * *
What to Tell People If They Ask You
Some adult survivors worry about what they will tell people who ask them about Mother’s Day. Emotional child abuse survivors tend to overexplain themselves and anticipate problems, both possible and improbable, and the stress of what people will ask or what people will say can make them sick.
So, here are some ideas for tackling those social situations.
Other Person: How was your Mother’s Day?
You: I had a nice Sunday, thanks for asking. [change subject]
Other Person: Happy Mother’s Day!
You: Hope you have a good day, too.
Other Person: So, happy Mother’s Day! Did you do anything special?
You: I have a lovely/good/fun/relaxing Sunday, thanks. [change subject]
Those answers work if you’d rather not get into your past. You’re not lying; you mention Sunday and a day, not Mother’s Day. And you’re not being rude. Just succinct.
But say, you want to touch briefly on what your childhood was like. Then maybe these approaches can help…
Other Person: How was your Mother’s Day?
You: Oh, just like any other day. Thanks. [change subject]
Other Person: Did you have a fun Mother’s Day?
You: I don’t really do Mother’s Day, but, yeah, I had a great Sunday. [change subject]
Note that in those examples, you change the subject after answering. That’s because you may not be up to asking, “How was yours?” and then get stuck listening to answers that make you feel sad and sort of hurt and a wee bit jealous and maybe, on a certain level, like a little emotionally abandoned kid again.
And that’s fine. You don’t have to reciprocate that curiosity about your day. Your good friends will understand why you don’t want to dig too deep into the going-ons of the day. And strangers who ask just really want to either seem polite or just talk about themselves.
You’re fine keeping any answer brief and friendly, and then changing the subject.
What to Tell Your Family Members When They Ask You About the Holiday
You don’t have to tell them anything. But if you’re feeling guilty about not getting together with your mom, you can tell them the truth. Always speak the truth—even if your voice shakes.
Speaking the truth doesn’t mean you have to be long-winded, explain everything, and/or divulge all your secrets. Speaking the truth means not bullshitting other people, not feeding the lies that surround family dynamics, not continuing to participate in a toxic relationship for the sake of appearances or hurting someone’s feelings.
If a relative asks you about Mother’s Day, you say, “I’m doing something different this year. Thanks for asking.” And you change the subject.
If a relative cries and tells you that your mother’s heart is breaking and everyone yells, screams, and tries to guilt you into meeting up with your mother and perpetuating the myth that she is a good one and doesn’t royally suck, you say, “I’m doing something different this year. Thanks for asking.” And you hang up or walk away or close the door.
If your abusive mother calls you or leaves voicemail messages weeping that she did everything for you, that you’re an ingrate and terrible person, that she’s going to end up at the hospital because of her nerves, that she will die from shame and heartbreak, you say, “This shouldn’t be a surprise to you. We’ve discussed my childhood before. You know how I feel. So, I’m doing something different this year.” And you hang up or walk away or close the door.
Be strong. Be strong in the light and the truth. Stand in the truth, even if you have to stand alone. (And know that you’re not alone. We’re here.)
* * *
The choice to celebrate Mother’s Day or not is yours. This article covered the angle of ignoring the holiday, but you also have the option of celebrating Mother’s Day in your own way.
You can honor the woman in your life who was like a loving mother to you, celebrate the good moms that your friends are, reach out and mother yourself, or focus on being a good mom yourself. In the Catholic culture, Mother’s Day is also one that honors the Blessed Mother.
Onward and upward.
Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.