You Don’t Owe Your Toxic Mother a Card, Candy, or Quality Time on Mother’s Day

[photo credit: flickr user George Chelebiev]
Whenever you see your mother, she belittles you, emotionally abuses you, treats you like a peasant, and demands to be fawned over like a queen. After you spend time with her, whether in person or on the phone or even reading an email from her, you feel very, very tiny and insignificant.

You hurt inside, where no one can see. You are invisibly cut and scarred again and again.

You can hardly remember more than a handful of times (if that) when you enjoyed your mother’s company. You can’t even really recall feeling nurtured or loved unconditionally.

Yet you have spent your entire life trying to find the mythical and magical key that will open her heart to you and unleash the maternal love you’ve always longed for.

Deep in your heart, you suspect that there is no key. It’s not your fault; it’s just broken.

But somehow, every second Sunday of May, you find yourself wondering whether you should send this toxic mother some sort of card or maybe make a quick phone call or stop by her house for a short visit.

I know you wonder because my inbox gets jam-packed every May and the traffic here at The Invisible Scar absolutely skyrockets.

Every year, readers email me such questions as “Should I send my mother a card on Mother’s Day even thought we haven’t talked in years?” or “Should I send my mother a card even though she always treats me like crap?”

My answer is always: You have to make your own informed decision. I can’t make that decision for anyone.

That said, in making such a decision, do keep the following in mind:

Mother’s Day is to honor good mothers

The holiday was not created to honor toxic mothers, abusive mothers, neglectful mothers, etc. It is meant to honor the good women who fulfill the vocation of motherhood.

By unilaterally honoring all mothers, we neglect the truth that not all mothers are good ones. The ads on TV and radio often exclaim such phrases as “Mother always…” or “Mothers this or that” but the truth is that not all mothers are loving.

Yes, most mothers are good. It is far more common to have a loving, kind, and caring mother than to not have one. And those are the mothers who we celebrate. They deserve a day. They remind us of what good mothers are, what they should be.

We are not to honor the small group of abusive mothers. They besmirch the role of motherhood. They dishonor the true vocation of motherhood.

You are under no moral obligation to send a card or gift or spend time with your emotionally abusive mother

If you are still in contact with your abusive mother or in limited contact, you can be honest about the holiday. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that the holiday brings up a lot of emotions and that you didn’t feel right giving a false impression with a card or gift.

Some readers who have very limited contact with their mothers have said they send their mom a “thanks for giving birth to me” card. It’s direct, shows you’re thankful for the gift of life, and yet does not tell falsehoods about the relationship.

A Mother’s Day card is not going to fix everything

That card that you think you might want to send your mother does not possess magical qualities. I know that sounds harsh; I’m so very sorry for having to be so blunt. But I hear so very many stories about adult survivors of emotional child abuse who think that this Mother’s Day card will somehow:

  • Show their mother that they still acknowledge their existence
  • Warm their mother’s heart to what a healthy relationship could be
  • Open a new communication channel
  • Let their mom see what she’s missing out on by being abusive

This card or phone call from you is not going to do any of that. I’m so, so sorry.

If your mother is truly toxic, the only thing that this card or phone call will do is keep the lines open for continued abuse, knock down the boundaries that you have set for yourself, lie to your mother about doing a great job mothering (because that’s what all Mother’s Day cards say), make her feel like she’s been maligned by you in the past, and demonstrate that you can be manipulated into lowering your boundaries.

A loving mother who wants a better relationship with you will give you space to heal and also work on healing herself

Not every crappy mother is a toxic one.

Some emotionally abusive mothers are awful at parenting out of ignorance. They honestly do not know any better…and through therapy, honest communication with their children, and boundary-setting, they can learn to change and sustain that change for a long, long time (hopefully, the rest of their lives).

A mother who is making a true effort at becoming better and an emotionally healthier person will understand that her child has emotional wounds and perhaps does not want to celebrate Mother’s Day.

A toxic mother will make this holiday hellish

Unfortunately, most readers of The Invisible Scar have toxic mothers. These mothers will take a simple holiday (cards, flowers, a small gift, and, hey, thanks, good mom, for everything!) and turn it into a spectacle.

But only you can decide whether to continue setting your boundaries (i.e., going no contact or limiting contact) or to suspend them for the sake of a random holiday.

Just remember that you can survive the peer pressure of celebrating Mother’s Day

You are so much stronger than one holiday in May. You really are.

And if you need some extra ideas for powering through Mother’s Day, here are some four sanity-saving tips for ignoring Mother’s Day and ideas for how to handle Mother’s Day when your own mother was abusive.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

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33 thoughts on “You Don’t Owe Your Toxic Mother a Card, Candy, or Quality Time on Mother’s Day

  1. I gave my mother a couple of presents when I was a kid. I didn’t get pocket money but my dad used to put money in a building society account and say that was pocket money. I was too young to access the money without his permission. If I asked for something he disapproved of, he would either say no or start shouting at me. He disapproved of anything that didn’t enhance my education.

    I couldn’t spend the money on myself. So, I bought my mother a present. I spent over 2 years of “pocket money” on the present. She got my dad to open the present for her. Then, she just stood back and smiled and said,”that’s nice, thank you” in a formal manner. She didn’t even go up to it and investigate it. She did that both times that I gave her a present.

    I told one of her friends proudly that I bought her that present. Later, my mother scolded me for bragging about buying her a present.

    Part of the enjoyment of giving someone a present is seeing them open it. If the giver is a small child, you would expect a bit of warmth. None of these happened. Then, she even managed to find a reason to tell me off.

    I went halves on a dishwasher for my mother’s birthday with my sister as an adult but that was my sister’s idea. If I had put some thought into it, I would have said no.

    Other than that, I didn’t give her any cards or presents again. The difficulty with a mother like mine was that the abuse was subtle and I could never prove anything. I still wonder if the problem was her or me. Of course, she said it was me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I had difficulty posting my comment so I’m sending to you by return email just so you got it:

    Important and thoughtful piece and I appreciated all your words. The quote however is less good, e.g. “You can make decisions without asking for mommy’s approval.” Those who put the reader down are neither brilliant nor profound IMO. Thanks for writing about a difficult topic.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. I re-read the quote from the blogger that I posted, and I think you’re right. Though the blogger’s entire blog has some amazing insight, it does have some flaws to it, and the quote wasn’t exactly what I had in mind to convey.

      I deleted the quote and decided to write exactly what I meant instead.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and offer some solid feedback.

      Onward and upward!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate what you do here and thank you. I cut off from my mother in 2004, except for a period of reconciliation during the last year of my father’s life, although that ended bitterly, too.
    Everything you write here is true. Mother’s Day is hard, and two years ago I had an what can only be described as a meltdown on the day because of my childhood memories. (I wrote about it on my blog.) That was the day I realised I had PTSD. I sought help through the Blueknot Foundation, an organisation for adult survivors of child abuse here in Australia, and it was a turning point.
    I love my own four children deeply, and I will never really understand how mothers like mine don’t or can’t love their children. I’ve learnt to accept it, though, and can now even see beyond it to my mother’s own childhood and upbringing, and the long thread of intergenerational child abuse. That doesn’t mean I don’t protect myself from my mother—I do, and I never want anything to do with her again—but it means that I see the reasons and that’s helped.
    It’s also helped that my four children haven’t experienced what I did and are all happy without the baggage I carry. It’s been a long road. I’m 50 years of age and I’ve had some pretty difficult moments over the years, but life has never looked so good.
    Happy Mothers Day!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi there, I am a 21 year old female and am going through a similar experience with my mother. Only in recent years have I narrowed the issue down to the fact that I have been increasingly more neglected by my mother since childhood. I cant remember the last time she said she loved me, or has said more than 3-4 words to me… and we live in the same house… I am a student right now and don’t have the money to live fully on my own yet. At what age and How did you detatch yourself from your toxic mother? thank you

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  4. After many years of carefully selecting cards that say something true to send on this “auspicious” day, I will no longer will send a gift. Last year I sent a Macy’s gift card. She called me and said she couldn’t possibly use it and wouldn’t use it. After five phone calls to Macy’s (none of the reps could believe she actually said that), I received credit back on my Macy’s card. That was her last Mother’s Day gift. I will continue to send a card that says not much more than “Happy Mother’s Day.” By choice, I live 500 miles away, so I don’t visit on that day. She knows what kind of mother she was but has said she will never apologize. So be it. I won’t apologize for for remembering. (Yes, I have forgiven thousands of times, but then she gives me more of the same–psychological and emotional verbal abuse.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Is there an online chatroom for people who have toxic mothers? I could really do with the support. Sometimes a gal needs a good rant!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think a support group that shares ways to put boundaries in place is something I would like to participate in. I don’t really want to rant, but I understand why you need/want to. I rant to two of my best friends who understand.

      P. S. To administrator: The email address I used to make comments is an old one and I am locked out because of inactivity. When I tried to change it to my current email address, where I get your updates, it makes me change to a non-anonymous user name. Help!

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  6. UGGGHH…always hated Mother’s & Father’s day as a child although I could not say why at the time (cognitive dissonance working big time)
    We were all nagged into respecting the day, so I would make the cards instead – the art was therapeutic & the words could be carefully chosen.
    I do like your suggestion of simply saying,’ Thank you for giving birth to me’- really wish I had thought about it at the time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks you for sharing this. I pray for my Mother. She was abused terribly as a child. She didn’t know how to be a good Mother. I’ve asked God to help me forgive, and to help her come to know Jesus as her personal savior. I’ve learned when to put some distance between us. Sometimes you have to love someone from afar so that you will not be hurt by their toxicity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t want to be paralyzed by guilt that it’s all my fault why she’s not happy with me. But every year, I think there’s got the be that one perfect gesture that will prove that I’m not a hateful person, just hurt (and not that made-up, “you’re over-reacting” kind of hurt, but hurt by actual hurtful things) and needing boundaries (for myself and my children). It’s nice to hear that others are in this battle too. I love you, ladies, and I wish you a happy day, no matter what the calendar calls it.

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  9. When I was a tiny little girl and in kindergarten for the first year, we all did an art project for Mother’s Day. We made paper mache clowns, with big paper tunics for bodies and colourful wool for hair. We painted the faces and tunics, and then our teachers gave us chocolates with which to fill up their tunics. These were taped shut at the bottom and this made a solid base for the clown to stand on. The project took weeks and I was so excited. Such colourful clowns filled with chocolate! I mean, a *clown*! *Chocolate*! And the two put together like that! It seemed like total genius to little me and like the other kids, I couldn’t wait for Mother’s Day to arrive.

    I woke up very early in the morning and excitedly carried the clown into my parents’ bedroom. I said to my mother, “Happy Mother’s Day!” And she frowned and, “What is *that*???” I said, “It’s a clown. I made it. It’s full of chocolate!” And she said, “I don’t like it.” I ran out of the room bawling. I heard my father remonstrating with my mother, and my mother saying, “I’m not going to lie!”

    That was the first Mother’s Day I remember. And really, nothing ever changed. Handmade projects from school were shrugged off – the workmanship clearly wasn’t of a high enough standard. So after a while I bought things, and got, “You couldn’t even be bothered making something for me!” But that was better than having my work belittled. Nothing I ever bought was ever good enough either. I remember when I was a university student, and living below the poverty line on a government living allowance. I’d spent $2 on a beaten-up scratched old aluminium frypan with a faulty regulator for my own use. I’d noticed my mother’s electric frypan was scratched and worse for wear on a visit home, and spent half a year saving up over $50 to buy her a lovely, state-of-the-art, gleaming new electric frypan for Mother’s Day. She did like to cook, and had no recreational hobbies, so not an easy person to get something for. When I presented her with the electric frypan and a smile, she said, “What’s this? Something for the kitchen? Is that all you think I’m good for? A kitchen slave?”

    She was always complaining about having no dishwasher, so when I started my very first paid work after university, I spent my very first fortnightly pay cheque going halves on a super-modern, top-range dishwasher with a sibling. That managed to fall flat as well – she didn’t like the dishwasher. No rational reason she could give. She did use it, but was never happy about it. She didn’t maintain it by cleaning the seals, filters and arms, and so the arms clogged up and the dishwasher started leaking, and she’d complain about what a crappy dishwasher it was at the next opportunity. We’d show her how to clean the seals and clean out the arms etc, and she’d say, “What’s the point of having a dishwasher if you have to do things like that?” After that I stopped giving presents that required saving up and thought, and gave little throwaway trinkets and a card; occasionally Interflora flowers.

    Twenty years later, I only sent a card for the first time in my life, and wasn’t around to hear the moaning about what a cheapskate I am and how I don’t honour my own mother after all she did for me. This year, she won’t even get a card; nor will my father. Having been diagnosed with PTSD in my early 40s from multiple childhood trauma – witnessing domestic violence from a very early age, being the target of domestic violence from a very early age, being the family scapegoat, being physically and emotionally abused and emotionally neglected throughout my childhood, never being able to talk about it as a child for fear of repercussions – things began to make sense and I started to see things very differently, to stop participating in their surface show of “happy families”, and to stop making excuses for my parents’ behaviour and putting up with that behaviour.

    I went no contact just over a year ago and it was the best decision I ever made with regards to them, and I wish I’d done it much earlier. I don’t visit, I don’t take phone calls, their emails go into the junk bin unread, I ignore and give away their presents after sending them back didn’t work. I don’t owe them any of my time or thoughts; these are so much better used in the consideration of the many other human beings around who benefit from a person’s time and thoughts. No more trying to talk it through, no more listening to excuses or stories of what an awful child I was, no more waiting for an apology, no more arguing about what constitutes appropriate behaviour or loving behaviour, no more services bestowed, no more, full stop.

    This is simply about living a positive life and no longer giving any time and effort to things that have no positive value.

    All the best to all of you out there who have been there too.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Could have written your recounting myself Sophie, with perhaps a few differing gifts. Five years of no contact has helped me to discover who I am, without including my mother in the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m so glad to hear that you found the courage to go ‘no contact’. I hope and pray you heal and find the love you deserve. No one deserves treatment at the the hands of the ones who are supposed to love them like this!!

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    3. I can really relate to your experience. Thank you for sharing. My mother just passed away. I feel so relieved. I also have ptsd and there is much healing to be done, but I’m better. i reconnected with her briefly last year, after going no contact with both of my parents for many years. there is still the difficult father to deal with at the funeral, but i’ll be cutting contact with him after that and going through my lawyer. bless you.

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  10. Complex PTSD explains the ruminations which are finally getting better. Googling “shattered assumptions” except complex meaning the assumptions were never positive to start with, so more work to recover. Forgiveness is the key, and understanding your parent is way more sick than you were prepared to realize. Last year she told my sibling I never was the child she wanted me to be. So I’ve mentally deducted another couple years from her maturity level: probably 2-3 years old. Seeing her as a suffering toddler helps me reconcile my conflicting feelings. Hope this idea helps someone else. God bless you all

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  11. I have always forgiven my very toxic mom because she is either possessed or very mentally ill. BUT I did tell her a number of years ago I forgive her for how she treated me growing up but I will no longer continue to be abused by her. I feel bad for her because she tries now, but the very sad part is that she HAS to try and that kindness or love does not come naturally to her. She recently showed me some paperwork her mother had she found after she died that was to make her “ward of the court” or some type of court papers showing she was going to be given or taken away soon after birth so it explains a lot. My grandmother had to get married with her but it didn’t last long so God only knows what drama went on being a husbandless mother back in 1930 because no one ever spoke about anything in our family. Everything was a big dark secret that I am just starting to find out about. I thank God I have always tried not to judge others harshly but will state what I think about their behavior.

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  12. Always a difficult holiday. I thought of another way to handle it that might resonate with some of us. Plant a tree, donate to a cause, sponsor a child…all ways to honor life, and to honor what motherhood is SUPPOSED to mean. It seems like a way to create good out of chaos.

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  13. Best two days of the year are Mother’s Day and my mother’s birthday–because I no longer have to provide a performance and be subjected to her judgment.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. mothers day. mourning day
    I am sad that the rest of my family celebrating together ( In my imagination)While I am all alone
    mourning the family I dont have,i am lonely and want to be a part of a supporting family .
    THIS YEAR I GAVE MYSELF PRESENTS because of all the loving mothering I have given to my mother thanx to her parentification of me. I am not encouraging this reverse relationship and codependent behavior but honoring that I deserve credit anyway for all the genuine love I have given. And also because I sort of have to be my own mother as well.
    I know its not my fault most of the time , but that self doubting voice in my head said the most horrible things about me today
    Thanks for this site so I feel connected to people today

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  15. Thank you thank you thank you for this! Your words really help me more than I can express. I always finish reading your posts with a big deep breath of relief. I love the reference to “They dishonor the true vocation of motherhood”. I’ve never thought it about it that way. And that’s a perfect way to phrase it.

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  16. I allow my mom to keep the illusion of a relationship, though I’ll never forgive her for all the hurt and being worse than anyone could be to me when I needed her most. What hurt most was when I realized she truly blocked out all the wrong she did and said to me through the years. I thought she had learned something, but to her I must’ve just felt like being pissed for no reason.

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