Four Sanity-Saving Tips for Ignoring Mother’s Day

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.

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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_authorVeronica 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.

How Do You Handle Mother’s Day When Your Mother Was Abusive?

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TV ads this weekend make all mothers ready for instant canonization… but as readers of The Invisible Scar know, not all mothers are good mothers.

So, how do handle a day dedicated to motherhood when your own mother was abusive and so not worthy of gifts or cards?

You have two choices:

  1. Ignore the day (The day is for good mothers, not terrible ones. You don’t have to celebrate it.)
  2. Acknowledge the day in your own way

If you choose to ignore the day, you need not read on.

If you choose #2, you can recognize the holiday in different ways. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Celebrate what motherhood means to you

If you’re a mother, celebrate what a gift that your children are to you, what an amazing opportunity you have to parent in a different way from which you were brought up. You can stop surrendering the day to your own mother and now claim the holiday as YOURS.

Motherhood is a beautiful, difficult, wonderful, and challenging vocation, when done right. Celebrate the journey that you are on.

Honor maternal figures in your life

Your own mother may have been a study in horror, but you may have good examples of motherhood in your life. Perhaps an aunt or a good friend or even a coach, some adult in your life who has taken on a motherly role.

Take this opportunity to let this woman know how much her presence has meant to you and what a blessing she has been to your life.

Mother yourself

You may have a mother-sized hole in your heart, but you can take time today to think about how you can take better care of yourself. Yes, your mother was an awful example of motherhood… Yes, she treated you very badly. But you can stop letting her do so. You can stop listening to all the bad self-talk that is actually her in your head and now start speaking to yourself in the loving, kind tones that a good other does.

Make a commitment to treat yourself with respect, love, encouragement, and gentleness. You are a gift to the world, and though your own mother might not have appreciated it or been unable to properly demonstrate gratitude for the gift, we are all so glad you are here.

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On this upcoming Mother’s Day, keep safe and keep strong. Don’t cave into sentiment or cling to an ideal that cannot be. It’s only one day, it’s only a holiday.

Onward and upward…

Five Ideas for a Peaceful Thanksgiving

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Advertisers during the Thanksgiving season present an exaggerated image of the simple holiday. Sumptuous feasts bring together far-flung relatives. The coolness of the weather chills past arguments and lets bygone be bygones.

Moreover, people perpetuate this unreachable ideal by promoting glittery, heavily edited holiday images on their social networks.

Unfortunately, the expectation can be so high during this season that people who are estranged from their families of origin or those who are far from them due to military or business reasons can get very low-spirited this week.

“There’s this idea that it’s supposed to be perfect, and if it’s not, the person asks, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”  states Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.

Expectations for the perfect holiday are sky-high, which triggers myriad issues related to mental health. However, statistically, the number of “traditional households” in this country is not in the majority, Rodino adds.

To help you lessen that stress and to embrace the true spirit of the holiday, this post will offer ideas for immersing oneself in a spirit of thankfulness.

After all, the holiday name itself tells you what its focus is: giving thanks.

1. Celebrate Thanksgiving with your family-from-the-heart

During Thanksgiving, you may feel that everyone in the United States is celebrating the feast with all their relatives. However, you’re not alone. Some of your friends may not have relatives nearby for the holiday or you may know other folks estranged from their kin. If you want to share the day with special friends, invite them over for Thanksgiving.

No rules exist for the feast. You don’t need to be related by blood. Invite relatives and friends whose company you enjoy. Give thanks for the good people in your life, whatever role they play in your life.

(This concept of celebrating with friends has been picking up steam lately. Do a Google search for Friendsgiving, and you’ll find oodles of ideas for celebrating.)

2. Celebrate the hidden treasures in your life

As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself focusing on the darkness in your life rather than the light. And whereas there’s nothing wrong with self-reflection, one must balance it out by looking for some goodness, something of hope in one’s present.

A holiday can make finding that hope difficult. You may just focus on loss. Where are the relatives? Why couldn’t my family be normal for the holidays? Why does everyone get a real Thanksgiving except me?

But remember that you are a wonder. It’s a tremendous blessing that you were able to see the emotional child abuse for what it is and now head towards a life of healing and light. That’s a huge blessing.

YOU are a blessing.

Then also think about the beauty in your life and focus on all the neat treasures tucked into your day that you may overlook or even feel silly about being grateful for them. On Thanksgiving, celebrate those treasures, no matter how big or how small.

“Today, I am grateful for… my awesome purple-framed glasses that help me see better, for listening to new music on Spotify for free, for Cary Grant movies, for art supplies and the hope and expectation in blank sheets of paper, for Cupcake Red Velvet wine, for the crunch of autumn leaves when I go on a nature walk, for the graceful silhouettes of geese against the gray sky…”

Give thanks for the world around you and all the beauty within it, even if you have to dig for it sometimes.

3. Indulge in a hobby… with all this uninterrupted time

What hobbies or activities are you often putting off because of important commitments? If you’re spending Thanksgiving by yourself, indulge yourself in the pleasure of that hobby without interruptions. Want to paint? Practice your music? Work on your karate skills? Try a new recipe?

Do it.

Be grateful for this gift and use it to your heart’s delight.

If your hobby is watching movies and analyzing them, go for it. Just steer away from holiday-themed movies, as they can trigger nostalgia and longing on this day.

4. Reach out to other people

“Help others,” recommends Laurie Stoneham in her article 10 Things to Do If You’re Alone on the Holidays. “Volunteering at a mission or shelter for the homeless will help you feel connected.”

You can find those places to volunteer online, check your newspaper or church bulletin, or check your city’s message board.

5. Treat the day like any other day

“Not everyone is down with holiday events,” writes blogger Kat Dawkins at Psych Central. “And that is perfectly OK.

“Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or weird about not participating in the Thanksgiving holiday. We are not all interested in that type of thing.

“If the day is a trigger for you, make sure you surround yourself with others in a positive environment. Keep yourself busy your mind off negative things as much as you can.”

Have any tips for a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday? I’d love to hear them. Just drop a note in the Comments.

Holiday Survival Tips: 10 Suggestions for an Emotionally Healthy Christmas

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For all the beauty of the Christmas season, it can be a difficult time for survivors of emotional child abuse. Whether the adult is estranged from toxic parents or still in contact, the adult often must battle feelings of sorrow, frustration, anger, and loss.

At the Invisible Scar, we recognize all those valid feelings… but we also hope to give some ideas for creating new (and realistic) expectations for this special time of year. These tips will not offer any miracle cure for the very real pain of survivors of emotional child abuse—but I hope these ideas will bring comfort and joy to those who want to, despite all the past abuse, live good, healthy lives no longer dominated by the past. The scars are real, the pain is real… but there is beauty to be found in a new present, in a new beginning.

1. Find meaning in the season.

 Find or reconnect to a purpose, meaning or value during the season.” (Christy Matta, MA; Holiday Stress Survival Tips)

What do you want to celebrate this holiday season?  Is it the birth of Jesus Christ? Is it goodwill towards all?

Knowing what you want to celebrate can help you focus on what matters most for this season (and beyond). When we have ideal yet vague pictures about what the season means, we can get overwhelmed with the 45,340 different interpretations of celebrating it. Take time to focus on what you want to celebrate.

2. Have realistic expectations.

If individuals have locked horns for most of the year, it is not reasonable to think that on one day all will be forgiven. We need to be gentle with ourselves.” (Edward T. Creegan, MD; Reality vs Myth in Fighting Holiday Stress)

Many people place a huge burden on themselves and others during the holiday season. Whether inspired by too many Lifetime movie channel holiday movies or one’s own sense of longing for the perfect Christmas, folks can get caught up in needing everything to be just PERFECT. Everything needs to be the exact manifestation of every Christmas-related longing the person has had their entire life.

To cope with unrealistic expectations, make your expectations very specific and weigh just how realistic they are. For example, I may have this unrealistic expectation: I want to go ice skating with my aunts, uncles, and cousins at the vast, gorgeous lake near my mountain home. The problems are: I do not live near those relatives; I do not have a nearby lake; I do not live in the mountains or anywhere cold. So, I can transform an unrealistic expectation to a more realistic one: I will go ice skating at This Skating Rink on this day with my husband and children.

3. Create new traditions.

Most folks do what their families have done because, well, their families have always done those things. But now, in the beginning of the season, take time to think about the traditions that your family had that you liked and would like to continue. Or think about which ones you always wanted but didn’t do because you felt you couldn’t or shouldn’t. Want to decorate your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve instead of Dec. 1? Go for it. Want to make gingerbread houses with pink frosting instead of red? Make them.

Think of traditions that you’d like to bring to your life now. (You can even do an online search of holiday traditions and learn about new ones you want to incorporate into your holiday season.) If you are part of a chosen family (as opposed to a birth family), you may want to discuss what to do for the holiday season. Some families sit down and think of one holiday-themed activity to do for every week in December.

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4. Celebrate simple pleasures.

In the much-maligned movie Surviving Christmas, one of the characters talks about the simple beauty of a Christmas tree in the woods and how much its quiet beauty touched her. Another character, in a misguided attempt to woo her, decorates the tree and completely goes overboard with glitz and glam, thereby ruining what she had treasured for its simplicity.

Think about how overdone things can be, but— rather than shun the entire season— focus instead on simple beauty. The power of the season is in the small things. The Christ child in a manger—not a child in a high-priced, elaborate cradle set in a castle. A Christmas star—not a Christmas meteor shower. A drummer boy whose gift is to play rat-a-tat-tat on a drum—not a full-fledged orchestra.

What simple beauty can you add to your life? What small things can be done with great love?

5. See the beauty around you.

An enormously helpful suggestion I was given a long time ago was to look for the beauty around you. In other words, really see things. Notice the simple beauty tucked in our everyday. Sometimes, it’s hidden in small things. For example, a pretty Christmas drawing on a latte cup. A snowflake pattern on the window. The beauty of bright pink and bright green on a scarf.

If you’ve been around chronically disgruntled people, you know that they will always find something to complain about. Anything is fodder for a complaint… and you can get blue in the face trying to “help” them see the beauty.

Don’t be that person.

Instead, purposefully seek to see things during this season that are uplifting and good. No, not everything is perfect. Yes, we are, as author John Green says, all broken… but it’s all right to seek the good things and be grateful for them.

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6. Be with loved ones.

Be with people who genuinely like you and value who you are… and who you value, too. Just being with good friends who make you laugh or think or feel good is a gift during this Christmas season. Instead of forcing yourself to spend time with people who drain you emotionally, who abuse you, who treat you horribly, choose instead to be with people who respect you.

Remember, you get to choose your social sphere.

7. Reach out to folks.

You’d be surprised how many people are far from their relatives or other loved ones during the Christmas season. Invite them to coffee or to go see a tree-lighting ceremony or see Christmas lights. We know folks who have a Misfit Christmas; they invite everyone they know who are on their own at Christmas, and everyone gets together–despite some folks not knowing each other. It’s a beautiful tradition, the company always varies, and it’s always fun. We also know folks who choose to spend the holiday working at a local shelter and bringing light to others.

8. Be gentle with others (i.e., cut people some slack).

The unrealistic expectations we sometimes have for the holiday can result in unrealistic expectations we put other people. If you didn’t get a Christmas card from someone, don’t assume they don’t love you or don’t think about you; they might just be insanely busy, lack funds to buy a book of stamps (they get pricier each year), choose not to follow that tradition, etc. You don’t know the reasons why someone cut you off in the parking lot, forgot to buy you a gift, is being crabby at the store, etc., so cut people some slack. You’ll feel better in taking the high road… and you’ll have less stress as well.

9. Avoid social networks.

With so many people constantly posting glimpses into their amazing lives via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, etc., adult survivors of emotional child abuse can start feeling down about not having amazing, loving families that everyone else seems to have. It’s natural to feel that sorrow… It’s completely normal to feel sad about not having had a loving birth family…. but to remain in that sorrow is not a good thing (which is why I often mention the importance of going to therapy).

The holidays can ramp up the amount of family-related posts on social networks, so you may want to consider taking a break from social networks for the holidays.

10. Take “calm down” breaks.

Whenever you get stressed out, anxious or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down.” (Connie Bennett, 7 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress)

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Have any suggestions to share? Please feel free to add a comment… In the spirit of this post, let’s keep the comments as positive suggestions. Thanks!

What to Do About Father’s Day? (Ideas for Estranged Adult Children or Those With Late Abusive Fathers)

photo credit: Denise Avalone

photo credit: Denise Avalone

For weeks now, the Father’s Day holiday has been advertised in the United States. Images of handsome, strong, adoring fathers flash on television screens; people share photographs on social media platforms of loving fathers, godfathers, and grandfathers. But myriad adult children are estranged from their fathers or they have only painful memories of their deceased fathers.

So, how do you handle the holiday if you’re either estranged from your father or your late father’s memory is a painful one

Here are some ideas to help you through Father’s Day.

1. Remember that not everyone’s father/child relationship is like the ones you see on TV, the movies, or on social networks. Yes, some adult children have wonderful relationships with their fathers; yes, some people have loving, kind families. But perhaps you didn’t… and you should know that not everyone has. Your experience may be unique, but you are not alone in your hurt.

“Celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents many painful dilemmas to those of us who still have our abusers in our lives. For those of us who are no longer in contact with our abusers, there is the inevitable pang of sorrow for what we’re missing out on, and what we’ve always missed out on. No, it’s not fair. It’s sad, and it’s depressing. And there are millions of us out there, who are going through exactly the same heartache.” (Luke 17:3 Ministries)

2. Ignore the holiday.

You can choose to not celebrate the holiday. After all, in the US, the holiday wasn’t even officially proclaimed until 1966. Most of the resistance in it becoming a national holiday was due to folks believing the holiday was being created just to cash in. (That was a reasonable concern, especially in light of the promotion of Father’s Day being pushed by the Father’s Council, a group of men’s wear retailers.)

Unplug from the internet and social media platforms for the day, and just remind yourself that you don’t celebrate every holiday. Consider all the ones on this list that you don’t celebrate—really, Log Cabin Day?

3. Create your own tradition.

Maybe ignoring the holiday is too difficult. In that case, consider creating your own tradition. Maybe you can make Father’s Day be the day that you do a movie marathon; work on your Christmas cards list; do spring cleaning (not as fun as a movie marathon but needed); enjoy a fun day trip; etc. Most of all, do something that makes you feel good about the day (and doesn’t hurt your heart).

4. Celebrate your husband’s role as a father.

If you’re married, you can instead focus on your husband’s role as a father. Think about what an enormous blessing it is to have a good man as the father of your children. Shower him with extra attention and affection, not because a holiday mandates it—but because your heart wants to celebrate this man in your life and will enjoy any occasion to do so.

5. Reach out to someone who played a good fatherly role in your life and thank them for their positive influence in your life.

If you were fortunate enough to have good uncles, loving grandfathers, or other kind men in your life, you may want to let them know that you appreciate all the good things they brought (or bring) to your life. Let them know that they matter or that their positive influence mattered.

6. Quickly write what you’d really say in a letter… but don’t send it.

Maybe you’d love to send a real Father’s Day card to your father—to make up for the years of holidays in which you made yourself buy sappy cards or wrote overly fawning letters in a sort of wishlist (as if writing about a fantastic father would somehow make the reader become one). So, go ahead and do it. Get a piece of paper, fold it up, and write the sort of card that you’d want to send… but don’t send it. Let’s repeat that: Do not send it. 

The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is not to reach out to the estranged parent, not to change their personalities, not to somehow make your point for the hundredth time, nor wrangle an apology. The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is because doing so can be cathartic and you are entitled to your emotions. So, write down your thoughts. Get it out quickly. (Do you really want to spend an entire day focused on their wrongdoings? No. That’s not good for your soul.) And then move on with the day!

7. Build in extra support for the day.

If your estrangement with your father is new or your father recently died, you may still feel vulnerable during the holiday. If you’ve already been feeling deeply bluesy in anticipation of the holiday, don’t be alone on the actual day. Find some friends (without their fathers in tow) to spend time with. Go to the movies with some friends; hit the beach with pals; shoot pool.

Just don’t let yourself wallow in the sadness. At The Invisible Scar, we know that feeling sad and hurt is absolutely understood and even expected… but we always recommend professional help, especially if the sadness becomes crippling or far too lingering.

And remember, no matter how bad, a day is only 24 hours long. The holiday will be over before you know it.