Three Must-Read Posts for Mother’s Day If You’re an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

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Advertisements on TV and the radio go over the top in portraying all mothers as idealized heroic women who did absolutely every single thing right.

Motherhood, however, is far more complex and grittier than those bleached versions of it. It’s a vocation that, when approached right, requires maternal sacrifice, encourages a selfless love from the mother, and fosters virtues in the family.

Motherhood is a special calling to live out the definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Some mothers do their best to follow that definition. They can inspire us and present a type of motherhood that adult survivors can learn from to parent their own children.

But then, some children were brought up with a broken version of the above or one that goes in the exact opposite of it.

The maternal love received by some children was impatient, was unkind. It was jealous, it was pompous. It was inflated and rude. It sought its own interest and was quick-tempered. It brooded over injury. It rejoiced over wrongdoing and despaired the truth. It bore nothing, believed nothing, hoped for nothing, and enduring nothing. That twisted version of love failed.

For those adult survivors of emotional child abuse, the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday can be incredibly difficult. So, on this day before the holiday, I offer these three articles from The Invisible Scar archives that cover different approaches to surviving (or ignoring) Mother’s Day.

Onward and upward.


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.

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.

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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…