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.