When Mother’s Day Isn’t Happy: How to Cope

Whether due to loss, grief or burning disappointment, there are times when Mother’s Day isn’t happy, it’s downright crappy. Here’s how to cope without falling down (too far) into the well of despair.

This Sunday morning, (Mother’s Day) I woke up thinking about how to make something beautiful and useful out of my despair.

All week I’ve been itchy with annoyance and depression. I knew it was because of THE DAY that triggers so much grief, sadness, regret… just friggin’ PAIN. Mother’s Day. I hate it. But here it is, coming around as it does once a year.

Actually, because I live in Mexico and Mexicans celebrate Mother’s day every May 10, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, I’ve got the bonus benefit of Mother’s Day twice this year. The Sunday Mother’s Day of my own American heritage and the Mother’s Day of Mexico.

Sitting down to write here this I thought: I wish those of you struggling were right here having coffee with me, and we could talk about this difficult subject of when Mother’s Day isn’t happy and not have to bear it alone.

So, while having coffee at my kitchen table after a run, a green juice, and feeding the dogs, I turned on my phone video in hopes of not overthinking this idea to the point of not doing it.

Apologies for the headphone hair and last night’s paint still under my fingernails. Camera readyness would mean I wait another lifetime to make videos.

Here’s how you can cope when Mother’s Day isn’t happy, whether it’s just this year or is an annual ordeal. If you are struggling, I hope this helps.

Here’s a synopsis of the video:

When Mother’s Day Isn’t Happy

For some of us, Mother’s Day just sucks. It’s not a Happy Mother’s Day.

Here are some of the things that help me.

Accept & Acknowledge How You Feel

Being able to accept how we feel is a big act of self-compassion. The alternative is to reject our experience and feel bad about feeling bad.

But first, we have to name the feelings. Here’s my take:

I feel sad about Mother’s Day even though I’m a 52 year old woman and I shouldn’t be missing my mother. Or feeling like a failure about all things related to motherhood.

It really helps to just say, “You know what, this is how I’m feeling and eventually I’ll be OK with it.”

Maybe not thrilled, happy or delighted about it. But OK with it.

There’s something very soothing about acknowledging what is, and how I feel.

If you can do that with a friend, the way I’m doing with you right now, then it is extra healing.

I wish I’d had someone to talk with about this years ago.

Feeling sad about not having a relationship with my mother is something I’ve felt so much shame about. It’s just a big, difficult topic to discuss with people.

So acknowleding how I feel, and being able to say: This is what is. This helps me come more into acceptance.

Acknowledging and accepting the feelings brings in some breathing space.

I don’t believe in wallowing in negative emotions, though. So the next step is important: What do you want to do about those feelings?

Spiraling down the drain of depression is not required or necessary. By the way, grief is totally different than depression, and it can help to know the difference for yourself.

Depression is a state that happens to the best of us (me included), so what can I do about it?

Problem-solving mode!

This is where you brainstorm what makes you feel better. It helps to make a list, so you can reference it even in the deepest undertows of grief.

Make Some Art & Feel Better

As an artist and creativity teacher you know I’m going to tell you to go make some art and feel better.

I love to add collage to my paintings.

Glue shit down!

Rip up paper!

So satisfying! So therapeutic.

To think I spent all those years becoming an art and music therapist, and it comes down to this: it just feels good to make art. Especially to glue shit down. 😉

Self Care Rituals (I know, I know, I know!)

I know you already KNOW about self care…

Besides making art, exercise and eating well are a huge part of my own self care. I’ve also scheduled a massage for later today.

Self care looks different for everyone. Self care is what you do to maintain (or reclaim) your physical, spiritual, emotional, creative, mental, psychological well being.

When it comes to self care, sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions: Get out of bed, lace up running shoes, make the green juice, get out of the house.

During this times, it seems as if self care is having absolutely no effect. or maybe it’s having the effect of not sinking further into the pit of self-pity.

The PIT of self PITy!

Nike says it best: Just Do It. Don’t think about stuff so much.

Reach Out To Someone Having a Harder Time Than You

Do something for someone else. This takes the focus off of your own pain.

Everywhere in the world at any given moment, someone is having an even more difficult relationship with their mother than you or me.

Today is someone’s first mother’s day without their mother. Someone else lost a baby.

Whether you are thinking about the relatonship you have as a child to your own mother, or as the mother to your children (or the children you don’t have or lost), Mother’s Day can be loaded for so many reasons on both sides of that equation.

Call someone who you think might be having a hard  time today. You don’t have to bring up Mother’s Day.

Here’s the one line script:

I’m thinking about you.

That’s all it takes. The person you are calling will take it from there.

Foster a Sense of Connection

Women especially (science has proved what we already knew) need supportive relationships with other women for our emotional AND physical well being.

Even if you’re not sure how to address the difficult subject, you don’t have to.

All you need to do is reach out. I’m thinking of you and wanted to say hi.

Your sisters, aunts, grandmothers have their own relationships with their mothers. Aunties like me, with no kids are having a relationship with their place in society as non-mothers. And depending upon what age or stage—in or past our child-bearing years, Mother’s Day can bring up a lot of emotion.

Remember: emotions aren’t ration. They don’t have to make “sense”.

Healing Your Mother Wound —Through Art, Archetypes (and Animals!)

Art Heals

As a therapist, one of the most powerful things I learned about healing primal wounds — those wounds that cut so deep and seem to shape our very sense of self — is to not necessarily go at the problem directly.

Participate in or consume any of the art forms that move you: music, dance, drama, opera, painting, drawing, photography, crafting. Art forms have been used throughout history as medicine.

Indigenous cultures still use song, dance, drumming, theatre and art-making to heal the spirit and mend the soul.

Art helps us navigate life’s difficult and narrow passages.

Anyone who is alive is going to have grief, disappointment, and experience things we don’t think we can live through, for whatever reason.

Archetypes, Myths and Stories Heal

Speaking of narrow and harrowing life passageways and the arts, another important link where you can find healing, without necessarily dragging yourself to therapy, is to immerse yourself in ancient myths and archetypes.

Thank goodness for artists, writers, poets, storytellers.

Reading a memoirs of others who have gone through similar trial (and lived to write about it) is some of the very best non-therapy I can recommend.

Before memoir, we had storytellers who taught us how to navigate life, death and everything in between through myths and fairytale about gods, goddess and mortals. Within these stories are archetypes, or patterns of consciousness, that we can learn from and use to find our way back to life when we are lost in forest or stuck in the labyrinth.

The book I mention in the video about the goddess Artemis (also known as Diana):

Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman, by Jean Shinoda Bolen


We Humans are Animals, Too

So much healing can come from spending time with animals, especially other mammals.

Mexican Street Art: revolutionary woman and dog

Mexican revolutionary woman street art seen on my dog walk today in Oaxaca.

If you are a mama to fury four-leggeds, you already know this. My dogs constantly teach me about unconditional love, and how to be a better mother to myself. (Hint: I could be as kind and caring to myself and I am to my dogs. Radical!)

All of these tools to help mend our spirit and psyche.

Focus on the Donut, Not on the Hole

Many psychological and spiritual guides teach us that what we get what we focus on and we are what we think about, a philosophy which helps me every day.

What is good? What is wonderful? What is working?

Gratitude lists are a great tool to help put your focus on what is working, and take your focus off what is grieving you so much.

I think of this a a kind of  wellness warrior training, and this is how I do it.

All of these things together are simple practices you can do and share with others to help you get through a difficult Mother’s Day.

You are not alone in this.

You, too can use whatever pain you are in to create something beautiful and meaningful for yourself or someone else.

If this post helped you, I’d be so grateful if you shared it.

If you’re feeling brave, share something you are taking away from this piece in the comments. Thank you!

by Lisa Sonora // share your thoughts... in the Comments { 15 }