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!

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

  1. Ricia Fleming May 18, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    Hi and many thanks for this post, Lisa. I am way past “my reproductive years”..(.ugh, what a phrase, huh?) … and like you don’t have literal biological or adoptive sons or daughters. And my literal parents are both long gone, So I currently have no actual living human mother relationships to delight me or torment me on Mother’s Day.

    Some years I hole up at home or in nature somewhere far from the family-filled restaurants. (Thankfully we don’t also have fireworks to remind us of what day it is like you do there.) Often journaling. Or gluing shit down.

    Or blubbering. I’m big on blubbering. Sadly, blubbering has got a bad rap these days, maybe confused with wallowing, which can get really stuck. But I have to say that blubbering has gotten me through some really tough times.

    I also really liked your “one line script:’ I’m thinking about you’ “….So, Lisa, I’m thinking about you. And thanking you for going public with this gutsy, real post. And for giving a space for other gutsy real shares from other readers, I’m thinking of you too. And thanking you. xo, Ricia.

    • Lisa Sonora June 1, 2018 at 11:28 am #

      OOH… Thank you, Ricia for sharing your story, and:

      I also really liked your “one line script:’ I’m thinking about you’ “….So, Lisa, I’m thinking about you


      thanking you for going public with this gutsy, real post. And for giving a space for other gutsy real shares from other readers, I’m thinking of you too. And thanking you

      One of the things we do in my writing workshops is to simply ask: What stood out?, and then people share what they heard that stayed with them.

      So that’s what I just did here.


  2. Susan Lindholm May 14, 2018 at 8:38 pm #

    Many thanks Lisa for your reflections on what so many others experience; your helpful suggestions are great reminders of ways to help others feel better & not feel so alone.. appreciate your offer of sharing.. and I am ; )

  3. Kathy May 14, 2018 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for bringing this up. <3

    • Lisa Sonora May 14, 2018 at 11:07 am #

      You are welcome, Kathy. It’s been on my mind forever, and I’m glad that it found it’s way up and out in a way that can be useful. I’m still feeling vulnerable from writing, sharing… and geez: making a video about it.

  4. Kirsten May 14, 2018 at 9:19 am #

    Thank you so much for talking about this issue.This appears to be an issue that we as a society tend to ignore.

    • Lisa Sonora May 14, 2018 at 11:05 am #

      You are so welcome, Kirsten. Thanks for coming over and sharing your thoughts, too.

  5. Kate May 14, 2018 at 3:59 am #

    Thank you so much for posting this! My Mother’s Days (and Father’s Days) are crappy and painful in several different levels, but I am generally not brave enough to admit it or talk about it with others. Acknowledging and accepting my feelings about this, goes hand in hand with feeling guilty about how I feel concerning these matters. It’s a kind of a paradox, or a never ending (downward) spiral.
    What I am taking away from this piece is that the “it” in the “Just do it” does not have to be first dealing with all the negative feelings before I can do anything else. That my art making and/or self care in these days do not necessarily have to be about processing these bad feelings. It can be totally irrelevant, it can be “just do something, anything!” Hearing/reading this gave me a lot of space/freedom. So thank you very much for it!
    And an irrelevant p.s.: my dog would also bark at the painted dog and he would want to play with it.

    • Lisa Sonora May 14, 2018 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Kate – thanks for stopping by and sharing so much. You’ve given me back much to ponder in return.

      I appreciate how being “brave enough to admit it or talk about it with others” can spark and fan flames of courage in others. These are difficult subjects, so wrapped up in guilt and shame.

      What I know is that not being silenced by difficult emotions and experiences can set us free. The space to make art privately is one of the best tools I know of to do this. Sometime later it might want to be shared with others in safe ways. Or not!

      Thanks so much for adding to this dialogue, I appreciate you and everyone here!

  6. Sharon May 14, 2018 at 3:52 am #

    Really appreciated that video about Mothers Day. It’s crappy for me most years, due to failed fertility treatments.
    Thanks for sharing…


    • Lisa Sonora May 14, 2018 at 11:00 am #

      Sharon, I’m so glad this helped and I’m sorry about your failed fertility treatments. That is so hard. Sending love your way.

      • Sharon May 21, 2018 at 5:48 am #

        Thank you so much, Lisa. Love your blog posts….

  7. Sabine May 13, 2018 at 9:34 pm #

    These days are weird. Not a huge fan. Always awkward, for various reasons. I’ve always thought that every day should be Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day or whatever, so we can just be consistent in making our relationships work as best they can all the time. However, I think I might have reached the point where I believe that pretty much every day is my birthday.

    • Lisa Sonora May 14, 2018 at 10:59 am #

      Yes, Sabine – celebrating the ordinary. (and there is no “ordinary”) everyday life really is magnificent. Holidays of all sorts can be such a set up and let down for all kinds of reasons. I like that you are in the mindset of every day being your birthday. So good!

  8. Melody May 13, 2018 at 5:55 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. Seriously. Not enough people take the time to share about their experiences with coping when your mother experience was less than wonderful. One way that I have been able to heal from my experiences is by doing my best to be the kind of mother to my children that I never had, but desperately needed. My journals and art have saved me and your work has been s part of that. So thank you, so much.

    • Lisa Sonora May 13, 2018 at 8:11 pm #

      Good for you, Melody. I’m so glad that you have found a way into mothering yourself and your children, and am honored that my work has helped you. You are SO very welcome! I appreciate you sharing your experience with me, it means a lot.

  9. Maggie May 13, 2018 at 4:35 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your difficulties. I have many of these same feelings about Father’s Day. I think these difficulties are why I made the unfortunate choice of my first husband. It took over 30 years to free myself from that tyranny but now I am married to my best friend and soulmate who encourages me to be and express myself through my life and my creativity.

    • Lisa Sonora May 13, 2018 at 5:28 pm #

      Oh Maggie! So glad to hear about you finding your best friend and soul mate after a hard go of it. Believe me, Father’s Day is a whole other post. 🙂 I’m probably too chicken to write that one, though. We’ll see. xoxo Thanks for reading and sharing.

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