I admit it: I’m a people watcher, especially at the card racks before holidays such as Mother’s Day. I have watched people read every card diligently, scrunching their faces or shaking their heads from side to side, only to walk away cardless and, I’m sure, frustrated. Not every mother/adult child relationship can be expressed with flowery poetry or gushing accolades. If this is true for you, how do you handle Mother’s Day?
First, make a deal with yourself not to send false sentiments or you’re likely to build resentment, not ease it. If anything, it may be that Mother’s Day is a time for you to grieve what you never had.
If your mother was not the kind to bake cookies, attend PTA meetings, or tuck you in at night with a kiss on the forehead, that’s a loss of what never was. If your mom was on the Mommy Dearest side of reality—angry, perhaps addicted, or emotionally unavailable—then you have a right to grieve for the nurturing you deserved but didn’t get. The key is to not get locked into feeling guilty for what you can’t feel.
Maybe what you really need is a chance to forgive rather than conjure up gratitude out of thin air. Forgiveness is a gift we owe ourselves. Most of us just hope it will come to us, that we’ll wake up in the morning and there it is—instant, magical relief from resentment. But forgiveness takes conscious effort.
The first step in forgiving your mother or anyone is to acknowledge fully the wrongs that have been done to you. If you don’t make an honest inventory—if you minimize the hurtful behaviors—you are likely to feel stuck in resentment, bitterness, and avoidance.
The second step is to give yourself compassion for the effects these actions and behaviors have had on you. Give yourself what I call in my book, Enough Is Enough!, a pity party. A pity party is where you give people who care about you a chance to let you cry, sulk, pout, or whine for 30 minutes. They are not to judge you or try to fix your relationship with your mother. They are with you just to mirror compassion back to you. If anyone else in the group also needs a pity party about their relationship with their mother, they can take a turn too.
By the time you are done with your pity party, you are likely to feel lighter. That’s the magic of forgiveness work. I see it in my life coaching practice all the time: A client comes in angry or hurt by someone’s actions or words and stuffs it with self-admonitions like, “Oh, I shouldn’t complain. Other people have it a lot worse.” This line of thinking leads to self-abandonment, not self-care, resentment and regret, not forgiveness and compassion. Once someone gives herself permission to express the resentment and underlying hurt, they feel relieved and freer.
So a few days before Mother’s Day, practice true forgiveness. Acknowledge whatever wrongs were done to you by your mom. Don’t make excuses for her. Just feel the sadness for yourself.
Do you need to tell her you forgive her? It depends. If you mother has never admitted to any hurtful behaviors, then she may just get defensive or hurtful. But if your mom has admitted to being less than perfect, then letting her know you care enough to forgive her might be the best Mother’s Day gift you could possibly give her and yourself. Maybe Hallmark has a card that says just that. If not, you can always create one on the computer.
Jane Straus is a personal life coach and the author of the popular and insightful book, Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life, which you can find on amazon.com.
Read an interview by Femme Fan with Renel Brooks-Moon, the Public Address Announcer for the San Francisco Giants, Raising the Bar.