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How to Take Good Care of Yourself When Mother's Day Is Hard

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With Mother’s Day on our minds, I want to talk to you about two issues that surface in my work but aren’t largely talked about during this time of the year: 1) permission not to celebrate holidays you feel challenged by and 2) what to do if you didn’t receive the mothering you needed and wanted growing up.

Permission Not to Celebrate Mother’s Day.

For some, Mother’s Day is a wonderful holiday in the annual calendar. If you feel happy celebrating this day and celebrating your mother or yourself as a mother — terrific! I’m so glad the holiday feels good to you.

But, like many of us, if you happened to grow up without a mother, or were raised by a mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t show up for you in the ways you really needed, or if you’ve lost your mom or are struggling with being a mom yourself, this day can be complex, challenging and possibly filled with all kinds of feelings not normally celebrated by Hallmark: longing, grief, despair, anger, etc. If this is what the holiday brings up for you, I want you to know you’re not alone in feeling challenged by this day. I also want to tell you something you may not hear from anyone else:

You have permission not to enjoy this holiday. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel about Mother’s Day and to celebrate or not celebrate this day. You also have permission to do whatever you need and want to do on this day that actually supports you and your feelings versus what you think you should do.

So stow this digital permission slip away as I share more about three practical ways you can begin to mother yourself, no matter what your mothering was like growing up.

Three Ways to Mother Yourself. 

No matter what your childhood mothering experience was like — whether you had a wonderful, functional relationship with your mom or if you grew up motherless or wounded by mothering in some way — part of our job as adults is to cultivate and grow our own internal mother in order to meet our needs and take care of ourselves as we move through life. Three ways you can practically and immediately begin to do this for yourself include:

1. Creatively meeting your own needs.

Learning how to recognize and respect the clues your feelings contain is a wonderful first step in learning how to mother yourself. But once you learn how to notice what it is your feelings are calling out for, your next step in the process of self-mothering is to begin to creatively meet these needs.

Sounds basic, doesn’t it? Well, you’re right: This is basic. What does a mother do when her baby is hungry? She feeds her. What does she do when her child falls and scrapes their knee? She comforts her. What does a mother do when her child has had a super hard day and is feeling sad? She empathizes with her sadness and reassures her things will get better.

This — the act of meeting your own needs on an ongoing, attuned basis like a mother ideally would with her actual child — is an incredible act of self-mothering and a skill that, once learned, can really help improve your overall quality of life.

2) Practicing compassionate self-talk.

Have you ever paid attention to your inner dialogue? I mean really, intensely paid attention to all the things you say to yourself on a daily basis? If you’re like most of us, you’re probably saying more than a few blaming or shaming things to yourself.

It’s a tremendous act of re-mothering to replace negative, critical inner dialogues with more compassionate, supportive self-talk again, like a mother would ideally say to her precious child. One very powerful exercise to try once you begin to notice critical or unsupportive self-talk is to place your hand on your heart and say aloud or silently to yourself something like “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way [fill in your name]. It makes sense that you would be [fill in the feeling you’re experiencing]. It’s OK to feel this way.”

Doing this validates your emotional experience and allows you to speak compassionately to yourself, a wonderful act of self-mothering.

3) Seeking out mothering models and mentors.

One thing I often hear in my line of work is the idea that we should be able to meet all of our own needs without relying on other people and that if we didn’t receive good mothering growing up, it’s just too late to get it now.

I don’t think that either of these statements is fully true. I think learning how to recognize and meet a lot of our own needs is indeed important, but we are interdependent — not independent — beings. Even as adults, it’s normal and natural to rely on others for support in meeting our needs and wants some of the time.

Also, I think if you didn’t have the mothering you wanted as a child, it’s not too late to be inspired by or receive actual mothering from mother models and mentors. These figures and mentors may be found in real-life (whether through a caring therapist, a professional mentor, a neighbor who takes you under her wing) or even be fictional or witnessed from afar in the media. The goal is to seek out examples of what good mothering looks and feels like, and to let this mothering energy in and allow it to help meet some of your needs and wants.

My Invitation for You.

We’ve covered a lot of material today and explored quite a few ideas and tools that might be supportive for you in dealing with Mother’s Day and in practicing your own self-mothering. As we close today, I’d like to invite you to consider what you know about your relationship to mothering:

  • What does Mother’s Day bring up for you? How do you feel about this holiday and what — if anything — might you want or need to do to support your feelings?
  • What did you learn about and receive from your own mother while growing up? What didn’t you receive?
  • What, from the ideas listed, could you imagine practicing this week to support your own self-mothering? 

And finally, I want to invite you to remember this: we’re aiming for progress here, not perfection.

Giving yourself permission to feel exactly how you feel about Mother’s Day and learning and practicing self-mothering techniques are skills and, like anything new, will take practice before they’re fully internalized. So be kind to yourself in this process.

Warmly, Annie

Additional Resources:

This piece was originally published on Annie Wright Psychotherapy.

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Originally published: May 5, 2016
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