11 May, 2024

That Day Again: Coping Tips

A repost of last year’s Mother’s Day post. I know this day is tough for many. I hope some of these tips help. Or just let you know you’re not alone. I’m going out for dinner tomorrow night (“that day” here in NZ) for an unrelated reason, and I’m bracing myself a little, as I usually avoid restaurants on this day. I’ll report back how it was. But ultimately, I’ve decided I’m going to enjoy my evening. I deserve it just as much as anyone else. And now to the tips:

I’ve posted every year around Mother's Day (yes, I know that I named the “day that shall not be named”) since 2011, my first year blogging. Sometimes I post on the day, sometimes a bit before. This year, I’m almost a week in advance for the day celebrated by the majority of countries. (Even though I know it is marked from February through to December by a range of different countries.) But I know by now the advertisements, the discussions, the dread can be sinking in. So here it is. Most years I’ve posted about different aspects of the day, thought about different things, or talked about different experiences of the day. I thought it was about time that I consolidated them all, looked at how my commenters and I cope, the things we do, or the attitudes we take, that see us get through the day. And importantly, how we have healed. Here are my coping tips - I hope they help. 

  1. Anticipation makes it worse. I know well that feeling of dread that this day can invoke – worrying about how I will cope with the day, or what people will say to me, and how I should react. Planning ahead for the day, to avoid the worst aspects of it, to control what I can, helps. Knowing the anticipation is normal helps too. And what I also know now is that, after all these years, this feeling of dread fades over the years. It won’t be with you forever.
  2. It is okay to find the day, and the lead up to the day, and the day or two afterwards, especially in the workplace, difficult. That’s understandable. It is an in-our-face onslaught of sometimes smug people celebrating what they have, and what we wanted, but don’t. It is a day when we feel isolated, ignored, invisible. That’s hard for anyone to deal with. Don’t beat yourself up if you are emotional on the day. That is normal. It’s part of our journey. It’s not a setback. You will recover from it. 
  3. You are not alone. There are many of us, not just those of us who are no kidding not by choice, who dislike Mother’s Day. Those who hate the commercialism, who have recently lost their mothers, those who are estranged from their mothers, or feel their absence for whatever reason, those who have to spend the day with mothers-in-law or others when they might not be their “favourite person,” birth mothers, adoptees, adoptive mothers feeling their loss and that of their adoptees, those who are happily childfree but are made to feel less than on this day, those who are resentful that they have to care for their mothers, or have never known a mother’s love, or mothers who are estranged from their children or just never understood them, and vice versa, mothers whose children live in other countries or states or just too far to get together, and many more I’m sure I have forgotten. It is a whitewashed image of a happy day of people celebrating their mothers and children, when in reality many people find it hard. As a (mother) friend of mine said about the day, “joy is never guaranteed, especially at holidays.”
  4. There is solidarity. (See above!) Your favourite No Kidding bloggers or social media accounts are going to be thinking about you and the others who are affected by this, and sending out so much love to our community. There are places you can go online (and maybe in real life) where you won’t be alone. There are a lot of people looking for solidarity on any of these days around the world. And we all understand that. If ever there was a day that unites No Kidding people all around the world, this is it. Join our hands, you are not alone, we are with you.
  5. Take control of the day. I think that has to be my key recommendation. Do whatever you need to do to protect your feelings, to feel peace, to feel like yourself. And don't let yourself be bullied! (There are so many stories of family members bullying a childless woman on this day.)  
  6. Honour yourself. I wrote a while ago about this day when it was also my husband’s birthday – I was trying to balance doing something with his mother, and making a fuss of him too (though we deliberately went out to dinner the night before for his birthday to avoid the crowds), but I also wanted to carve out some part of the day just for me. I wanted to give myself some time to deal with the day, or to ignore it and just focus on some self-care, to honour my struggles too. That was important to me. I didn't want to feel as if my existence and experiences were erased by this day. I didn't let that happen.
  7. Turn off social media, or any other social/news sources that can be dodgy (feed readers/news sites/etc, anything with commercials – eg listen to audiobooks or playlists not the radio, etc). Don’t look at email promotions! (Though fortunately, many companies are now offering “opt out” emails for these holidays.) And don’t forget to keep it going the next day, because a lot of people only upload photos then. And as the American time zones come in after everyone else, beware of that 18 hour delay (if you’re in NZ, for example).
  8. Personally, I avoid anything that is too public on this day. That includes movie theatres, restaurants and cafes, anything where you might find families doing something special. But I know others find churches very difficult on this day too as they often single out the mothers and forget those who feel isolated. To protect themselves, they choose to avoid services on that day only. Meet friends for a walk or at your house rather than at a café. I’m lucky because I have time, and can choose to go out and do things on other days. And I can have a coffee, or go to the supermarket, or see a movie, any other day.
  9. Do something special just for you at home. I know some people treat Mother’s and Father’s Day as special days just to celebrate their spouses/partners. I tried that. “Mali” Day hasn’t really caught on! Lol But I will often choose to make a favourite meal. 
  10. Make it a day to, as Beef Princess said some years ago, honour your dream of being a mother … “allowing for grief, healing and self-compassion.” I will always think of the babies I lost, and the mother I never was, on this day. But I honour the feelings, and these days, I mostly remember without the pain.
  11. Treat it as any other Sunday. Work out, prepare for the week, write a Monday blog post, clean, etc etc. Ignore it, in other words. It is possible!
  12. Look at the benefits of your life, embrace them, and feel gratitude for them. This was prompted by seeing a post years ago from a friend who had already been up at the crack of dawn, and had gone out for brunch with her husband and sons, where she would almost certainly have had to fight the crowds at the cafe. I laughed. Because I had only just got up when she had already posted! I'd spent an hour studying Italian, enjoyed a lovely cup of tea brought to me by my loving husband, had enjoyed a cuddle, and responded to several emails about booking accommodation in Italy in August. And I did it all peacefully, in bed! (Accusations of laziness not permitted). We had been to our favourite brunch place the day before for a late lunch when just the usual regulars were there (couples - straight and gay - with no kids in sight), and had a very pleasant and relaxed time sans enfants. I was very happy with my day. It was different, but no worse.
  13. Travelling on this day can be a double-edged sword. As it is a day marked in a lot of places everywhere in the world, you might still be subject to comments, poorly directed well-wishes, etc. But when you are not at home, in an interesting place, it can feel more distant, and much less important. I saw mothers celebrating with their families on this day in South Africa 14 years ago, and it was lovely. I didn’t relate it to myself, because I was in a very foreign place and with different cultures, and I was having too good a time! There is a real freedom being away from your own society and community and language, or even just being out of your own neighbourhood.
  14. Many of us still can’t avoid the day totally, if our mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law etc are around. Hopefully you can mark the day with them, which is important, and still protect your hearts. After all, even though my mother and MIL are both gone, I still think I would find it hard, even 20 years on, to sit in a restaurant, surrounded by happy families, being reminded at every turn that I am not and will never be a mother. So, my advice is to find excuses – prior engagements, or simply that restaurants will be too crowded - and happily go out with your mothers or mother figures, the day before. Alternatively, doing so at home – taking or ordering a special meal or a celebratory cake – can make the time easier for you, and just as much fun for them.
  15. Remember that this is a commercial day that is utterly contrived, a way to guilt people into buying gifts, spending money, and feeling bad about themselves if they are among those who can't be included in the celebration. A friend noted that she disliked them for the pressure/alienation they bring about for some, a pressure that can be much worse than feeling lonely during the December holidays as it is so specific. That might not help you, but knowing it is pushed so hard these days simply to sell things makes it easier to ignore, and to do so with the utmost disdain!
  16. To cope with the next day reviews at work/school/etc, feel free to make yourself scarce during these conversations, or (perhaps useful in a one-on-one situation) use a standard response of mine that I hope makes them think, which is along the lines of “I am not the person you should be talking to about this.”
  17. It is one day, and it will pass. By Monday at best, or at least by mid-week, you’ll be back to your every day normal, and more importantly, so will everyone else.
  18. It has power if we give it power. Sure, in the first few years it is hard not to succumb to the power of the day. But as time passes, it is easier to stand up straight and say, “nope, I’m not giving this day power over me.” It is easier to make our own plans to either avoid difficult situations, or to treat ourselves before or afterwards. It is easier to dismiss it as irrelevant to our lives. 
  19. There will be blips. You may lose your mother or aunt or other female mentors, and feel it anew. You may see people close to you feted on the day and that can cause fresh pain too. But I have no mother or mother-in-law anymore, and I have no children. For me, it mostly feels as if the day is happening elsewhere, and to others, and I'm fine with that. 
  20. Inevitably, it gets easier. The guilt for not caring goes too. The power of the day vanishes. Anticipation is easy. And if we have a blip, we know that that is what it is. Our scars heal over.. And you know what rushes in to replace the hurt from the wounds? A wonderful sense of relief, of compassion for those who are still going through it, and freedom.

Here's a link to all my previous Mother's Day related posts.