Mother’s Day When You Aren’t Close to Your Mother

Mother’s Day When You Aren’t Close to Your Mother

Mother’s Day is painful when you’re not close to your mother.

For many, Mother’s Day is a stark reminder of a relationship that’s fractured, distant, or even non-existent. Strained mother-child relationships are not uncommon, yet our communities, families, and the media persist in portraying mothers as angels and mother-child relationships as unbreakable. The pressure to extol our mothers is immense, leaving many adult children feeling guilty if they don’t want to celebrate.

Not having a close connection with your mother can make this holiday challenging whether due to conflict, estrangement, distance, or other reasons. If you find yourself in this situation, know that you’re not alone, and there are ways to navigate Mother’s Day and make it less painful.

Reasons for a Difficult Relationship with Your Mother

Strained relationships between mothers and children can stem from a variety of factors. Here are some common themes:

  • Abusive or toxic behavior: Unfortunately, some mothers are emotionally or physically abusive. Their actions can leave deep scars that make a healthy relationship impossible.
  • Treating you like a child: Parent-child relationships need to mature as children grow up. If your mother doesn’t treat you as a mature, capable adult, your relationship will lack the mutual respect that’s necessary for a fulfilling and healthy relationship.
  • Unfulfilled needs: Lack of emotional support, validation, or a sense of security also makes it difficult to feel connected to and valued by your mother.
  • Communication issues: Misunderstandings, unresolved conflicts, and a lack of healthy communication can create distance in our relationships.
  • Different values and personalities: Some mothers and children simply clash in terms of values, lifestyles, or personalities. This can make building a strong bond challenging.
  • Estrangement: Sometimes, to protect your own well-being, cutting ties with a mother who exhibits abusive, manipulative, or uncaring behaviors may be the healthiest option.

The Emotional Impact of Mother’s Day for Adult Children

When your mother hasn’t been the source of love, support, or guidance you needed, Mother’s Day can be painful and complex. You might experience:

  • Grief: You might grieve the mother you never had, the mother-child relationship you yearned for, or the lost sense of family.
  • Anger: You might feel resentful towards your mother for the unmet needs or the emotional pain she caused.
  • Guilt: Societal pressure to celebrate mothers can make some feel guilty for not having a closer relationship or being a perfect child.
  • Isolation: Seeing others celebrate with their mothers can make you feel isolated and alone in your struggles.

The pressure to conform to societal expectations can amplify these feelings. We’re bombarded with messages that Mother’s Day is a day for unconditional love and gratitude, regardless of the reality of the relationship. This can make it difficult to acknowledge and validate your own emotions.

Coping with Mother’s Day when You Aren’t Close to Your Mother

If you’re struggling with Mother’s Day, these strategies can help.

  • Acknowledge your feelings: It’s okay to feel a range of emotions leading up to Mother’s Day. Whether you feel sadness, anger, guilt, or relief, acknowledging and accepting your feelings is an essential first step in coping with them. Denying or suppressing your emotions may only intensify them.
  • Limit exposure to triggers: If seeing Mother’s Day advertisements, social media posts, or conversations about the holiday trigger negative emotions, be proactive about limiting your exposure to these triggers. Take a break from social media, and avoid certain websites, stores, or public places.
  • Focus on your own family: If you have children or a chosen family of supportive friends, focus on nurturing those relationships.
  • Celebrate other mother figures: Mother figures come in many forms – grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends, teachers, and mentors. Take this opportunity to honor and appreciate these individuals who have provided love, support, and guidance when you needed it most.
  • Create your own tradition: Consider creating new traditions that feel meaningful to you or provide an alternative way to spend Mother’s Day. This could involve investing in self-care activities, volunteering for a cause that’s close to your heart, or engaging in a hobby. For example, a friend always spends Mother’s Day planting her garden. By focusing on what brings you joy and fulfillment, you can reclaim the holiday in a way that resonates with your own values and experiences.
  • Set boundaries: If interacting with your mother on Mother’s Day is unavoidable, set clear boundaries to protect yourself. A short phone call or a neutral email might be all you’re comfortable with; don’t force yourself into situations where you’re likely to be hurt.
  • Prioritize self-care: Mother’s Day can be emotionally draining. Make sure to prioritize activities that replenish your mental and emotional well-being. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, just as you would a close friend going through a similar situation.

Mother’s Day is a difficult day for many and it’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating or participating in Mother’s Day. You have the right to prioritize your emotional health and do what feels most comfortable for you. Don’t let your relationship with your mother define your worth or happiness; you’re so much more!

By taking steps to manage your emotions and honoring your boundaries, you can cope with Mother’s Day in a way that feels empowering. There may be bumps along the way, but focusing on self-compassion and your healing will help you navigate holidays, or any day, with strength and resilience.

©2024 Dr. Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of

Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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