How To Celebrate Mother's Day When You Have A Toxic Mom


Although many people associate Mother's Day with feelings of love and appreciation, the day isn't so sentimental for everyone. If you and your mom have an especially rocky relationship (or no relationship at all), it can be difficult to know exactly how to celebrate Mother's Day when you have a toxic mom. The lead up to Mother's Day, as well as the day itself, can bring up a lot of difficult feelings of "I wish" and "if only" as you mourn the relationship you don't have, but wish you did.

So what's a hurt child to do? Do you still buy her a card? Do you grit your teeth and go to the scheduled family event anyway? Do you call her, send flowers, a gift, or a text message? The truth is, how you respond to the day should be based on your feelings, not your mom’s. Taking “time to reflect a little bit” on the relationship you have (or don’t have) with your mother this Mother’s Day could be exactly what you need, Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW, tells Romper. After reflecting, the next step is to reassess the relationship “to know what your intention is” moving forward, Dr. Smerling says.

You may find that you’re still upset and aren’t ready to make amends with your mom just yet. And, that’s okay. Dr. Karyl McBride, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Peg Streep, author of Mean Mothers, co-wrote a piece about Mother's Day for Psychology Today in which they argue that the day should be used both for acknowledging the truths of the relationship you have with your toxic mother while also celebrating moms who have done the best they can. You can allow yourself to sit with your feelings of hurt, celebrate your friend or sister who is rocking motherhood despite growing up without the picture-perfect mom, decide to give your mom credit for doing her best, or you can do some mixture of all three.

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You can (and should) also spend the day celebrating yourself as a mom and how determined you are to do things differently. In a piece for HuffPost, Melissa Charles suggests using the day to honor the mother that you, yourself are, while also celebrating the other women in your life who have been loving, inspiring, and motivating. After all, Mother's Day can also be a nice occasion on which to celebrate the people who've pushed you to be the best possible version of yourself.

There’s still another option, though. Dr. Smerling says after you’ve reflected, reassessed, and determined your intention for moving forward, you may find that “things you thought were irreparable, now may not seem so important.” If this is the year you’re ready to explore opening up communication with your mom, you can do it without diving right in. If “it’s time to make a gesture,” you can send your mom “a card, flowers, [or even just an] emoji” to start repairing the relationship, Dr. Smerling says. Go at your own pace with this and set boundaries if you need to. This isn’t going to make everything magically better, but it could make the day hurt a little less.

Mother's Day may be sad, emotional, or lonely, and if that’s the case for you, that’s okay. Whether you choose to spend the day mourning the relationship you wish you had with your mom, celebrate yourself as a mother, or honor the ladies in your life who lift you up rather than pull you down is entirely up to you. If you don't want to or can't reach out to your own toxic mother on Mother's Day, don't feel forced to do so. But, rather than resenting the day altogether, go into the holiday focusing on yourself and your own well-being this year, whatever that looks like for you.


Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW

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