It’s that time of year when social media overflows with viral videos of sweet gestures honoring our life-givers. It’s the climax of countless commercials and marketing campaigns that have been filling the airwaves for months. All we see are love notes from children to their teary-eyed mothers, or adult children repaying their moms with grand gestures of thanks.
I spend hours sifting through it all, smiling and laughing as moms cry in their dream cars or are reunited with distant children. While I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness for my social media friends, I cannot help but think, “Wow, I wish I had this.”
But I won’t have a video to share with the world. I won’t be making a special Mother’s Day visit or call. Like others in my predicament, even a text would feel forced and inauthentic.
There are tons of reasons people abandon relationships with their parents. Some mothers are absent, some choose people or substances over their kids, and some are overbearing or toxic. For whatever reason, sometimes it’s best for us to cut ties.
In some circles, this disconnection isn’t out of the norm. But in others — for those with more stable, healthy relationships with their parents, for example — it is hard to fathom a relationship so fractured that there would be little to no contact. You may hear things like, “I couldn’t imagine not talking to my mom;” or “you only get one mom;” or “you should call her or send a gift anyway.”
But it’s just a holiday — one day on the calendar. If you are navigating a complex relationship with one or both parents, this is not the time to be influenced by peer pressure. Your friends didn’t grow up in your family system — they don’t have to manage those relationships for the other 364 days in the year.
That’s true for other family members, too. Your relatives may have an opinion of your mother’s character, but their connection to her is inherently different than yours. While they know and love her as a sister, niece, or child, or wife, your experiences as her child are unique. They could never know her as a mother like you do. Even siblings who grow up in the same household can have unique perceptions of their childhood and the role your mother played in shaping them.
Differences in age, gender, sexuality, birth order, and paternity play major parts in determining your perspective. A gay oldest child with an absent father can have a totally different experience than the straight younger sibling with a supportive, in-house father — and thus, each has a much different relationship with mom.
So while I love and respect my siblings, they were not always there for defining moments that disintegrated my relationship with Mama, and while they can empathize with some of my memories, they’ll never fully understand. So, I don’t need anyone’s opinion. I don’t need a guilt trip, nor do I want to deal with disappointment because the connection isn’t what I (unrealistically) dreamt up.
Holidays come with expectations of happiness and excitement, and what a let down it is to be disappointed on a day when everyone else is experiencing love. And that is precisely why some children like me enforce boundaries on holidays, too. In fact, on these holidays it’s especially important to tend to the boundaries that are keeping me safe and healthy.
If the distance has been benefiting me and I’m feeling extra sensitive, I stick to it — I limit social media or put my phone down for Mother’s Day and do some self-care. I don’t let peer pressure influence me anymore. I know better. A simple holiday text or phone call could lead to explosive arguments or general feelings of uneasiness. Toxic relationships are truly unpredictable.
And while forgiveness might help with healing, it does not require reconnection or even reconciliation. Your feelings are valid. Show yourself kindness and honor yourself by knowing your boundaries. Prioritizing your own well-being is not selfish — it actually puts you in a better position to be more generous in relationships that do bring you life.
Still, you may find yourself desiring some semblance of a relationship with your mom. Despite the circumstances behind the broken bond, estranged children still struggle internally with yearning for the normal parent-child relationship. Who doesn’t want to participate in a love that seems so pure and effortless? We all have a natural desire for the ebb and flow of a close bond with our parents.
When I think of how I’ve lost the possibility of this kind of love, my heart softens with sadness, and then hardens with resentment. I dream of laughing over family dinners — and then those dreams are quickly interrupted by memories of missed phone calls, broken promises, and lots of words that can never be taken back. I find myself thinking, “Welp, I guess it wasn’t in the cards for me.”
I have tried the mediations and have come to the conviction that the best thing for both of us is no contact. So this holiday is a time to re-enforce my boundaries with my mother and nurture love in my more positive relationships.
If you’re an estranged child navigating Mother’s Day, you may feel full of unused love that you want to pour out. Don’t let it go to waste! I recommend celebrating other mothers — your sisters, friends, and even yourself if you’re a mother! Provide support for a woman who has lost a child. You can be part of those special moments you see on social media, even if you’re not celebrating your own biological mother. Use those complex feelings to remind you to seek out mentors and positive role models of women in the community.
Some people luck-out with built-in familial love, but we’re all free to handpick a chosen family. The strained relationship with our mothers will always be a sore spot despite the other love we curate in life. Nonetheless, the genuine adoration in new relationships can patch up those wounded parts of our hearts. We all deserve to have loved ones in our lives who love and nurture us, too.
And maybe one day we can post a sweet video, too.