Mother’s Day – Estranged Adult Children

Mother’s Day, and special days: Triggering pain for mothers of estranged adult children

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Here it comes again—Mother’s Day in the United States and in Canada. Mothers of estranged adult children in the U.K. have already seen Mother’s Day come and go. Soon, mothers in Canada and in the States will be on the other side of the holiday too—until next year, when it rolls around all over again.

Hang in there. Mother’s Day won’t stop coming just because we’re estranged. And having spoken with thousands of parents who’ve been cut off by adult children, the reality is that the situation may not be ending for you anytime soon either. That’s why it’s so important for you to adapt.

What can you do?

Since starting this site, I’ve written a few articles about getting through Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged. You’ll find in them practical advice and concrete tips. You’ll also find comments from mothers of estranged adult children who share their experiences, and acknowledge the emotional pain. In this article, we’ll focus on Mother’s Day from an emotional triggers perspective.

Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged: Avoiding extra hurt

Mother’s Day, like any time when we’re particularly reminded of an estranged adult child and the relationship we used to share, can trigger an onslaught of feelings. While it’s helpful to acknowledge the pain, it’s also easy to slip into a looping circle of thoughts that bring us down. Everyone else is having fun, and I’m sitting home alone. What did I do to deserve this? This is so embarrassing. Nobody understands.

Each of us has our own personal version of woeful thoughts. And scrolling through Facebook with its stream of happy family shots might fuel the feelings behind them. Protect yourself if you need to.  Just as social media can push emotional buttons, going to a brunch on Mother’s Day when you’ll be surrounded by families also might not be helpful either. Do you have other adult children or family who want to take you out? Remember, this is your day. You get to choose! Take care of yourself.

Coping Mindfully

What else might make you feel sad or lonely? Make a few notes of what will hurt or help–and then be proactive. Mother’s Day when your adult children are estranged is similar to other times that are particularly hurtful because they remind you of loss, stress, or grief. In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, in one story, Julia misses her only son. They were very close, and in the early mornings, he used to call her daily to chat. Julia had come to expect those calls. So after the estrangement, she would stare at the silent phone. Time gaped, and she felt horribly alone and sad.

Before her son walked away from the family, Julia’s mornings revolved around those calls. Their chat sessions had become part of her routine. They connected her to her son, and to the life they shared. But post-estrangement, Julia learned to adapt. Using one of the tools in the first chapter of the book, the first step toward her healing was to alter her routine. Looking at her phone each morning, wishing it would ring, only reminded her of what she’d lost.

Emotional hiccups

Just as mornings were particularly difficult for Julia, Mother’s Day can prick up the feelings of loneliness and rejection that are common with estrangement from adult children. For some it’s a particular song. Others might be bothered by a particular sporting event, or other recreation. Even if you don’t realize why, you might find yourself overeating, grousing at the cat, or having troublesome dreams. The feelings or behavior may be related to emotions triggered by a holiday like Mother’s Day, or another personally significant day.

While I’m past the pain of estrangement, certain places and activities do remind me of my estranged adult child. Eating strawberries makes me think of him—he’d choose them over any sugary dessert. And a nearby street never fails to remind me of him. Memories are attached to those things, so it’s natural the mind connects them to someone who was once so much a part of my life.

Does that mean I’m sad? Not anymore. I’ve come to think of those triggered memories as hiccups. Like some of the other mothers whose stories are shared in my book, I’ve worked through the pain, and moved beyond it. Recognizing those triggers, and then taking action to make new routines can help.

Stepping forward: Be good to yourself

There’s no set schedule to moving beyond emotional pain. There are only steps, big or little, that move you forward. Whatever you do, don’t get down on yourself. Acknowledge your feelings so you can deal with them. Remember the utter shock you felt when your son or daughter first cut you off? Don’t think of triggered emotions as setbacks. They’re aftershocks—a normal occurrence that relieves pressure. Pat yourself on the back for accepting where you are right now, and for recognizing that in coping mindfully like Julia, you’re healing. Think: Forward. I’m adapting. I’m moving on.

Take Action

Like Julia and other mothers whose stories of estrangement from adult children are shared in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, you too can heal. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a bad trigger day. You too can be Done With The Crying.

Rejected Parents

When Mothers Day is Painful

Mother’s Day is Sunday. Will you be celebrating, hibernating, or going through the motions? For so many people for so many reasons, Mother’s Day is not always a day of celebration.

A couple of years ago, about this time of year, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine.  I mentioned how hard Mother’s Day is for women who are struggling with infertility and for birth mothers who have placed a child for adoption.  I suppose I thought I might be helping to educate her on the complexities of this day of celebrating motherhood.  It turns out that she needed no education on these complexities.

My pastor friend sighed and surprised me by saying that Mother’s Day is a nightmare for the church and that she was always thankful when it was over.

It’s not just the infertile who find this day painful, but also anyone who has lost a child or is estranged from a child.

Women whose children are struggling with addiction or are in jail often find Mother’s Day sad too since some feel like failures as a mother.

Single women who want to be a mom and feel time passing them by feel their loss more intensely on this day set aside to celebrate the joys of motherhood.

Moms who have placed their children through adoption may feel their empty arms more intensely on Mother’s Day.

And then there is the view from the other side of the mother/child relationship: women who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers may dread this day that reminds them of their loss.

Suffering Silently Through Mother’s Day

I thought of how myopic I’ve been. As a daughter, I liked having a day to honor my mother. As a mom, I liked having a day where my kids and husband honor me. As someone immersed in the world of infertility and adoption, I was aware of how Mother’s Day affects the infertile and birthmothers. If I had taken the time to think it through, I would have realized of course, that they aren’t alone in their suffering, but honestly, I hadn’t taken this time.

So many who suffer through Mother’s Day are invisible. Other than your close friends, you don’t know who has had three miscarriages, or hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, or doesn’t hear from her grown son other than once a year, or who placed a child for adoption years before.  But then pain is often invisible unless you’re the one feeling it, isn’t it?

So as you sit in church this Sunday or at a restaurant surrounded by your family at your celebration lunch, look around you.  Really look at the people who are there and recognize that not all are celebrating.  Also notice who isn’t there; who is holed up at home watching a Law & Order marathon with a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s because it is simply too painful to participate.

Read more here: Creating a Family