How to Celebrate Mother’s Day When You are Estranged From Your Child

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Being estranged from my beloved child is one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure. There is no way to describe the grief and despair of losing your child while they are still alive somewhere on this earth.

It’s especially hard at holidays, which by their nature are days we get together with our families and celebrate. When our child — or children — who are lost to estrangement are not there, it can leave a gaping wound, making you feel that it would be better just to skip the special days. It’s hard enough on ordinary days, but celebratory days can be excruciating.

Mother’s Day was always an especially difficult day for me in the early years of my estrangement from my daughter. No other day could send me into a tailspin of misery like that day. I cried, A LOT. I spent the day in a straight-jacket of grief.

I would tell myself it’s not supposed to be this way, wondering why it had happened to me. I would feel so ashamed that my daughter had estranged herself from me. I could spiral into a pretty low place, and spend quite a bit of time there.

Then I learned to change my idea of how things are supposed to be. Yes, it would be ideal if I had never made mistakes as a mother that caused my child to cut me out of her life. No, mothers aren’t supposed to fail their children. Yes, we somehow believe that children will always love us and be in our lives, no matter what. But there is much in this life that doesn’t turn out the way we had hoped. This is one of them. When I learned to accept that, it went a long way to setting me free.

This doesn’t mean I don’t grieve for the loss of my daughter. I do. But it does mean I have learned ways to alleviate some of my suffering. In letting go of my need for it to be different than it is, I can celebrate what I have, and at the same time honor the time I had with my daughter.

Even when our child decides we are not the mother they want, we are still a mother. We are still their mother. Ideally, this would be a day that we are showered with love, gifts, cards, and accolades for the job we have done as a mother. But even when we have a relationship with our kids, this doesn’t always happen the way we had hoped.

What I have learned about special days is that they are a set-up for disappointment. How many times has someone important to you forgotten your birthday? Or, stopped at the drug store on the way home to grab an obligatory gift with no consideration for what you really wanted? The truth is, people don’t always step up to honor us the way we want to be honored. Not even our children.

You deserve to be recognized for the job you took on, even though you had no real understanding of what the job entailed. And you never bargained for estrangement. That was the farthest thing from your mind. Nonetheless, you are a mother and you have earned a celebration. That is why I have learned to throw my own party, celebrating, and honoring myself on special days. I propose you do the same for Mother’s Day.

Celebrate Yourself, Mom

You put a lot of time and energy into being a mother. You kept things running, juggled many balls, wore many hats. You are amazing! You gave life to another human being. You kept them alive! What an accomplishment. So, honor yourself this Mother’s Day.

Your child has made it to adulthood, and most likely is taking care of themselves, and living their lives with some measure of success. You can take credit for that!

So think about how you want to spend this day. Start it with a coffee in your favorite coffee shop. Go window shopping. Or, if these things are unavailable in this time of pandemic, take a walk in your neighborhood, give yourself an at home spa day, or order take-out and sit in your favorite chair and read all day. Buy yourself a gift, or a bouquet of your favorite flowers. Do for yourself what you wish others would do for you.

Write Yourself a Letter of Appreciation

This may sound silly to you, but when was the last time you gave yourself credit for the things you got right? What do you appreciate about the effort you put into being a good mother? Maybe things have not turned out the way you had hoped, but there are so many things you did right. Remind yourself of those things.

When I write this letter to myself, I remind myself of the picnics in the woods on the first day of spring. The terrarium in the dining room with turtles and snails and frogs we had collected in our yard. The tea parties after school with cream scones and lemon curd.

I remind myself that I read to them by the fire at night. I taught them to cook and clean a house. I milked a cow and grew a garden so they could have the freshest food. I drove them to all their activities, mostly without complaining. I loved them through some very difficult times, always letting them know that I had their back.

I did a lot of things right and it’s good to sit down with a pen and paper and remember that. It can feel like you are a total failure when your child has walked away from you, but you aren’t. Everyone gets some things right. You did too. Give yourself credit for those things, and show yourself some love and appreciation for all the effort you put into your mothering.

Focus on Your Other Children

Often, I light a candle for my daughter, sending my love and prayers her way. You can do this on Mother’s Day, wishing your child well, and honoring them for the time you had them in your life.

But if you are lucky enough to have other children, don’t minimize their presence in your life by focusing on the one who isn’t there. Take joy in the kids that are still in your life, not just Mother’s Day, but every day. They love you, and want you in their lives. Be there for them. You are their mother, too.

Be Kind to Yourself

It is too easy to beat ourselves up when our child is not in our life. But you need to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself of all the ways you have changed and grown over the years of being a parent. Some of the most important lessons we will ever learn come from being a mother.

I have found that estrangement has been one of my greatest teachers, and has made me reach down and find reserves of strength and resilience I had no idea I had. This is not an easy road you have been asked to walk, but you will be amazed at the ways it will grow you if you let it.

You may have made mistakes as a mother, and I bet if you could go back and do it over, you would do it differently. This is a sign that you have grown, and that you are a good person.

If you have to cry a few tears today — or a lot — that’s ok. This is hard. I acknowledge that. But I want you to know that you deserve to be loved. You did the best you could. You are a mother who’s child took a different path than the one you had hoped. But that is no reason not to be gentle with yourself.

It’s Your Day — Make it About You

Don’t make Mother’s Day about the child who is not in your life. If you can do it, send them love and wish them well and then focus on you. Whatever feels nourishing and restorative to you, do that. You deserve this day. Make it your own by orchestrating your celebration yourself. We should honor ourselves and not wait for anyone else to do it.

Even if your estranged child pretends you do not exist, you can comfort yourself in the fact that you do. You are a mother. And even if you were not the mother you had hoped you would be (I know I wasn’t) you still did the best you could. Give yourself some love on Mother’s Day. Being a mother is one of the hardest jobs on the planet and it comes with no guarantees. It doesn’t always work out the way we had hoped. But that does not mean we do not get to celebrate ourselves on Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day from a mother who knows what you are going through. I am sending you the biggest hug you can imagine. Enjoy your day!

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.

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