When Mother's Day Just Isn't Happy

"Happy Mother’s Day." Just that phrase brings some women warm joy and others deep pain.

Mother’s Day 2001 was my first sad one. I had always loved Mother’s Day, first as a little girl who made handmade cards and gifts for Mommy and then as a mother myself. But that year my heart was weary and sad. It was my first Mother’s Day without Mom. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to be surrounded by my seven children. And one of them was still young enough to make me an adorable card. Even though we had moved hundreds of miles away from the home we shared with Mom in Virginia and would likely have not seen her that day, the ache in my heart was deep and sharp.

The stab twisted when a friend complained about “having to see Mom this weekend.” Their thorny relationship made Mother’s Day hard for her for different reasons. But I was jealous and resentful. I didn’t say what I was thinking: “Seriously? At least you get to buy a Mother’s Day card and see her.”

Mother’s Day is hard for many women. A couple of churches I know of have stopped acknowledging Mother’s Day because of the complicated feelings surrounding it. And this week you or someone you know well is experiencing a mild or acute sense of dread about this Sunday.

• Since Lynn’s miscarriage three years ago Mother’s Day is a reminder that she may never have someone to make her handmade cards with hearts and flowers.

• Susan’s relationship with her adult children is so strained she wonders if she’ll even hear from them on Sunday.

• Will Jenn’s mother ever realize the pain she’s caused with her accusations and aloofness? Jenn wonders if she should even acknowledge Mother’s Day since things have been so toxic between them.

• Bethany is surprised that the pain of infertility is smacking her in the face so hard this year. Then she remembers. It was Mother’s Day last year that she told Dan, “No more tests. No more procedures. I just can’t take this anymore.”

• Being adopted always makes this holiday challenging for Kristy. She loves her Mom dearly, yet knows there’s another mother out there. Once again she wonders if she’ll cross that lady’s mind this weekend.

• The death of her baby boy a few years back haunts Sarah. She wishes she could sleep through this weekend to ease the pain.

• Still single when she assumed she’d have married and birthed several kids by now, somehow this year flips the switch in Amy’s heart: “I just have to accept the fact that I’ll never be a mom.”

• Grace goes through the motions of planning what she’ll take to Mom’s this weekend for dinner. She never spends Mother’s Day with her kids and grandkids – and struggles with worshiping next to grandmother’s cuddling their little ones on Mother’s Day morning at church.

In the midst of all the flowers and candles and cards and jewelry on display at your local stores there’s a silent cry happening in the hearts of many. Most of the moms you know, even the smiling and mostly happy ones, have a complicated mixture of feelings about this weekend. I can’t wait to spend time with my children and grandchildren – and to take pictures of all the moms and their littles. I’m especially excited about getting a picture of me and my kids – all grown ups who come up with crazy ideas for our annual photo.


But there will be a sadness in my own heart that day. Sadness over missing Mom. And sadness over certain aspects of nearly emptynest motherhood that confuse, discourage and pain me.

What’s the solution for Mother’s Day unhappiness? Here are a couple of suggestions:

1) Don’t ignore it. The loss, pain, perplexity and grief this weekend presents to women is real. It’s hard. It’s a genuine and dark form of suffering that eats at your heart. Ignoring it may seem like the better thing to do but you and I both know it doesn’t go away.

2) Don’t deny it. Tell someone you’re hurting. Take the risk of admitting you wish you could skip this weekend. Open up your heart to a trusted friend who might cry and will pray with you.

3) Remember you’re not alone. Once you start to talk about it you’ll find others who know exactly how you feel. There’s something about the realization that other women limp around with the same pain that brings some level of comfort and hope.

4) Pour out your heart to God. He already sees the hurt. He draws near to the brokenhearted and longs to hear our cries for help and comfort. I did this very thing last night, and while the circumstances are no different I experienced the reminder that He is with me. And that He cares.

5) Rejoice with others. The friend who complained to me that she “had” to celebrate with her mom those years ago had no idea that her words caused me such pain. I resented her. For a time I pulled away from her. But that didn’t help me…or her. One of the ways God has most comforted me over the years is by leading me to reach out to friends with elderly moms, rejoicing with them that they’re able to spend Mother’s Day with Mom. Because one day they will be me: the grown daughter whose mother died and left them with no one to buy a card for.

Is your womb empty and lonely? Find a pregnant friend and tell her how happy you are for her.

Are you single and longing for a family? Maybe offer to have someone’s kids over on Saturday to make Mother’s Day cards for their mommy.

Are your kids or grandkids far away? Hug a mom this Sunday who will be spending the day with hers and tell her how glad you are for her.

Is your relationship with your mom strained? Even if no one really knows that, reach out to a woman who has the kind of relationship for which you long with your mother and remind her of how blessed she is.

Believe me, I know how easy these suggestions sound but how utterly hard this kind of unselfishness is. It takes the very power of God to step out of our pain and grief and into another’s joy. It takes strength beyond our ability and a depth of love for others that embraces sacrifice for their good over our own. It takes the love that happened on the cross when Jesus Christ set aside everything to enter in to our world so He could save and redeem.

Mother’s Day may not be happy for you this year. But it can still be joyful. I pray this Sunday will be one where you and I incarnate Christ to other women we may envy or resent or want to avoid. May our mourning and pain be used by Him as the very catalyst for choosing sacrifice over selfishness as we “rejoice with those who rejoice.”

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