This Day is a Real MOTHER: An Ode to Those Without Hallmark Moms

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Mother’s Day usually means nonstop marketing to get an amazing gift for the woman who gave life, love and encouragement to you starting nine months before you were even born. A mother is seen as the most infallible role a human can have, selflessly serving up unconditional love and often sacrificing it all in order to give her babies a better life. If you look at commercials or greeting cards, it would seem nearly blasphemous to insinuate that a mother is not the most important person in anyone’s life.

This “mom appreciation” pours out of every medium, so when it was suggested that I pitch an article related to mothers and daughters, I assumed that most writers would pitch articles about the type of moms who triumph and inspire.

Undoubtedly, most mothers are selfless, loving and inspiring…but what about the ones who aren’t?

I know I’m not alone in feeling left out every Mother’s Day as the streets flood with happy tears and tea for mom. I’ve also noticed that more people seem to be aware of the potential for negative reactions toward Father’s Day. There is a bit more compassion due to our collective acknowledgement that a father might walk out on his family. To many, this idea is almost unthinkable when applied to moms — but it is ignorant and shortsighted to think that the matriarch couldn’t betray or abandon one of her own.

There are many other reasons that people may feel exposed, lacking, confused, disgusted or flat-out angry on Mother’s Day:

  • You could have loved your mother dearly, but tragically lost her too soon.
  • You could have been adopted or never knew your mother.
  • You could have two fathers and are the product of a surrogate you have no connection to.
  • Your mother could have left the family or lost custody.
  • Your mother could have disowned you because she didn’t approve of you.
  • Your mother could have been mentally ill, abusive and/or an addict (I included the “or” because not all abusers are addicts or diagnosed as such).

Or perhaps most commonly…

  • You may have a fraught relationship with your biological mother — this woman who is stuck in your life, who you are told to love unconditionally, although she has been anything but supportive.

Sometimes that means she was hard on you because she “wanted the best for you”.  

Sometimes she is just a delusional, self-hating narcissist with borderline personality disorder.

Both are toxic. Neither deserve an Edible Arrangement.

This one is for all my people out there who feel orphaned for whatever reason. I know. This day can be a real MOTHER!

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Hallmark doesn’t leave a lot of room for complicated relationships, which I find odd since so many women I know have various levels of love and frustration for their moms, especially now that many are adults with their own families. Every year I brave the pink monolithic wall of Mother’s Day cards at the drugstore and spend 40 minutes opening each one for 10 seconds. Usually my gagging and eye-rolling reflexes go off within the first sentence:

“To my Mother, You were always there for me and knew that your hug could make it all better…” – Ugh.

“Mom, You’re my best friend.”– Nope.

“God has blessed me with….”– Yeah, Hard pass.

I guess I will just go with a blank card, the one that just says, “Happy Mother’s Day.” Do I pick the one with the flowers on it, or the one with the teapot? Russell Stovers and…done. I go through the motions and try to make cordial small talk because I have chosen to have a distant, transactional relationship with certain difficult people who I can’t manage to get rid of. It’s just simpler sometimes.

Some people are able to escape this unpleasantry fully, but to me, it is easier to tolerate someone who has given me nothing but vitriol and fat genes instead of listening to the rest of my family bitch. I could blame Catholic guilt, but I’m actually years past that. Why should we be shamed into having compassion for someone who has never grasped that concept in her entire life?

I used to hear friends talk about how their mom is their BFF and the most loving person on Earth, and I’d become enveloped in a psychological inferno of rage and jealousy. Now, I just meet these stories with calm confusion. I blankly stare and think, “Why? Why would anyone choose to go on vacation with their mother? Does their mother not point out every flaw she can see from 10 paces away and scream about how her daughter is a disappointment who needs gastric bypass surgery within the first two minutes of brunch? …No? I don’t understand.”

I am usually pretty adept at seeing all perspectives, but that one will always have me stumped.  I’m an adult who can choose who I have as a close part of my life and DNA doesn’t mean that I have enough in common with my mother to spend more than a day with her.

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Here’s to accepting that your mother isn’t a Hallmark mom

I won’t go into details because I still have one last dying scrap of respect for my relatives, but let’s just say I’ve never seen eye to eye with my mother and we have butted heads since I was old enough to stand up for myself. Even now that I’m well into my 30s, I still feel like my response to my mother is often belittled as some sort of juvenile rebellion that I will grow out of because mommy issues are for the young and weak. A mature adult wouldn’t choose not to love their own mother, right? That’s childish, unconscionable and cruel!

To those critics, I’d like to propose a counterpoint. What if you were basically forced to raise yourself because the entire construct of your childhood was “childish, unconscionable and cruel”? Maybe fair is fair. Simply giving birth doesn’t make you a Hallmark mother. Love, respect and sanity does. Personally, I have chosen not to waste my respect and love on those who refuse to show me the same courtesy.

This article was not intended to make you get angry, down five mimosas at Mother’s Day brunch and start a fight with your mom, even though I imagine that would feel cathartic in its own way. Rather, I wrote this piece to let you know that if your feelings toward Mother’s Day are complicated, you are not alone. We all have our own story and some mothers and daughters don’t have the one-size-fits-all, “best friend”-type of relationship.

Personally, I have learned not to waste time and energy wondering why my mother-daughter relationship isn’t better or trying to win my mother’s approval. Yes, those of us with fractured mother-daughter relationships will mourn, for we are mourning the loss of hope for the sense of “normalcy” that Hallmark tells us to expect. However, we must mourn and move on — embracing the relationships we do have that make us feel complete.

They say that you can’t choose your family. However, you can choose how to feel about them. And if you can’t choose your Mother’s Day plans, I wish you all of the patience and serenity you may need to get through the day. Deep breaths. You got this.

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