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How to Take Care of Yourself If Mother’s Day Feels Hard for You.

With Mother’s Day fast-approaching, I want to talk to you about two issues that surface in my work but that aren’t largely talked about during this time of the year:

1) permission not to celebrate holidays you feel challenged by;

and 2) what to do if you didn’t receive the mothering you needed and wanted growing up.

How to Take Care of Yourself If Mother’s Day Feels Hard for You.

Permission NOT to Celebrate Mother’s Day.

For some, Mother’s Day is a wonderful holiday in the annual calendar.

If you feel happy celebrating this day and celebrating your mother or yourself as a mother – terrific! I’m so glad the holiday feels good to you.

But, like many of us, if you happened to grow up without a mother, or were raised by a mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t show up for you in the ways you really needed, or if you’ve lost your mom or are struggling with being a mom yourself, this day can be complex, challenging and possibly filled with all kinds of feelings not normally celebrated by Hallmark: longing, grief, despair, anger, etc.

If this is what the holiday brings up for you, I want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling challenged by this day.

I also want to tell you something you may not hear from anyone else:

You have permission not to enjoy this holiday. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel about Mother’s Day and to celebrate or not celebrate this day. You also have permission to do whatever you need and want to do on this day that actually supports you and your feelings versus what you think you should do.

So stow this digital permission slip away as I share more about three practical ways you can begin to mother yourself, no matter what your mothering was like growing up.

Three Ways to Mother Yourself.

No matter what your childhood mothering experience was like – whether you had a wonderful, functional relationship with your mom or if you grew up motherless or wounded by mothering in some way – part of our job as adults is to cultivate and grow our own internal mother in order to meet our needs and take care of ourselves as we move through life.

Three ways you can practically and immediately begin to do this for yourself include:

1) Creatively Meeting Your Own Needs.

Learning how to recognize and respect the clues your feelings contain is a wonderful first step in learning how to mother yourself.

But once you learn how to notice what it is your feelings are calling out for, your next step in the process of self-mothering is to begin to creatively meet these needs.

Sounds basic, doesn’t it?

Well, you’re right: This is basic. What does a mother do when her baby is hungry? She feeds her. What does she do when her child falls and scrapes their knee? She comforts her. What does a mother do when her child has had a super hard day and is feeling sad? She empathizes with her sadness and reassures her things will get better.

This – the act of meeting your own needs on an ongoing, attuned basis like a mother ideally would with her actual child – is an incredible act of self-mothering and skill that, once learned, can really help improve your overall quality of life.

2) Practicing Compassionate Self-Talk.

Have you ever paid attention to your inner dialogue? I mean really, intensely paid attention to all the things you say to yourself on a daily basis?

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably saying more than a few blaming or shaming things to yourself.

It’s a tremendous act of re-mothering to replace negative, critical inner dialogues with more compassionate, supportive self-talk again, like a mother would ideally say to her precious child.

One very powerful exercise to try once you begin to notice critical or unsupportive self-talk is to place your hand on your heart and say aloud or silently to yourself something like “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way [fill in your name]. It makes sense that you would be [fill in the feeling you’re experiencing]. It’s okay to feel this way.”

Doing this validates your emotional experience and allows you to speak compassionately to yourself, a wonderful act of self-mothering.

3) Seeking Out Mothering Models and Mentors.

One thing I often hear in my line of work is the idea that we should be able to meet all of our own needs without relying on other people and that if we didn’t receive good mothering growing up, it’s just too late to get it now.

I don’t think that either of these statements is fully true. I think that learning how to recognize and meet a lot of our own needs is indeed important but we are interdependent – not independent – beings and even as adults it’s normal and natural to rely on others for support in meeting our needs and wants some of the time.

Also, I think that if you didn’t have the mothering you wanted as a child, it’s not too late to be inspired by or receive actual mothering from mother models and mentors.

These figures and mentors may be found in real-life (whether through a caring therapist, a professional mentor, a neighbor who takes you under her wing) or even be fictional or witnessed from afar in the media.

The goal is to seek out examples of what good mothering looks and feels like to you and to let this mothering energy in and to allow it to help meet some of your needs and wants and for it to inspire your own, ever-evolving self-mothering journey.

My Invitation to You.

We’ve covered a lot of material today and explored quite a few ideas and tools that might be supportive for you in dealing with Mother’s Day and in practicing your own self-mothering.

As we close today, I’d like to invite you to consider what you know about your relationship to mothering:

  • What does Mother’s Day bring up for you? How do you feel about this holiday and what – if anything – might you want or need to do to support your feelings?
  • What did you learn about and receive from your own mother while growing up? What didn’t you receive?
  • What, from the ideas listed, could you imagine practicing this week to support your own self-mothering? 

And finally, I want to invite you to remember this: we’re aiming for progress here, not perfection.

Giving yourself permission to feel exactly how you feel about Mother’s Day and learning and practicing self-mothering techniques are skills and, like anything new, will take practice before they’re fully internalized.

So be kind to yourself in this process.

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie


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  1. Brenda Romanchik says

    I am a birthmother. Since losing my son to adoption, Mother’s Day has always been a bittersweet experience. Mine is a motherhood that few recognize. I have worked with many birthparents over the years. In the beginning I would send each a Mother’s day card. Often it was the only card they received. One woman, who had lost her child 35 years ago, said it was the only Mother’s Day card she had received.

    Many agencies and groups “celebrate” Birth Mother’s Day, on the day before Mother’s Day. In the beginning I participated in these events because they were a way to commemorate the grief and losses that came with losing a child to adoption. I celebrated on Mother’s Day. The traditional day of celebration. For the past few years I have refused to participate in these events because I feel they have become yet another way that birth/fist/natural mothers are denied their place at the table of Mothers.

    We need to celebrate all mothers… birth/first/natural, adoptive, step, surrogate… the aunt that mothered you more than your mother, your friends mothers. There are many mothers and many ways of mothering. All deserve a place of honor at the table on Mother’s Day.

    • Annie says


      Thank you so much for sharing your story and this important reminder of how Mother’s Day can be challenging – not just for those who had challenging relationships with their mother or who have lost their mother – but also for mothers who are bereaved in some way, whether that’s through the death of their children or loss through adoption.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that on Mother’s Day we need to celebrate all mothers in all the ways mothering can manifest. I am so grateful to you for adding your voice to this conversation.

      Warmly, Annie

    • Denise Nobile says

      I am so happy to stumble across this essay at this time. I too struggle with this day. It is a trigger that that can incapacitate me. I feel liberated by your permission to be ok, NOT enjoying this day. I’m not a Mother in the traditional sense but consider myself a Mother to all. I teach 6th grade and yoga and mindfulness to kids ages 4-17. I’m committed to teaching kids the tools to help them navigate through life with ease. Having lived in dysfunction during my childhood, I know kids need strategies to help them.

      • Annie says

        Hi Denise,

        I am likewise so happy you stumbled across this essay and that it provided some reassurance to not enjoy this day. Mothering takes so many forms and it sounds like you are mothering in some really beautiful ways to children and teenagers. What wonderful work you do in the world!

        Thank you for taking the time to write, and to comment.

        Warmly, Annie

  2. Katie says

    Thank you Annie, for this wonderful article. And thank you for including the concept of “permission not to celebrate holidays you feel challenged by”.

    I’d like to mention that, even though the child mentioned in point #1 is referred to as “her”, I believe that everything in this article can be just as helpful to boys and men as it is to girls and women. 🙂

    • Annie says

      Hi Katie,

      You are absolutely right! While I use the example of “she” and feminine pronouns in a lot of my writing, without a doubt the points in this (or any of my blog posts) can apply to men and boys, too. These issues – how to be in relationship with ourselves, others, and the world – are universal regardless of gender. Thank you so much making such an excellent point and thank you, too, for your very kind feedback about the article. I’m so happy you found it valuable.

      Warmly, Annie

  3. Meichell says

    Thank you so much for this post from the bottom of my heart as a counselor myself and one that greatly struggles with Mothers Day! Can you add my email to your subscription list. I Couldn’t find a subscribe button. Thank you, Meichell

    • Annie says

      Hi Meichell,

      I am so touched to hear that you found this post valuable in some way. Mother’s Day certainly can be hard for many of us and I’m glad that my post felt supportive in some way. I’m also delighted you want to join my mailing list. I’ve signed you up personally and you’ll receive a confirmation email about this shortly. Be sure to click the “confirm” button to finish subscribing and to receive my complimentary gift – “A Little Handbook for Life’s Tough Times.” And if you imagine others might receive value from being on my mailing list, please let them know they can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bhe0Pj

      Again, Meichell, so touched to hear from you and thank you again for writing.

      Warmly, Annie

  4. Peter watts says

    Touched by what you wrote Annie. Ever since I lost my mother and then later my father I have had a hard time with all of the holidays. Thank you for reminding me that it is ok to feel what I am feeling.

    • Annie says


      It is so lovely to hear from you and to hear that this reminder felt helpful. I can really imagine that, given the loss of your parents, holidays might be triggering and complex. You absolutely have permission to feel however you feel about these holidays and any time you need a reminder, read that virtual permission slip again.

      So touched to hear from you.

      Warmly, Annie

  5. Carol Raymond says

    Hi Annie, I just reread your Mother’s Day essay. It’s brilliant. I wish I could have read this thirty years ago and been able to process it. It would have saved me countless hours at a card rack trying to find the most generic Mother’s Day card available. Every year I dreaded the holiday I had to send my mother a card. I refused to send one saying “You’re the greatest ” or You were always there for me “. She wasn’t the greatest and she wasn’t there for me. Back then I felt as if something was wrong with me for not wanting to honor her on Mother’s Day. Turns out, I’m not alone. Thank you for having the insight and courage to write about a subject that is mostly taboo in this culture. A virtual permission slip- I love that.

    • Annie says

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you so much for sharing more about your personal experience with Mother’s Day. I can really imagine how challenging picking out a holiday card might have been for you if you didn’t get the mothering you wanted/needed. I’m so glad that the article felt helpful in some small way and that you took the time and courage, too, to write and share more of your story.

      Thank you again.

      Warmly, Annie

  6. Nancy says

    Found your site via a link here. (hope the link works; I’m still new to learning how to insert links).

    Having been raised in violent home, for nearly thirty years Mother’s Day was a very difficult day for me. It was a bit like a glaring reminder of all the nurturing mothering I had grown up without, and it underlined that our relationship was fractured and broken. It was especially difficult because I hadn’t learned yet how to express the rage and sadness I felt in a healthy way. Thankfully, relationships evolve, and healing happens. Eventually I went on to work through forgiveness with my Mom, (a highway that goes in both directions), and then even ended up caring for her during the last six years of her life. Now, instead of all that anger and rage and disappointment and sadness I once felt when Mother’s Day approached, these days it’s more of a tender and loving absence. I miss her, and I miss all those special moments we shared.

    It’s another whole story altogether when it comes to how I feel about Mother’s Day as it pertains to the relationship between me and my own children. Even though I really work at remembering that I did the best that I could, given the tools and knowledge at my disposal then, I still find myself overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow as far as my own ability to properly mother my children. Yes, I did nurture them and made many right choices, but because I was suicidal for many of their growing-up years, I also ended up instilling abandonment issues. Part of my own survival mechanism for enduring my childhood was dissociation, or emotional detachment, so it was inevitable that despite the love I felt for my children, there were also times I was completely distant and closed off. When kids are raised in an environment that can be warm and nurturing, and then everything goes silent and cold, it can be confusing and hurtful. Like I said earlier, I try to work at recognizing the things I did right, but can’t help feeling sorrow for my mistakes.

    And finally, I am also someone who gave up a child for adoption (before later meeting my husband, and having children of our own). It was a closed adoption. I went more than fifty years living with a hole in my heart, knowing nothing about how he was being raised, or if he felt loved and cherished. I gave him up, primarily, because I wanted him to be safe, and wanted to insulate him from the violence and turmoil in my life, and I believed the only way he would have a chance for a better life was to not be with me. A few years ago, I was able to locate him, and we have tentatively connected, although in the past few years, we have never progressed past the initial introductions. I’ve done what I most wanted to do, in that I let him know he was placed for adoption out of love, and not because he wasn’t loved or cherished, and also, I was able to send him photos and other mementos from when he was born. I’m completely at peace with where we are in our relationship, so in that way, my heart has healed, and that hole that plagued me my entire life has finally been mended.

    Mother’s Day is a complicated mix of emotions; missing my Mom, coupled with residual sadness for all those years that were lost; lingering pain at the gaps in my ability to properly parent my own children; healing from the heartbreak of being a birth mother; and finally, an undercurrent of sorrow for that small child that I once was, who was deserving of love and protection, and found violence and pain instead. Complicated, and tangled up. It would be accurate to say that Mother’s Day ends up being one of my least favorite holidays. It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve finally worked towards giving myself permission to skip it altogether, as much as possible. But I’m not kidding myself – it still stirs up some pain and sorrow, so I try to be kind to myself, and just get through the day. I’m always happiest when it’s come and gone.

    • Annie says


      Thank you so much for taking the time to bravely share your story. It sounds like Mother’s Day can be triggering for you for a variety of reasons (as it can be for so many of us!) and I hope that you were able to take good care of yourself on this day.

      Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      Warmly, Annie

  7. Wilma James says

    I wish you would have included in your article mothers who have lost children. Particularly ones who have lost children on the day that Mother’s Day falls on.

    • Annie says

      Hi Wilma,

      I really appreciate your comment. I likewise wish I had included mothers who have lost children who may experience this day as difficult. I’ll be sure to remember this in the future because you are so right about this day being painful for mothers who have lost children. It also sounds like this may have been your experience personally? If so, I am deeply sorry and truly hope you gave yourself lots of supports yesterday.

      My heart is with you.


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