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How to cope if Mother's Day is difficult for you

Mother's Day can be an emotional time - woman looking sadly out of window (Getty Images)
Mother's Day can be an emotional time for many different reasons. (Getty Images)

Mother's Day is meant to be a happy event, but for some of us, a day dedicated to celebrating maternal love can touch a raw nerve, for a whole range of difficult reasons.

The truth is that not everyone has a mother, not everyone is a mother and not everyone has a good relationship with their mother, and for those people, and many others, March 19, as it falls this year, will be shrouded in loss and grief.

"Mother's Day can be a day of celebration and love, resulting in social media posts portraying happy families, close bonds and fun days out," explains Dr Hannah Wilson, consultant clinical psychologist from Kooth Digital Health. "However, for a lot of people, Mother's Day can be a tricky day which may be associated with difficult thoughts, feelings and memories.

"Some people have a complicated relationship with their mum. They may no longer have contact, or keep that contact very brief. They may not recognise their relationship in the sentimental verses presented in the greetings cards.

"Others may have been bereaved of their mum, and feel that loss more keenly when seeing pictures of others being able to physically connect and communicate with theirs.

"It can also be difficult for those longing to become a mum, but who are unable to conceive for whatever reason."

Read more: The five stages of grief – how to cope with loss

If Mother's Day is tough for you, you're certainly not alone. A Yahoo and YouGov poll of 1,555 people, revealed that almost a third (30%) of men and women don't celebrate the event at all.

But even if you don't plan on marking it, the day is almost impossible to avoid.

Whether you're estranged from your mum, have lost your mum or you're on your third round of IVF in the strive to become a mother, here are some ways to navigate what, for some, can be one of the trickiest days of the year.

Coping with Mother's Day when you've lost your mum can be painful. (Getty Images)
Coping with Mother's Day when you've lost your mum can be painful. (Getty Images)

If you've lost your mother

In a year filled with painful milestones and anniversaries, Mother’s Day can often feel the most upsetting, with everything offering a searing reminder that your own mum isn't there to treat, hug or even argue with.

"Mother's Day can be a difficult time for people who have lost their mother," explains Barbara Santini, psychologist and relationship advisor at Peachesandscreams.co.uk. "This is especially true if the loss is recent or if the person had a close relationship with their mother."

But there are some ways to cope. Santini suggests trying to honour your mother's memory by starting a new tradition. "Take time to reflect on your mother's life and the memories you shared together," she advises. "You could write a letter to her, light a candle in her memory, or do something that reminds you of her."

Other ideas include donating to a charity that your mother supported, volunteering for a cause that was important to her, or planting a tree in her memory.

And remember that everyone deals with loss in a different way so cut yourself some slack. "Grief is a process that takes time and there is no right or wrong way to cope with it," Santini adds. "Be kind and patient with yourself, and take the time you need to heal."

Mother's Day can be a tricky occasion for many women. (Getty Images)
Mother's Day can be a tricky occasion for many women. (Getty Images)

If you're estranged from your mother

Sometimes it feels like we’re being sold a narrative that if we don’t have a close relationship with our mothers, there’s something wrong.

But there are plenty of reasons you might not have a Hallmark type bond with your mum, and having absolutely no contact with your mother is actually more common than you might think.

Surprisingly, a study on mother-daughter estrangement, recently found that 52% of the mothers surveyed were estranged from a daughter, with more than half of the mums (56.8%) surveyed revealing they had gone more than a year without contact with their children.

For those who do have a tricky relationship with their mum, Mother's Day can incite feelings of loss around a relationship that was perhaps already painful or traumatic to begin with.

"You may have experienced a relationship with your mother where your emotional needs were never met, so Mother’s Day – which is essentially a celebration – can be a painful reminder of this," explains Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

"There may also be feelings of deprivation around the lack of having a close and attuned relationship with your mother."

Watch: John Legend believes losing son was 'worse' for his wife Chrissy Teigen

While some may be genuinely ok with an estrangement from their mum around Mother’s Day, those who do find it emotionally challenging could use the day as a tool to take you to a place of acceptance or forgiveness.

"Mother’s Day is the perfect time because all your ‘mum antennae’ will be twitching," explains Lianna Champ, grief specialist and author of How to Grieve Like A Champ.

She believes it is important to understand the reason for the estrangement and the part you have played.

"In any relationship, we can only work on, and be responsible for, our half," she explains. "If we can really grasp that, then we can remove expectation from mum and just accept that she is the way she is. We can’t change mum but we can change how we feel about her."

Champ says having people in our lives who can fulfil a mother-type role can also help us let go of the pain.

"No one person provides everything we need," she says. "Embrace your friends and plug the mum holes –you may be surprised at how free you feel once you stop trying to make your mum onto someone she isn’t or can’t be."

Read more: Kirsty Gallacher reveals she suffered a breakdown post-divorce: 'I was running on empty'

For those trying to conceive Mother's Day can evoke feelings of grief. (Getty Images)
For those trying to conceive Mother's Day can evoke feelings of grief. (Getty Images)

If you're struggling to conceive

While much of the Mother's Day focus surrounds our own mums, the occasion can be triggering for those who are striving to become a mother.

Fertility Network UK (FNUK) estimates around one in six couples in the UK will experience difficulties conceiving. And even those who do manage to get pregnant may not end up becoming a mother because of problems including recurrent miscarriages.

While there are countless mums being celebrated by their own tiny tribe, many women with fertility problems will not be among them.

Dr Touroni says those on a difficult conception journey are likely to experience loss and deprivation in the run-up to the event. "The sense of longing to be a mother – and of having that special connection with a child – can trigger feelings of difference to friends, and perhaps even defectiveness," she explains.

It's important to acknowledge that Mother's Day isn't going to be an easy day if you’re experiencing fertility issues, but your emotional responses are valid.

Dr Touroni suggests practicing mindfulness and being aware of your emotions, and planning ahead for how you’re likely to feel on the day.

"Make a plan for the day, including activities that you find comforting and nurturing," she adds.

"Speak about how you’re feeling with those close to you, and be sure to get support if you need it."

Other tips for coping with Mother's Day if you find it difficult

Avoid comparing yourself to others

Or telling yourself that you should feel a certain way, or have a specific relationship around your mum. "We are all doing the best we can," Dr Wilson adds.

Go social media free

If social media tends to trigger unpleasant emotions or memories for you, consider avoiding your feeds over the period.

Embrace your feelings

By finding ways to allow yourself to feel what you're feeling. "It can be tempting to push away or ignore feelings like sadness, anger and grief, but it's important to give voice to how we feel, if we can," Dr Wilson advises.

"Listen to what you need, and try not to change your boundaries due to societal pressure."

Read more: Sharon Stone opens up about 'immeasurable grief' as she copes with loss of brother

Experts suggest letting your friends know how you're feeling. (Getty Images)
Experts suggest letting your friends know how you're feeling. (Getty Images)

Focus on other 'mother' figures

For some focusing on the positive relationships in their lives can be a way to cope with the occasion. "Mother's Day doesn't have to be just about biological mothers," Santini explains. "You can celebrate the other women in your life who have played a significant role, such as a grandmother, aunt, or mentor."

Understand you're not alone

It's important to remember that relationships of all kinds are often complicated, and that you are not alone if you feel alienated in some way by the 'picture perfect' mother-child relationship that you may be presented with around Mother's Day.

Dr Wilson suggests seeking out others in similar situations who may understand your feelings. "Peer support can be really valuable at this time," she adds.

It's also worth letting your close friends and family know, if it feels okay to do so, that it's a difficult time for you and you may need some extra support or, that you may need some time to yourself.

Be mindful of others

No one wants those who do enjoy the occasion to stop doing so but it is worth being mindful of those who may struggle. "It's also helpful for us all to remember that we don't know what others may be feeling in response to the day; so being sensitive about what we share or assume about others," adds Dr Wilson.

Where to go for help

If you have also lost someone close to you contact bereavement charity Cruse for support.

If you're struggling with infertility visit Fertility Network UK or contact the infoline on 01424 732361

Those estranged from their family can visit the charity Stand Alone for help and support.