It starts with the commercials—images of smiling families, pampered moms, jewelry, flowers, and lots and lots of love. Then you notice the signs in store windows—usually purple ones—reminding everyone of the upcoming holiday so they can be sure to shop and plan accordingly. Mother’s Day is coming, and anywhere you look you’re being told that it’s almost time to celebrate. 

But Mother’s Day isn’t always a celebration. 

In fact, for some, it’s very, very painful. 

Maybe you’ve lost your mother. Maybe you’ve longed to celebrate as a mother, but for whatever reason, this year isn’t the one. Maybe you never had a mother. Or maybe the mother you had was harmful, disappointing, or distant. There are plenty of reasons why you may not picture jewelry boxes and smiles when you think of Mother’s Day, and honestly, that’s OK. 

The world tells us that mothers and daughters are best friends, that there is no bond like that of a mother and her child. And as true as that may be for some, it isn’t a universal truth. 

Sometimes mothers, pure and loving as the title implies, are monsters.

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I start feeling “off” about a week before the big Sunday. Maybe it’s the commercials, maybe it’s the social media posts, but I know Mother’s Day is coming, and I start hurting. I see how much other women love their mothers, how close they are, and even though I’ve known my whole life that I didn’t have that with my own mother, it hurts to be reminded of it. Even though she’s always been harmful, I never dull to the pain of it. 

Every year my kids start getting excited about Mother’s Day, start coming home with crafts and cards they’ve lovingly made by hand. They can’t wait to celebrate me, and I feel so guilty that I don’t share their enthusiasm. I want to be excited. I want to have a sweet day being loved on. But I cannot escape the cloud that hovers around Mother’s Day, no matter how many times someone reminds me that I’m not her, that I’m doing better than my own mom did. 

Every year I fake the smiles, thank my children a little too enthusiastically, then retreat to my room and cry. 

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I cry because I’ve been on edge for days leading up to Mother’s Day, been short-tempered and irritable with my kids and husband. I cry because as much as we love our children with all that we have, we still have to admit that motherhood is really, really hard, and rarely does one day of lunch and cards make up for that.

But mostly I cry because I’m sad. Because the scars a bad mom can leave on you may heal but will forever ache.

I cry because even though I’ve accepted that my mother will never be who I need her to be, I still mourn the mom I didn’t get. I cry because I deserved better—not in the form of diamonds from my kids, but in the form of love from the person who the world assumes gave it unconditionally. 

Most people don’t understand. They love their moms and are loved in return, just as it should be. I don’t blame them for their sappy posts and smiling pictures. I feel a pang of jealousy when I see what they have and compare it to what I never did, and the stab of shame when people don’t understand why you’re not close with your mom.

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We tend to hide our feelings, those of us with harmful moms, only making Mother’s Day harder. So few people understand, they assume you’re some kind of monster because you’re not best friends with your mom. We’re told to love our moms no matter what, told we should be grateful to have a mother at all. We’re told that blood is thicker, that she did as well as she could.

We’re told a lot of things by a lot of people who just don’t get it, people who get to make loving and appreciative posts on social media . . . people who don’t hurt on Mother’s Day. 

Last year, I took a stand. I knew that Mother’s Day was coming up, and I could feel myself starting to withdraw. I knew I deserved to be celebrated on Mother’s Day, and that meant doing what I wanted, not what commercials and card companies told me I needed to do. 

So I skipped Mother’s Day. 

I didn’t go to church. I didn’t dress up. I didn’t even leave my bed. I slept in and wept in peace while my family was out of the house. I grieved as I needed to without having to put on a show first. We explained to our kids that we would be celebrating Mother’s Day the next day, on Monday, so they didn’t come home full of expectation and excitement. I didn’t have to wait in line for two hours at a restaurant, didn’t have to feign thanks, didn’t have to see dozens and dozens of other happy families celebrating a day I just could not enjoy. 

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I stayed in bed and felt all that I needed to. Once the expectation was removed from the Sunday, Monday was beautiful. There weren’t long lines at the restaurant, the posts and commercials had moved on, and there was no compulsion to make the day something I couldn’t. I got to have my own day, free of pressure, free of faking. I got to hear what my children wanted to say and enjoy what they wanted to give. The Monday after Mother’s Day isn’t supposed to be anything special, so I didn’t feel like there was a standard to live up to or an appreciation I was lacking because I didn’t call my mom. I got my own day with my own family enjoying them and feeling appreciated, not disappointed. My grief didn’t overshadow their love.

Mother’s Day hurts, so I don’t celebrate it. And I’ve never felt better.

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