Why I hate Mother’s Day

Yes I know it’s properly called Mothering Sunday in the UK – but that’s not the reason I loathe it.

It’s not the treacly sentimentalism and the cynicism of commerce – a lot of love is expressed through those pink sparkly bits of card and naff bouquets. Many people will share genuine affection in pub chain dining rooms – and I respect that.

It’s the assertion that mother-love is universal, a given, something natural and always to be found.

It’s not.

And when your relationship with your mother is different to this cross-cultural narrative, then the stream of tweets and posts on Facebook and the happy smiling families out to enjoy the day erode the scar tissue over your heart.

The memories of lost mums who were loving are worst. Especially if they are her age. Time is passing – soon there will be no chance to be reconciled, they say. And yet I am helpless. I cannot do anything to change this most fundamental of connections: she will not speak to me.

I’ve tried. Over twenty years I have tried. I do not know what I have done wrong – therefore I can never put it right.

Now people who come from normal families will assume I am partly to blame. Quite possibly I am. But I cannot do anything to heal a relationship with someone who never wants to see me again. You can’t say sorry to a closed door.

I gave up trying on my 50th birthday. I found out she was giving my father grief over it, so out of respect for him and sheer weariness, I stopped..

Just at this time of year stupid, callous hope flares up. I get glimpses of what it would have been like to have a normal mum. I’ve been lucky with both my mother-in-law and my husband’s step-mother. Both loving, ordinary mums – not faultless but kind and affectionate in their own individual ways.

For years, I’ve dreaded this time of year – and inevitably, like catching the inside of your mouth you’ve already bitten, as a teacher my class always did the Mother’s Day Assembly. I know and painfully love the things that normal mums do, that are truly worthy of celebration. I don’t want anyone to cancel Mother’s Day – I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.

There are many things I can thank her for. The love of reading comes first. I was safe when I read. It was an activity she approved of, and a vital means of escape. Then there’s music – a curious mixture: Mozart, Tom Lehrer,  and Hollywood Musicals. I know far too many Rodgers and Hammerstein songs still. Shared enthusiasms for the Russian Revolution, Richard III and St Francis too. There’s Scrabble and crossword puzzles, and all the time spent with various relatives which widened my experience of Yorkshire. My deep, abiding love of the sea comes from all my trips to Scarborough.

I suspect I am still trying to please her, to do well enough that she will be proud of me. I can’t stop my mind’s eye flashing up the image of her coming to  book launch or a prize or something. She never will – she wasn’t exactly known for coming to things even when I was little.

Yet still I have her to thank for being a writer. She won’t read this or even know about it – but still –


31 thoughts on “Why I hate Mother’s Day

  1. You can’t know how much you just helped me.
    Better to hope than pretend.
    I gave up too and know that her last days will be when we talk.
    I say ‘know’ but really it’s still hope because that would be something.
    It’s the nothing, the unexplainable, that hurts the most… Until you find someone else who goes through it every year too.
    Thank you x

  2. I don’t hate Mother’s Day but it does serve to remind me that the relationship I had with mine wasn’t anything like that of a lot of people. I’ll never be able to meet my mother again and, to be frank, I’m very glad about it. She was a really horrible person and the baggage I inherited from her still causes me problems.
    No, you’re not alone.

  3. I’m sorry to read this. You’re very brave to post this and I really hope that it is healing for you. It is unfortunate how there is this assumption that all mothers are loving and nurturing whilst too many are anything but. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to raise awareness of the struggles of those who have not grown up in supportive or nurturing environments.

    It is ironic that my first ever commission as an artist has been to design a Mothers Day card. It was very healing for me to put all of my energy into that card, and even now thinking about how I would refine the design even further to express a certain hidden meaning. Art, in all forms, definitely has the power to heal.

  4. Pingback: Wagons – and falling off | K.M.Lockwood

  5. This is a very brave, good and honest and moving post and I am really so sorry your mum won’t speak to you. I too had a complicated relationship with my mum, and after caring for her until her death, I am still trying to pray and talk through and honestly accept the consequences of that – so I send you lots of love xx You are a very kind and nurturing woman yourself xxxx

  6. I am sitting in my mum’s house, thankful she is still abroad so I don’t have to ‘celebrate’ mothers day. My heart just squished to read your gorgeous, grief-filled words and it’s like, at last, someone’s said this out loud. I put a post on Instagram but couldn’t stretch to wishing her HMD, personally. Her home is here now, but I never miss her when she’s gone. I feel more at peace. And terribly sad to admit that. Thanks for this, Philippa.

  7. As your husband I have been so painfully aware of the pain this has caused over the years. Where there is some balance is that you have such a wonderful, loving father.

    My guess is that he has faced even more grief and pain over your mother and a largely loveless marriage.

    We can hope and pray for a miracle but, in the meantime, focus on the love from your father, our boys, all of your great friends and, of course, from me.💕💕💕💕💕💕

  8. Ticked the boxes for me. I am getting on and have a difficult relationship with a difficult Mother. I can’t related to those sickly cards and sentiments towards my Mother. We have built a few bridges recently. Though always tricky. Thanks for your post. I know I am not alone in this.

  9. Darling Pip, you can’t win in a game with rules you don’t understand and that you didn’t ever want to play. You are right to withdraw from the field. It’s not fair, it’s not right but it’s also not of your doing, love you , me xx

  10. Thank you for your honesty Philippa x you will have helped a lot of people with this post. You are loved and appreciated by many xx

  11. There is no healing a situation like this, Philippa, because a mother who can callously reject her daughter is not worthy of your attempts at reconciliation, your regrets or your thoughts, on Mother’s Day or any other day. I remember, when you first told me about her behaviour towards you, I felt angry on your behalf. But anger never helps. Whatever your mother’s weird rationale might be and however much she forces your father to comply, she can never influence beyond her own small world. A world which is smaller without you. And she can never take from you Stephen and your sons. Mother’s Day is about you and the mother that you are to your boys, not about a woman who doesn’t deserve you. So, Happy Last Sunday xxx

  12. I hope you find a way to let it go, you deserve better Philippa, indeed, you have better in your lovely Dad and your wonderful family. They’re a true reflection of your worth, not your mother. I suspect she was not in her right mind for much of her life. She certainly did not understand you. Sending love, grief is a funny old thing, it might take a while but it will pass xx

    • Oh thank you, Kathy. There was a sort of bizarre fairground mirror version of reconciliation and I have curious amounts of empathy for her. Howvere the change in my family circumstances is making me reconsider many things.
      You’re so kind, my dear,

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