How to Cope With the Stress of Mother’s Day

How to Cope With the Stress of Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is almost here, heralded by idyllic pictures of mothers and daughters in magazines and TV commercials advertising jewelry, flowers and gifts fit for a female deity. However, some of us feel anxious, disappointed and even stressed about the celebration. Perhaps, we don’t get along with our mothers, mothers-in-law or even our own children. Mother’s Day can be a pink rose with plenty of thorns because we don’t measure up to a Hallmark greeting card. Coincidentally, for gardeners Mother’s Day signals planting time and so, for many of us it is time to dig up the dirt, turn it over and plant some new seeds.

How to prepare for the Big Day: The best weapon mothers and mothers-in-law have is guilt. They know how to use the inflection in their voices to convey just the right words to make us feel guilty. Making up our minds not to feel guilty is difficult if not impossible. However, desensitizing ourselves to the guilt will help. Here’s an exercise:

Write a list of mom’s key phrases that have always made you feel guilty. Read them frequently with the same inflection that she uses to take the sting out of them. You might begin to laugh. If you don’t see the humor, respond to the comments with a healing visualization: breathe deeply to your own natural rhythm and rest your hands on your abdomen; close your eyes and imagine a happy, secure place where you give yourself a loving positive message; in other words, re-parent yourself in your visualization.

Finally it is the Day Of: Our buttons are being pushed; we have forgotten the aforementioned exercise as it takes a lot of practice, and we are armed with angry responses. We are going to let “her” have it because we are not going to take it anymore! This will lead to a satisfying moment of immediate gratification and later to many hours of guilt and remorse. Why are we so angry? What’s inside the self that needs to be shored up and strengthened? Most likely, we are not angry at a parental authority, but really with ourselves. Basically, we need self-approval not mom’s approval. She wasn’t wrong about all the advice she gave us; it is really a good idea “To clean up as we go along.” This includes letting go of the emotional baggage.

There is nothing wrong with feeling conflicted about our feelings toward our mothers and our children. We all experience these powerful opposites: The familiarity of the nest versus the control and the confinement; being taken care of versus the strings that are attached to this nurturing. We experience conflict about many things in life. We expend a great deal of energy fighting our contradictory feelings trying to force them into peacefulness. Equanimity is difficult to maintain since we are not designed that way. According to Freud we were designed to live in conflict between theid (desire) and the superego (scrupulous morality). The ego forever negotiates between the two states. Controversy is healthy and enlightening.

While we are being tough on our mother and mother-in-law, let’s remember our own children who are judging us. What will they dredge up about us in the future? Are we imposing our need for status over their need for personal happiness or are we just doing the best that we can under the circumstances? Perhaps, we are using guilt as a weapon in our own arsenal to shape their behavior. When our children disappoint us, don’t honor us or don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day to the degree that we expect, consider that we are trying to control them by showing our disappointed expectations. However, we will miss the small caring gestures that they give in their own style. When we soften our air of deprivation, we are ready to accept with gratitude whatever they give us, like the kindergarten arts and crafts project we once raved about to make them feel good about themselves.

To liberate yourself on Mother’ Day, make these words your own:
  • I will go inside myself to get my needs met. I will give myself the present I want others to give me.
  • My mother, mother-in-law and children do not owe me anything. Any help I give them comes from my heart with no strings attached, a present freely given.
  • I will face the day with positive, but reasonable expectations. I will not fulfill a negative prophecy by eliciting their stinging remarks.
  • I will disarm their self-centeredness and insensitivity with concrete, genuine compliments and good humor.
  • I don’t expect my mother, my mother-in-law or my children to atone for the bad things they have done to me. Nobody owes me anything. Anything I get is a bonus.
  • I will nurture them this Mother’s Day and in so doing will mother me.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit:

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This content was written by Debbie Mandel. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Debbie Mandel for details.