It is a little embarrassing to admit this, but Mother’s Day as an adult has always been complicated for me. The main reason can be traced back to my childhood when I, a selfish child, was scolded for wanting to go play at a friend’s house but wasn’t allowed to because “it’s Mother’s Day, and I want you home.” I was 5 or 6 years old at the time and pouted badly, to my shame. I remember how frustrated I felt that I just wanted to play, and my mom wasn’t even doing anything because she wanted to rest. (As a mom now, I get this to a degree—I’m so exhausted that I want to rest all of the time.) My difficulties waxed and waned as I grew older and more aware of the feelings of those around me. I no longer begged to go play at a friend’s house, but I did find it tedious that I was supposed to feign a great relationship with my mom one day of the year when she and I argued every other day. At the time, I thought this was entirely her problem, but I can see now where I was as much of the issue as she would have been. We are both stubborn, and I had to have gotten my stubbornness from somewhere, after all.  My mom and I struggled in our relationship the most in my early 20s. I was married, and we were trying to work out what the relationship between a married daughter and her mom was supposed to look like. I resented her imposing on us when she would show up uninvited to our home when my husband and I were newlyweds. Our relationship was often tense, and I found myself more frustrated than not with her. . When I was trying to become a mother myself and found out I was infertile, both my relationship with my mom and my feelings toward Mother’s Day got worse. 

 Seeing the stores fill up with pink cards and flowers made me sad. I could never find a card that expressed the sentiment I wanted to send to my mom. I knew my mom didn’t like cut flowers and didn’t have time to plant garden flowers either. She doesn’t like stuffed animals, and, to my sadness, I wasn’t close enough with her to know many of her favorite things.  I found myself avoiding the stores as much as possible from the end of April until the end of May. I’d go out of my way to not walk past displays that showed happy mothers and daughters. I was emotionally crushed and angry at God that I could want this thing so badly when others had magical, happy memories together with their moms and got pregnant “accidentally”. I wasn’t a pleasant person to be around if I’m honest.

 My husband and I got in the habit of skipping church on Mother’s Day altogether. It was too much. They always handed out flowers to all of the women, even those who were too young to be moms because they were “potential future mothers” (this sentiment makes my skin crawl). I would also inevitably find myself crying which would bring the “encouragement” of older women and men who tried to “pray a baby into my belly”. I can’t explain how uncomfortable the whole scene made me feel. 

My grief was real and deep. I grieved what could have been with my mom, what should have been with her mom, and that I didn’t and couldn’t have a baby to cuddle. As the years have passed, I realize how narrow-minded I was. Maybe if I had tried harder with my mom, I could have a different relationship. Maybe I wasn’t the only woman grieving that day. Perhaps, instead of isolating myself,  it would have been better to find other women like me and grieve together. I wasn’t emotionally strong enough for that at the time. I hope now that if I encounter a young woman who is longing to be a mom but isn’t, I can at least offer some hope or encouragement. Even if I can’t offer promises of fertility or happy adoption, I can offer hope that healing is possible.  Or maybe I can just keep my mouth shut until someone wants my counsel, so I don’t cause others to hurt the way I was hurt with words. 

At any rate, it is safe to say that I disliked Mother’s Day. The cloying, sappy, and overly emotional sentimentality made it difficult to even imagine a day when I would look forward to it.  It is with that in mind I want you to realize the absolute joy it brought me when I actually got to celebrate Mother’s Day with my kids for the first time. Actually, in retrospect, there are three “first Mother’s Days”. Let me explain.

We had the kids ( funny, hyper, delightful, and busy 8 and 9 year old boys,  and a precious baby girl)  with us for over a year. The first Mother’s  Day they were in our home brought complicated emotions. I spent part of the day crying in the bathroom as the boys described how happy they would be to see their biological mom and give her the Mother’s Day cakes they made at school. They weren’t being mean; in fact, they still have no idea I was sad. We had meant for them to make Mother’s Day gifts for their mom so of course, they were excited to take them to her. It was simply that, once again, I was reminded that I wasn’t a mom and might never get to be one. As a foster mom, I was trying to be supportive of the biological family, and I wanted them to be able to successfully parent.  I felt like a fraud expecting anything for Mother’s Day that year since I was “just a foster mom”. We ended up going to church that day despite my protestations because the kids were used to going every Sunday. It wasn’t until the pastor asked people in the congregation to hand roses to women in the room that had influenced and impacted their lives that I started to feel like maybe that day was for me. Three young women I knew, and had mentored in one way or another, brought me flowers. Then my oldest foster son did as well. I cried tears for a different reason that year. 

I don’t consider that my “first” Mother’s Day though. It had too much wrong in it to hold a place in my heart for that momentous occasion. In my head it didn’t count until I knew the kids were going to be mine, so let’s move forward to the next year. That one was the one I consider the “real” first. It was (I am choosing to remember) absolutely perfect. It started with wildflowers from my boys, breakfast in bed, and homemade cards that they had made in school. They knew we were adopting them pretty soon (two months later, it turned out), so they were starting to warm to the idea of me being more than just a foster mom. They still called me “Miss Chrissy”, and would for a while, but their little crayon-on-construction-paper cards declared “Happy Mother’s Day”.  I still have those cards and will probably request to be buried with them. I was unaware that I could be so happy with folded pieces of paper, but every time I look at them, I get teary-eyed. We had a picnic after church with friends who had been standing by us on our journey as foster parents. It was absolutely lovely. Wildflower bouquets, kids chasing butterflies, and a Chipotle burrito that tasted like magic and sunshine to my healing heart. My daughter, who was only a year and a half old at the time, was the delight of absolutely everyone. She was starting to say more words, and I was excited that I could teach her to say “Mama” without it stabbing my heart. She giggled, cooed, and played tag with her brothers. They let her win and fell to the ground laughing when she caught them. We took pictures (everyone’s gift to me because none of the men in my life enjoy having their picture taken) and ended up going home to change for a hike, one of my favorite things in the world to do. The baby and I napped long and hard in the afternoon, and my husband took us out for dinner that night.  

It doesn’t sound like much. I know some people would be offended, angry, or dismayed by a simple picnic lunch. For me, it was absolutely perfect. I detest crowds, and restaurants are crowded on Mother’s Day. The weather was perfect, and the kids were happy to play on the playground while I chatted with my friends. My husband was so sweet and treated me like I was made of glass and might break at any moment.  

While that is the real “first Mother’s Day” to me, it hadn’t occurred to me that others would see it differently. So imagine my surprise when my doorbell rang a year later, and I was greeted by a flower delivery man. He handed me an amazing bouquet that had a card attached. “Happy first Mother’s Day, love Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law”. Oh. Now I had mixed feelings again. Why did they think this was my first Mother’s Day? Hadn’t they considered the kids their grandkids before the adoption was final? Instead of just enjoying the nice, unexpected gift, I found myself frustrated. I also received several other cards echoing the sentiment of my “first Mother’s Day”. I was indignant. I had been their mom for almost two years at that point. Ah, but the heart is a fickle thing. I had to decide to simply be thankful and not read too much into it. I was so very happy that the kids were mine and that we were a family. I was thrilled to have children who shared my last name. I was over the moon that all three called me “Mama” by then. That day ended up being pretty great too after I got over myself. 

I hope you have a greater awareness now that Mother’s Day can be an emotionally triggering day for so many women. Some have lost their moms, stepmoms, aunts, and grandmas and mourn that loss acutely on a day dedicated to lifting up the women we love. Some, like me, have a complicated relationship with their mom which is further complicated on the day that touts the mother-child relationship as the absolute achievement in life. Who wants to be reminded of the relationship they wished they had but didn’t? Some women may have suffered miscarriages and mourn the baby they wished they held in their arms. Some may have lost a child and feel their loss acutely when they see families out to a special lunch, all dressed in matching outfits. Some, like me, may have infertility struggles and grieve what could have been. Still, more may not have wanted to be a mother in the first place and are struggling with their role.  Should we not celebrate Mother’s Day then? Of course not. Mothers are worth celebrating. I would just suggest that we tread more carefully and are more gentle with our words on a day that causes grief for so many women. They may be fighting a personal battle that you may know nothing about.