© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2022

Mother's Day - without a mother

Violet French
A Mother's Day bouquet  Laura Lee Lovely

For many, anniversaries such as Mother's Day can be a hard time of year. It's a reminder of what many didn't have, can't have, and have lost. It's also hard to have the conversations about this loss.

For many, Mother's Day is a joyful occasion, and marketing societal messages encourage us to treat mum, and get her what she wants for her special day.

Lacking in these messages are the reminders to practise self-care, at a time of year that can be painful for so many. 

Narratives around loss and grief are largely ignored, and health professionals are reminding people to check in with their feelings, and to reach out if they need to.

There's an emphasis that this doesn't just apply to those whose parent has died; but also those who have lost children, who can't be a mother, who've never had a relationship with their mother. 

Raquel Thomas was a teenager when her mother died. 25 years later and a mother-of-four herself, she laments the 'could've-beens' - continuing to mourn the milestones her mother has missed. She calls compound grief the 'little kicks in the guts that get you through life'. She wishes she had someone to tell her 'ok get ready- this is what happens now' as their relationship ended in the 'melodrama' of her teens. 

For Raquel the commercial aspect of this time of year is overarching. She believes there's a need for more sensitivity.

"Not everyone has the same experiences walking through life. You just don’t know people's situations.” 

She praises the hard work of solo mothers, who don't always get the recognition they deserve.

Laura North is one of those women, raising two young boys. She explains this year is the first in five she hasn't had tears, saying she doesn't usually get to spend the day with her sons. She describes the difficulty of seeing many women spoilt by their spouses and children, how that expectation hurts, and how hard it is to watch social media posts, when her experiences are so different.

Clinical Psychologist Candice Roulston works with adults and children through grief and loss, and reminds people if you feel sad or down, that that’s quite appropriate. She explains to her patients that grief isn't linear and 'has ups and downs, and can come in waves'. She adds that sometimes this can take a lifetime to process, and anniversaries or celebrations such as Mother's Day, Father's Day or Christmas can be extra hard with the reminders of loss.

Roulston advises people who're noticing they're 'sadder or crankier' than usual to 'give yourself space to feel it'. The 'capitalist lens' can be hard for many, but she reminds people that the nuclear family idea isn't paramount. There are so many women who long for motherhood, and mothers who've lost children, as well as those experiencing family trauma or disconnect.

"Knowing how you feel emotionally and, in your body, and if it’s impacting on your functioning if they’re’ not turning up to work, or not meeting up with people, if they’re drinking or using substances to avoid how they’re feeling... If you’re worried about how you’re functioning, or if you’re worried it's getting in the way, that could be an opportunity to reach out."

There are many different reasons people find these anniversaries hard, but Roulston suggests the best way to help is by 'naming it gently and saying you’re there for them'.

"It can mean so much. They may not want to talk but knowing you’re there can be really helpful."



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