Is it Mother's Day Again?

Dealing With Difficult Moms

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"Pardon me. I’m looking for the perfect Mother’s Day card.”

“You’ve come to the right place. What type of card do you want?”

“Do you have a card for a mother who isn’t very nice?”

“Hmmm? Come with me to the back room. There are some other people wandering around in there trying to find cards for difficult mothers. You know that’s a tough order to fill, don’t you?”

“Do I know that? Guess how many years I’ve been trying to find that card. Better yet, guess how many years I have been trying to get along with my mother!”

Wouldn’t life be easier if all mothers fit those glorious greeting card descriptions? Those noble women are selfless, but strong, beautiful, but not vain, charming, but authentic. Best of all, they are loving, nurturing and wise.

Fortunately, most women fit a reasonable portion of this idyllic image, making Mother’s Day a pleasant occasion. Their lucky children can find the perfect card, or enjoy the memory of a special mother.   
But what do you do if your mother doesn’t fit the Hallmark image, yet still expects you to treat her like she does? Do you grit your teeth, swallow an extra glass of wine and hope that something will change? Bad idea. You end up with a clenched jaw, an extra 320 calories and no solution. Maybe it’s time for a new plan.

Whether the problems with your mother come from her poor choices, mental health issues, aging, or simply differences in your personalities, this article can’t provide the magic glue to mend your relationship. What we can do is look at several ways to take care of you while you figure out the best way to handle the holiday.

PREPARATION>> Stop! Before you head to the store, take a few minutes to remember the cards or gifts that have had even a smidgeon of success in previous years. Make a short list of potentially OK purchases based on prior experience. While you may not have a large measure of control over whether or not this year’s gift is a hit, planning before looking at too many choices will plant a sliver of control within you.  

I don’t know about you, but when I am headed into a potentially unpleasant situation, I function better if there is a treat for me, too. Will you be shopping for a card or gift for your mother, even though she won’t like it, accept it, or know it’s there? Then make that shopping trip pleasant for you.

Invite a good friend to go with you. Play your favorite music in the car. Shop in a store that makes you feel good. If you think your mother will refuse your gift, buy something you would like to keep, or at least is easy to return. Cap off your shopping time with an activity you and your friend enjoy. Focus on creating an outing that lifts your spirits and that just happens to include buying something for your mother.

ANTICIPATION>> Are you dreading the visit with your mother, making yourself numb, or perhaps allowing a glimmer of hope that this year will be better? Since these options do not guarantee a Hallmark moment, let’s look at how you can take care of you.
Many of my clients ask the same question. What are we going to talk about? Since conversation is based on connection, and we are disconnected, what do we do when we are sitting in the same room?
While nothing is perfect, these tools may help fill the silence. With any luck, they might lead to a more comfortable visit.

If you and your mother shared any pleasant times in the past, take pictures or mementos that inspire positive memories. Your mother may not be able to talk, or may choose not to, but at least you will have something in hand to trigger your own thoughts. Remember good times may have involved people other than you and your mother. That’s OK. The point is to have a visual reminder of a positive experience.

If conversation is out of the question, you might take a movie to watch together. Try to pick something she might like, even if she has seen it many times before. If she says, “Why are we watching this? You know I’ve already seen it.” You might say, “That’s why I brought it. I wanted us to share something you really like.”

If your mother is a bottomless pit of needs and expectations, decide ahead of time how much you choose to give. This may involve how much money you spend, how much energy you pour into pleasant conversation, or how long you make the visit. If you can’t fill her cup of happiness, politely pour what is in your “teapot” of compassion, and then leave as gracefully as possible.

CELEBRATION>> Congratulations! You have honored the day in a way that is authentic for you.
Now it’s time to celebrate any woman who has “mothered” you. Depending on your circumstances, that might be you. Treasure that less than perfect, but still wonderful woman. That’s what Mother’s Day is all about!

Becky Sansbury connects women to their natural resilience, equipping them to navigate the ups and downs of life. After 14 years as a hospice chaplain, Becky identified practical ways to move through crisis. In 2015 she wrote After the Shock: Getting You Back on the Road to Resilience When Crisis Hits You Head On. Now a professional speaker and crisis coach, Becky shares these insights when she is not building Lego towers with her grandson. You can learn more at

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