How to Survive Mother's Day with Difficult Mother

Not sure how to survive your difficult mother on Mother’s Day? Read on and discover that you are not alone in your journey.


The words ‘celebrate’ and ‘happy’ are often synonymous for two specific days of the year – Christmas Day and Mother’s Day. Both days are marked with either absolute joy, or utter pain.

Mother’s Day, like Christmas Day, is an occasion where high expectations of the family giving back to mother rules the collective system. It’s a day of fresh flowers, chocolates, manicures, smiles, hugs, appreciation and a nice meal which someone else creates.

This prominent day is certainly a marketer’s delight. Shops display Mother’s Day symbols, cards, novelty items and other significant merchandise. Cunning marketing convinces many adult children that if you really loved your mother, you would buy her that expensive ornament in the window. If you really valued your mother, you would take her to the finest restaurant on the day and pay triple the standard cost of a meal.

Shrewd marketing feeds into the adult child’s guilt compelling them to Buy! Buy! Buy! to show their love and gratitude to the devoted woman who raised her brood.

A 2019 IbisWorld report showed that Australian consumers spent approximately $1.62 billion in total on Mother’s Day gifts. That’s a lot of moolah for one day of the year.


“There Is No Way I Will Be Like My Difficult Mother”

There are many mums who are wonderful and nurturing, besties with their adult children and dependable in their childrens’ lives.

But what if the woman who we call mother is not the person in the Hallmark cards, the one who gazes out lovingly from the beautiful flowery card? And does not represent the saccharine words that drip “forever love…” from a child to mum.

Some adult daughters have difficult relationships with their mum, still seeking their mother’s approval for their career, for their love interests, for her acceptance and unconditional love. They revert to being a child in their mother’s presence, wanting mum to nurture and encourage them, maintaining hope that mum will hold the little girl in her lap of tenderness, stroking her fondly, speaking gently from doting mother to her adoring child. This is the fantasy that adult daughters dream about. The stuff we see in movies. Yet this image is a pipedream, a desire left unfulfilled.

When a woman has a daughter, many with complicated mother relationships will say that they do not want to become like their mother, they do not want to repeat a history of hurt. “I will mother differently” or “There is no way I will be like my difficult mother”, are often the refrains I hear. Maybe you have said these comments. Rebelling against your past, determined to change the line of the female narrative.

Many women wonder if they are the only one who is going through this difficult relationship with their mother and are ashamed of these feelings. Women who feel hurt or anger with their mother are reluctant to discuss these struggles, as society considers it is not the right thing to say. It’s like a secret which no one talks about, yet many experience. There is an expectation that mothers and daughters are to be close and loving. But it’s not always the case.


Meeting Your Mother’s Expectations

For women who have struggled in their relationship with their mother, negative reactions will stir particularly when your daughter goes through her own stages of development. Mother’s Day is one such example.

A trigger for many women are the Mother’s Day stalls at school which a daughter attends. Seeing other girls excitedly picking through the gifts on show creates a grief and longing for the relationship they wished for as a girl.

My mother worked for a greeting card company. When significant days of the year drew near, such as her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, I would spend hours scanning cards looking for the ‘perfect’ card that would satisfy mum. Nothing could make her happy. She would notice a spelling error in the card, or the price on the back of the card, or the image on the front was silly. Giving a card to mum was navigating her critical outlook and imagining her worst thoughts.

Mother’s Day was the most difficult of all the significant days for mum, as she felt she deserved more than a mere card and flowers. Her near-empty well of hurt gave rise to anger. It took me many years to realise that it wasn’t about me, it was her ‘stuff’. Her pain exhausted her, and exhausted me.


Two Sides Of The Same Coin

My mother had a Jekyll and Hyde personality. In public, she loved telling jokes, people said she was amusing. She was the fun gal. In private, at home, she was angry, was critical, resentful of a life with children when she would have preferred travelling to interesting places.

When I was young, I tried to please her by helping in the garden, tried to make her happy by cooking a cake, be the clown to make her laugh, yet I received crumbs of attention in return. When a young girl wants to please her mum and keep her happy, a girl will ‘shrink down’, make herself small to make her mum happy. All a little girl wants is to be acknowledged by her mummy and for mummy to be happy.

When I was 10 years old, I gave up helping her because I only got criticism in return. She insisted on perfectionism. Once I stopped helping because of the criticism, she criticised me for not helping – lose/lose situation.

When you were a girl, you may have taken responsibility for being the problem. Let me say:

This is not your fault. Your mother was unable to give you

the nurture, the attention, the love you so wanted.


You may have slid into a character, a persona, hoping that mother would love the new you. Did it work? Probably not. Some girls become like a chameleon, fitting in with the environment that they inhabit. Fitting in at home, fitting in at school, to please the ones they desperately want to be acknowledged by.


The Emerging Dawn

Some women come to the realisation that they will not have a close relationship with their mother. Others have created distance from their mother in the interests of their own mental health.

For women that have forgiven their mother, they say it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a movement through grief, requiring compassion for both yourself and your mother and her history. In doing so, women have said that they don’t feel trapped in the past.


Caring for Yourself on Mother’s Day

Here are some suggestions.

  • Let the day slip by and not celebrate or commemorate in any way.
  • If you do see your mother, remind yourself of your core values, even if you don’t verbalise them out loud to her. Some examples may be honesty, courage, kindness, compassion, faith, happiness, respect. Write some of these values down on a small piece of paper, carry it with you and if necessary, look at the values to remind you of You. This will help keep you grounded while you are with your mum. If things do increase in difficulty, then go to another room, go for a walk, or have a call set to ring you at a specific time so you can leave.
  • Send a card to mother, then celebrate with the cherished women in your life, the ones who have been a sister or a mother to you, or a caring mother-in-law.
  • One tempting suggestion – book a room for yourself in a hotel. One friend said that all she wanted to do was wake up to quiet and in her own time, not according to another’s time. This idea may catch on for any time of the year!
  • Celebrate with neighbours and friends, and even ones who have fur babies.
  • Involve yourself in a creative activity, such as writing poetry, drawing, pottery. Or discover a new expressive pastime.
  • Spend the day with your kids, it teaches kids that there are special days in the year to celebrate with their mum. They will learn to make Mother’s Day a tradition for you.
  • A friend’s husband gives her a card from their pets.
  • Stick notes on the fridge, on the walls, on mirrors, reminding yourself that “I am worthwhile”, “I am kind”, “I am fun”. Ask a friend to describe you and write these on post-it notes.
  • Be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself as a friend would, and as you would to your friend.

Above all, remind yourself of this:

– “It’s not about me. It’s her issues.”


If any of this blog sounds familiar to you, reach out to me and see how I can help you.


Featured Image: Styled Stock Society

Janice WIlliams Counselling


Janice Williams is a Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist.

Sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.

Spread the love