Opinion: Sadly, Mother's Day is not a joyful occasion for everyone

A mother and daughter having a chat over a cup of tea

Having an adult child living at home can be a rewarding experience - Credit: Martinan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It can’t have escaped your notice that Mother’s Day is almost upon us.

For weeks, restaurants and hotels and florists have been promoting it like mad.

But for some people, it isn’t the joyful occasion it’s cracked up to be, and this column is for them.

Now, I’m sure the majority of the population look forward to the day, thoroughly enjoy searching for the right card, buy presents – floral or otherwise – and arrange a special lunch. It’s a family and celebratory occasion.

But I do know – from years of being an agony aunt and a psychotherapist –that far too many men and women have, or had, mothers who were distinctly lacking in parenting skills.

Just how many is hard to say, because this is a burden people carry quietly and rarely divulge to anyone.

Why? Because they discover that if they dare to criticise their mother, the response is often a glib “Oh, you’ll miss her when she’s gone.”

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Or there will be a general murmur about how fantastic mothers are and how “Mine’s like my best friend.”

So, mostly, such individuals keep their situation secret, and as a result, no one knows how many have big issues with their mothers – dead or alive.

I believe it to be a significant number however, because every time I’ve written on the subject during the past 40 years, there have been plentiful and painful responses to it.

The relationship we have with our mother is the first of our lives.

It’s wonderful that so many readers of this column will have had happy experiences and think their mum is a saint.

But others have no knowledge of what that feels like. They have yearned for such a scenario, but never had it. I find this incredibly sad.

There are mothers who favour some children in the family at the expense of others.

Often the grandchildren, when they come along, are also markedly less loved than the kids of the favourite siblings.

Then there are over-demanding mothers. If you have one of those, your time is never your own.

She expects a front door key to your house – and she uses it at totally inconvenient moments.

She wants to be top of the list of your priorities. And if you find love as an adult, often that relationship is jeopardised because of her demands, and the fact that she inevitably dislikes your partner.

There are also highly critical mothers who carp about the fact that you haven’t produced children, your lack of ambition, how you look, your clothes…Do they love you? Hard to say. Certainly, you never feel “good enough”.

Then there are mums who try hard but who are distanced from their children because of their drink or drug habits, or other mental health problems.

And there are emotionally-stunted mothers who are unable to be tactile or demonstrate love.

Also, some mothers are so wrapped up in their marriage that their children don’t get a look in and often feel unwanted.

And perhaps the greatest distress of all is that felt by many adopted people who live with the belief that their birth mother did not love them enough to keep them.

No one ever said that being a mother is easy. But each child has a right to expect proper love and care. Alas, many are short-changed. So, if something I have written here resonates with your experience, my heart goes out to you – particularly in the run up to Mothering Sunday.

This is a tough time. Should you buy a card? Can you find one that’s appropriate among the shelves of lavishly gushing tributes to motherhood?

And what about the lunch? And the flowers? Mostly I imagine you do what is expected because it’s easier, but it’s common to find you’re battling angry or distressed emotions while you do so.

Much of the time though, I’m sure you cope well.

People are remarkably resilient and often compensate in other ways when there is a major gap in their lives.

An aunt or granny becomes the mother figure, or an older sister, or a teacher fills the maternal role.

Sometimes in adulthood, a mother-in-law gives you really touching affirmation that enriches your life.

And frequently, people who have been poorly parented go on to find generously loving spouses and have children – and work hard at being a great mum or dad.

Often too, they reach a point where they develop an understanding of the mother who failed them.

They then tend to say things like, “She was a lousy mum, but the odds were stacked against her”. Or, “She was hopeless, but not a bad person. I think she did the best she could.”

I’m sure it helps people if they can reach a compassionate acceptance of their mother’s personality traits, hard though that is. However, not everyone can manage it.

Finally, I’m really sorry if this Sunday is going to cause you pain but do take on board that you are not alone. Why not try to do something special for you, to counter the distress you’re feeling? And remember that the day, just like any other, is only 24 hours long.