How do you feel on Mother’s Day? Are you one of the fortunate ones who enjoys this holiday, either because you love your mom dearly and can enjoy it with her, or you love being a mom and happily anticipate being celebrated? Or are you someone who shuts down as the day approaches because you are a bereaved mother who grieves a lost son or daughter? It could be that you are undergoing fertility treatments that aren’t working or you have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth. Maybe, instead, you are an adult child with scars that will never quite heal after your early years with an abusive mother. It could be that your mom was loving and kind to you but she’s no longer alive. Either way, and every year, the Hallmark cards and cheery advertisements make your heart break all over again. Whichever one you are–from fortunate to aching–I think it’s healthy to acknowledge that Mother’s Day leaves one vulnerable and that, happy or sad, it is a holiday that touches the soul.
Human experience and the vagaries of life mean that there is a lot more variation than what the advertising industry would have us see. I know from clinical practice that the face we offer the world is often a facade that covers multitudes. Life happens quickly. What we do with it is, up to a point, a choice. How we take care of ourselves, then, is an ongoing practice.
Acknowledgement of your individual circumstances and a healthy dose of self care and self awareness can shift some of the energy. Being able to accept your unique experience for what it is, no matter what that is, can make a tremendous difference in how you experience Mother’s Day. If it is one of the happiest days of the year for you, maybe take a moment to give some love to someone you know is motherless or aching. And if you are the one who hurts, there may be ways for you to attend to your pain that could, in time, bring some healing.
How so? How can you find growth and healing on a day like this one if it represents only pain for you? That’s a truly complicated question but here, offered in the spirit of gentle suggestion, are some ideas for you during Mother’s Day marketing season and on the very day itself.
1). Be attentive to your feelings and gentle with your emotional reactions. If you notice your feelings, can you notice where they settle in your body? If you argue with your mom and she presses all your buttons, do you first feel a clenched stomach but maybe later you are feel small, teary, and like a lonely child? If your mother is no longer alive or was abusive, how do you feel when you see all the relentless marketing? Do you find that you are short-tempered when you drive, or you are eating more than you should, or you are zoning out in front of the computer or on your smart phone, all in an attempt to numb your feelings? If this holiday is really painful for you, you might consider some short-term counseling. Even if you go for three or four visits to get you through the marketing push and the day itself, that is an act of self care that can reap great dividends.
If therapy doesn’t appeal to you, obviously I am going to suggest that traditional Chinese bodywork or some acupuncture might be a great source of self care and healing at this time. What can be the most useful for you at this point, though, is the capacity to take note of how you feel and take care of yourself accordingly. Be gentle with yourself. Look at your feelings in the spirit of respectful inquiry, not judgement, and try to figure out how you can be kind to yourself on an evolving basis. Especially if there is a significant portion of grief and regret involved, it’s good to have some self care strategies planned out ahead of time. What those might be are individual to you, of course, but know that what might be useful to you in one situation might be less helpful in another. If you know you hate the advertising, what are ways to get around it (or to ameliorate the fallout when you can’t avoid it)? What can you do if you know you come home after work tired and hungry, normally, but during the first two weeks of May, you find that you are not only tired and hungry but also haunted by the ghosts of old injury? And what are some good strategies for the day itself?
2). Find the mothers around you and let them comfort you. Otherwise, can you notice someone in your realm to whom you might offer comfort?
Motherhood and the role of a mother signify way more than just your relationship with the woman who gave birth to you or the person who raised you. A mother is a figure who is profoundly laden with meaning. If you lost yours, or if you never had the relationship that you so needed, can you find compassion and support in anyone around you? It doesn’t have to be a mother, but instead, a good friend. It could even be a pet. Where, in your life, can you ask for–and receive–some nurturing?
In the above picture in the upper left, you can see in the screenshot plate number 50 of a series called the Disasters of War (Los Disastres de la Guerra) by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. Its title is “Madre infeliz” (translated as “Unhappy Mother” or “Hapless Mother”). In it, a beautiful young mother who has died (from hunger, or was she shot?) is carried away by three men. In the background, another figure is motionless and, likely, dead. Following behind, there is a weeping child. Who is the sad one in this picture? The mother, who is dead (certainly it is sad for a young mother to die), or is it the daughter’s tragedy? The title of the etching makes us look to the mother first but the little girl who trails behind her wrenches the viewer’s heart. It is, truly, an artwork that tells a thousand stories in one: the heartbreak of the motherless daughter. You do not have to know of the tragic wars of Spain to feel pain at the sight of the child and a sense of loss for the plight of her unhappy mother. This is universal.
Can you honor yourself and your sorrow, knowing that the grief of loss attached to a mother is universal?
3). Make your own ritual. Give yourself a gift.
Social media makes it look like everyone is happy and fulfilled at all times. (If you want to read a poignant confession from someone who has a great social media presence, go here). When you see the advertisements, the implication is that everyone has a perfect mom and that all happy families are like Tolstoy described them (alike) but in reality, of course, the unhappy families are–again, the Tolstoy–unhappy in their own way. Even the most glowing of mother-child relationships have their challenges. I think that the narrative pushed by advertising agencies applies to only a portion of society. There are a lot of families who don’t live up to that ideal and if you’re from one of them, well, let’s see if you can make your own happiness on this day.
Can you make plans with a friend? If you’re in Austin, make an appointment and come see me for traditional Chinese bodywork or some acupuncture. If you’re not, find a tui na practitioner in your city and experience the wonder–it really is marvelous. If it’s just not on your radar to try Chinese bodywork, is there something else fun you can do? Or maybe something especially nice that you could do for someone else? One year, though not at Mother’s Day, I will confess, I got together all the hotel sample size toiletries that I had (and I had a LOT because there was a period of my life when I was a super traveller). I also took stock of a fuzzy pink mohair sweater that was gorgeous but just a little small for me. It had a hole on the shoulder so I went to Michael’s and bought a purple butterfly appliqué and attached it properly so that the hole was mended and the sweater looked fabulous. I then put these items in a gift bag and took them to a local children’s shelter. I figured that kids in foster would appreciate nice soaps and shampoos and that someone in the system needed a really fabulous pink mohair sweater with an excellent purple butterfly on the shoulder. And indeed, the women at the front office who took my donation got emotional at the sight of the sweater and were incredibly appreciative of all of it. Can you think of a donation you could make to someone less fortunate than you?
Either you are the one who needs a gift–so give it to yourself–or giving a gift to someone else is just what you need to do in order to feel like this day is not a cause for anguish. But whichever it is, and even if it’s just a small thing, do it. By numbing ourselves or by pretending like our hurt doesn’t exist, we bury responses that may well come up later by way of stomach aches, insomnia, chest pain, or other like. When we shoulder burdens not our own, our necks and upper backs ache from a load of history that weighs heavy even though it belongs not to us. Your body will speak for you when you force things out of your conscious mind. And so, even if you’re not ready to confront the ghosts of your past on this day or even during this year, it is also true that just taking a few small steps to acknowledge and honor your feelings and then to do something kind for yourself is a good way to begin the healing process.
Holidays can be occasions for great joy and celebration or they can be a time of feeling alienated, lonely, and grief-stricken. Know yourself, and know which it is for you. Plan accordingly. There are ways, large and small, to reach out. Only you know what’s best for you. What I do know, though? You’re not alone.
Think ahead, do some self-care planning, and may your day–whatever this day means to you–be one of genuine care for yourself and for anyone in your circle who lacks a mother and feels the absence. It’s just one day (and a couple weeks of annoying advertising) and like all else, this too shall pass. Honor yourself, and let things ebb and flow.
You’re not alone, and may peace be with you.
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX office. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your doctor for health concerns.
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