By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Holidays are supposed to be times of joy and celebrations. However, for people whose family circumstances aren’t exactly how they may want them to be, holidays can be really rough. In fact, holidays often highlight the stressors and challenges that come from difficult relationship and family circumstances, even when people have adjusted to these stressors on a more day-to-day basis.

Along these lines, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very hard for single parents, whatever the circumstances led them to be a single parent. And so, with Mother’s Day fast approaching, today’s blog post will focus on helping single moms to make the most of the upcoming holiday and manage some of the difficult feelings and experiences that can come along with it. If you’re not a single mom, but if you know and care about someone who is, this post is for you, too, as you can think through ways you might offer support, encouragement, or celebration to help bring some joy to that mom on this Mother’s Day.

To all the single moms reading this: You deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day (and every day, of course)! However, depending on how old your children are and how much social support you have close to you, being celebrated on Mother’s Day might not happen as easily as it does for other moms. So, this Mother’s Day, I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to celebrate yourself and soak up as much celebration and support from others, including your children, as you can. To help make the most of Mother’s Day as a single mom, consider the following tips:

  1. Set realistic expectations.

Let me tell you about one of my own memorable Mother’s Day experiences, back in 2014. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. I had decided I’d take the day off from housework, but then a mess led to an unavoidable load of laundry that needed to be done. I had planned a Mother’s Day craft to make with my kids, and the crafts turned out so bad that we had to throw them in the trash. My kids whined and yelled off and on all day. Then, a nice man offered to take our photo in the park, but the photo turned out like this:

What a mess that day turned out to be! I wish I could say that was my only Mother’s Day that didn’t go according to the plan, but 2014 was just one of the many that have gone down like that over the years.

For many years, Mother’s Day for me was always a huge disappointment. I somehow expected that my children would understand that Mother’s Day was my special day and magically give me a day free from misbehavior, crying, whining, and/or fussing. I thought I’d get to sit back and be celebrated and appreciated all day–for just this one day that was supposed to be mine.

That kind of thinking made for some really difficult Mother’s Days for me until I realized I needed to go into the day with more realistic expectations. That same misbehavior, crying, whining, and fussing that happens every other day? Well, most likely, I’ll see it on Mother’s Day, too. There’s always lots of good behavior and fun as well, so I needed to learn to accept the bad with the good.

I had to learn to set realistic expectations for what Mother’s Day might look like. This is especially important for single moms who may not have another adult on hand all day to help manage the challenging parts of parenting that day. So, if you’re a single mom, take time before Mother’s Day to examine your expectations for the day, and adjust them to be more realistic if needed. Going into the day with realistic expectations will help avoid setting yourself up for the disappointment and frustration that can come from setting too high of a goal for what it would take to give you a good holiday.

  1. Consider your social media usage on Mother’s Day.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to stay off of all social media on Mother’s Day. However, if the thought of scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram page and seeing your friends’ pictures of their spouses serving them breakfast in bed, bringing them flowers, or sending them to the spa for hours of pampering makes you feel jealousy, sadness, or insecurity about your own situation, then it’s a good idea for you to consider limiting how much you’ll engage with social media on Mother’s Day.

Social media usage can lead you to compare your own life with the lives of others, which may lead you to feel worse about your own situation. Social comparison via social media can kill your your joy, and it’s unfair to compare your life to others’ in this way. Remember that people often present the best versions of themselves on social media, so their posts may not reflect their own challenges and struggles on Mother’s Day–and every day.

As Mother’s Day approaches, take time to consider if it would help you to limit your social media usage on the holiday. Also, think through how you can monitor your thoughts and feelings if you do use social media, such as by noticing if negative emotions come up or if you start comparing yourself to others.

  1. Teach your children how to celebrate you.

Teach your children about the meaning of Mother’s Day and why it’s important to take time to celebrate you on this day. This may feel sort of silly or uncomfortable, and you might feel like you’re being selfish or vain asking to be celebrated in this way. If you feel this discomfort, do it anyway! This isn’t just about being celebrated on this one day–it’s about teaching your children a valuable life lesson about the importance of intentionally celebrating the important people in their lives.

Think of it this way: If your own children become parents someday, how would you want them to treat their future spouse on Mother’s or Father’s Day? How do you want them to treat you on future Mother’s Days when they’re adults? By teaching your children to honor you on Mother’s Day, you’re instilling an important value in them that will help them have stronger relationships throughout their lives.

As Mother’s Day approaches, take time to talk with your children about holidays and why it’s important to celebrate people on special days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. With younger children, you might find a picture book at your local bookstore or library to help explain the importance of this day. Older children might be interested in learning about the history of Mother’s Day.

Beyond just teaching your child about Mother’s Day, help them find a developmentally-appropriate way to celebrate you. For older children, this may mean doing extra help with chores or serving you breakfast in bed. Younger children may enjoy making you a craft or personal card. One fun way to allow your children to treat you on Mother’s Day is to give them a small amount of money to spend at a store (my favorite is the dollar store!), and then let them pick out things they think you’d like. At the very least, you’ll get a laugh out of seeing what they pick! And, even though they’re spending your money, you’re starting to help them learn how to think about other people’s likes so they can give thoughtful gifts to others on their special days.

  1. Plan something that you want to do on Mother’s Day.

In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, think about what you can do to make the most of the holiday this year. Do you like spending time outside? Plan to visit a local park or gardens. Do you enjoy being active and getting exercise? Make plans to take the kids with you for a walk or run. Or do you prefer relaxing and being still? Maybe a movie would be a good plan for the day. Whatever you like to do, consider how you can build time for it into your day.

What if your kids don’t like your plan? Again, think of this as an opportunity to teach them to celebrate others on their special days. Let’s say you decide you want to go out for Mexican food for Mother’s Day, but your kids start whining that they don’t like Mexican food. Seize the teaching moment before you and talk with them about why Mother’s Day is your special time, and they can help you have the best day by going with you and helping you to have a good time eating the food you like with you. Then, do your best to enjoy the experience, even if their behavior isn’t perfect!

You put your own needs to the side so much so that you can make your kids happy, so take time on Mother’s Day to indulge in something that will make you feel happy and fulfilled. And remember: You’re not just doing this for yourself, but also to show your kids that moms deserve to do the things they like to do, too!

  1. Enlist support from friends and family.

I hope you have a solid support network around you. Positive social support is so crucial to single parents every day, and especially on holidays. To help avoid feeling alone or isolated on Mother’s Day, reach out to you friends and family members to see who is available to get together. This can be hard on holidays, when many people focus on spending time with their own families. However, especially if you don’t have extended family members nearby, try to see who you could connect with for some Mother’s Day fun together.

Be patient with friends or extended family members who don’t realize the unique challenges you face as a single mom on Mother’s Day. Many people who haven’t walked that road themselves don’t understand how lonely and isolating holidays can be for single parents. Instead, talk with trusted friends and family members to let them know what it’s like for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support that you need. For example, you might say, “I always feel a little lonely on Mother’s Day since I don’t have a spouse to help my kids do something for me. Do you think you’d be willing to help me out a little this year on Mother’s Day?” Many friends and family members would be happy to lend a hand, but they just don’t know what your needs are unless you tell them! And, if you know other single moms, be sure to reach out to them on Mother’s Day as well. Send them an encouraging text message, give them a call, or plan to spend some time  that day so you don’t have to celebrate on your own.

  1. Honor any hurting feelings that come up.

Despite all your best efforts to make the most of your Mother’s Day, know that it’s normal for difficult feelings to come up for single parents on holidays. You may face reminders of past holidays when a former relationship was intact, you may feel sadness when you see married friends be celebrated by their spouses, or you may get frustrated and exhausted when your kids misbehave. You may feel a lot of pressure to pretend like everything is okay, especially when you see media images of perfect mothers being celebrated. However, it’s important to honor your feelings, and know that it’s normal to have hurting feelings, even on holidays. It just means you’re human!

Consider how best to honor those emotions as they come up. You might talk through them with a close friend, write about them in a journal, or take a few quiet moments for reflection. You may also find it helpful to talk them through with a professional counselor or therapist. These hurting feelings can offer powerful insights to help you heal and also to embrace your life as a single mom, as they also offer clues to parts of your life experiences that you still may not have come to terms with. Take time to recognize and honor any emotions that come up for you on Mother’s Day, and remember that it’s normal to have some hurting feelings even on days that society tells us are supposed to be full of happiness and celebration.

  1. If all else fails, remind yourself you’ll have another chance next year!

You may take all the steps above, and still find that your Mother’s Day experience falls short. You may reach the end of the day and feel disappointment and sadness. Those valuable life lessons about celebrating other people on their special days just may not have gotten through to your children, leaving you feeling unappreciated and undervalued. You may be wishing you could have a do-over, but you know it’ll be another 365 days until you have another shot at a better Mother’s Day.

I wish I could offer you that Mother’s Day do-over, but instead the best I can offer is a reminder that Mother’s Day will roll around again, and you’ll have another chance next year. But, better yet, all of the tips listed above can be practiced any day! Your do-over can come the next day, and the day after, and the day after that. That’s part of the beauty in motherhood. Each day brings new challenges and stress, but it also brings the opportunity for a fresh start. As a single mom, you are uniquely positioned to be the kind of mother that you want to become, and it’s a daily process of figuring out what that will look like and how to make it happen. So, when Mother’s Day doesn’t go as you planned, release that day but look to the lessons you can learn from it, and then turn around the next day–and all the days after that–and use those lessons to continue to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

Single moms–Know that Mother’s Day is a special day for you. You may have to get a little creative and to make it the kind of day that you want it to be, and you also may have to release some of society’s, as well as your own, expectations of what the day is “supposed” to look like. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have on Mother’s Day, take time to celebrate and honor what you do have–strength, courage, and the love of and for your children. 

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