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Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us

And maybe that was how it was supposed to be…joy and sadness were part of the package; the trick, perhaps, was to let yourself feel all of it – but to hold on to the joy just a little more tightly.  

-Kristin Hannah

I have a complicated relationship with Mother’s Day.

In the past few weeks I’ve written multiple blog posts focusing on Mother’s Day: Gifts for All the Moms in Your Life, Creative Twists on Flowers for Mom, Clever Substitutes for the Mother’s Day Card and How to Make a Reasons I Love You List. I enjoyed writing them…chatting with the Etsy vendors that I featured and searching for all the fun ways to celebrate the moms in our lives.

Personally, I have two of the most amazing step kids on the planet. Seriously, I do. They are smart, hard-working, generous and kind. They have the biggest hearts. They are two of the greatest blessings of my life. They call me Sheri. Occasionally SherBear. Once or twice DreamCrusher.

They do allow me the lovely privilege of ‘mothering’ them from time to time. But they do not call me Mom. Because they already have one of those.

By the traditional definition, I myself am not a mother.

There is a world of difference between the privilege of mothering and being called Mom. As anyone who is not called Mom can tell you.

And so Mother’s Day has primarily represented for me the loss of the life I thought I was going to have, the one that didn’t turn out the way I expected. It highlighted the fact that even though I am surrounded by lovely children (in addition to the super stepkids) who are precious to me, no one is ever going to call me Mom. And occasionally that is still painful to think about, but never more than on the second Sunday in May.

Mother’s Day is the day that I visit the graveside of a dream that I have laid to rest. And standing by that grave, I say goodbye one more time to the dream of motherhood. A piece of my heart grieves for something that I will never have.

It doesn’t matter that in the end it was my choice not to have children. The loss of a dream doesn’t care how it came to be.

I know that I’m not the only one who visits a grave like this one. Infertility, the loss of a child, the loss of a beloved mother, there are so many ways Mother’s Day can be difficult for people. 

For many years I have quietly stepped away from the celebration. And for a long time I felt guilty for being sad about Mother’s Day. Like I should just get over myself or I was being ungrateful for all the blessings I do have in my life. But the truth is that we all experience and process loss in our own way. That process evolves over time. But we shouldn’t need to apologize for it.

If Mother’s Day is tricky for you as well, ask yourself what your heart needs. I have found that giving my grief a little breathing room makes a big difference.

Ignoring the hurt your heart feels doesn’t make it disappear. It only makes it more painful.

Over the last five years or so, however, Mother’s Day has evolved into a day that is both bitter AND sweet for me. For a time, my stepkids needed me in a new way that made me actually feel for the first time what it is like (or what I think it must be like) to be a ‘Mom’. And while I can only hope that I showed up for them in the way that they needed, I know that the privilege to be there for them in this new way shifted something in me.

One of the wonders and curiosities of being human is that we can hold both joy and loss in our hearts simultaneously.

The two are far from being mutually exclusive. And it can be a bit confusing, I think, to be so thankful and joyful about one aspect of your life and yet sad at the same time. But that is part of what living looks like, isn’t it? And learning how to navigate between these two emotions requires that we be gentle with ourselves. Even though I do believe we always have the option to choose joy, sometimes joy has to share its seat on the bus for a stop or two.

If you are struggling with something that other people are celebrating, that’s okay. It doesn’t make you ungrateful, it just makes you human. And if you are feeling both joy and loss at the same time? Yep, human again.

You don’t need to feel guilty about having mixed feelings. Be kind to your heart. What you need may change over time. That’s okay, too.

I still experience the pain of something lost on Mother’s Day. But there is also the joy of all that I have: as a daughter, niece, godmother, auntie…and most especially these days as a step-mother. My two step-children have given me such a gift with their love and their presence in my life.

I am still never going to be anyone’s Mom. But over time I have found that in spite of that loss, there are still so many reasons for joy. I hope this Sunday your heart finds some of them, too.

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