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Being a Motherless Daughter and a Mother on Mother’s Day

Image by Clare SillenceIt is thirty three years since my mother died. She died before I had any children of my own. I was blessed with a beautiful and very much loved stepmother who lived overseas, so I didn’t get to see her very often. She died two years ago.

The thought of Mother’s Day can quite easily trigger old memories, flashbacks, and put added stress and strain onto already high expectations of how “Mother’s Day should be.”

Mother’s Day for me, has always brought about mixed emotions. I have three beautiful young adult children whom I am endlessly proud of, and still I feel a twinge of emotional pain and sadness when I see a mother with her mother and baby. I never had this experience and miss what I never had. What would it have been like? I try to imagine how my mother would have been as a support to me, and as a grandmother to my children, and whether having her around would have shaped me as a mother, and shaped my children as they developed and grew into young adults. I know my mother would have been as proud as I am.  

I will watch my children just as I did when they were little. I will take deep breaths, take a step back, and not judge or comment on some of the decisions or choices they make. I will feel intense and incredible pain when they are hurt. I will support them to feel their hurt, even though all I want to do is take their pain away. I will notice that I am feeling this way, and that I am also feeling the pain of losing my own mother.

There are confusing messages about what it is to be a mother. There is the idealized portrayal of the “perfect mother”, and the criticisms of a mother’s role, and the failings and imperfections of such. The marketing and advertising associated with Mother’s Day is a constant reminder of what some of us may not have had. I write this article for all the mothers out there who feel guilt, sadness, loneliness; who are grieving for the mother they never had, for the mother who left the planet too soon, or for the mother who wasn’t “around” for them. How do you take care of yourself when different emotions are triggered by such a day as Mother’s Day?  

I know for me, when my children were small, I needed my mother, and I needed some peace and quiet, and to have some time without my children! Am I a horrible mother for thinking this? That mother guilt can get in the way of being in those small and lovely moments.

Big Expectations

The retail, beauty, and relaxation industry to name but a few; all jump on the Mother’s Day “wagon”. The expectations for the perfect Mother’s Day, gift, meal, entertainment, are so great. I have some lovely memories of the little things that made it worthwhile being a mother to little people, and they are not all on Mother’s Day.

I do remember my children’s father suggesting one Mother’s Day that I fly to another City to be with a good friend. I also remember that Mother’s Day in particular, because it was spent without my children. I felt sandwiched in by the intense guilt about leaving the children and not spending the day with them, and the incredible sadness of not having my own mother around. My children’s father was able to show my children and teach them, that I needed time for myself, and that it was about taking care of me.

I learned many lessons about taking care of me, and my children also learned that the best gift you can give to your mother is the space and time to replenish that mother energy and mother love so that you don’t carry any unconscious or overt resentment being with them, because my “cup was full” again.


Some school teachers get the children to give their mothers “Chore” vouchers.  This is a lovely idea. I would add a voucher for “Two, three or four hour’s peace without the children”. This may seem totally alien to some mothers. I can only say that with practice it can get easier to do!

I remember a different visit to the same friend, I stayed with in the city. The big shopping centers were a novelty to me, and I enjoyed going shopping. My friend taught me such an important and powerful lesson. She said to me, “We are going shopping, but we are not going anywhere near any children’s departments or toy shops. We are going shopping for you. The children will be happy with some Smarties.” I felt extremely uncomfortable not looking for any child-related items, but it did wear off eventually, and I did feel totally replenished for prioritizing me.  

Taking care of your children’s mother

  • Be realistic about expectations of the day — it is one day of the year and 364 other days as a mother.
  • Plan activities that you would like to do. No one says that you have to spend this time with family if this is too difficult for you.
  • Give yourself permission to create new memories.
  • Focus on your emotional and physical health.
  • Notice when things are feeling overwhelming, and do something that you enjoy.
  • Read a book, watch your favorite movie, spend time with a friend, take a day off, or go for a walk.
  • Reflect on all of the things you have achieved this year.
  • Be kind to yourself — acknowledge the sadness of your own loss and treat yourself with self-compassion. There are many articles and exercises on self-compassion.
  • Give yourself permission to create a different view of being a mother — it’s not all about the “Hallmark card” version. It can be a job that is thankless, hard work, under-valued, and unrewarding a lot of the time.
  • Tell yourself that you are not alone in this.
  • Notice and acknowledge the feelings of guilt and do stuff anyway.
  • Live by your values of what it means to be a mother every day.
  • Practice mindfulness. For example, if your child asks to make a cake, your mind may go to the future of “what about the mess they are going to make?” or “it’s easier to do it myself”,  keep coming back to the present moment experience.
  • Let your kitchen off the hook and have takeaway dinner.
  • Stay home for a few hours without your children. If you don’t have the luxury of someone to care for your children, go to a park or outdoors where there is some space.
  • Have a bubble bath with the door locked!
  • Make time for relationships outside your family that are rewarding and fulfilling.
  • Book a massage, pedicure or hair appointment.
  • Go to the movies by yourself.
  • Listen to music with headphones.
  • Go shopping without going near a children’s department!
Being a Motherless Daughter and a Mother on Mother’s Day

Clare Sillence

Clare is a mother, counsellor and clinical social worker in private practice, Brisbane, Australia. She has been counselling children, adolescents and adults since 1994.

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APA Reference
Sillence, C. (2018). Being a Motherless Daughter and a Mother on Mother’s Day. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.