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When Mother's Day is the Opposite of Happy

When Mother's Day is the Opposite of Happy

I really wanted to pull all the greeting cards off the Target shelves, tear them in half, and leave aisles of shrapnel. I wanted to create a messy war scene, a rage against happiness.

Everything around me - commercials, greeting cards, scads of merchandise, and even the wallpaper on a Google search - boasted with whimsical lettering: Happy Mother's Day. Happy, happy, happy. 

I wanted to shred them all.

The thing is, I'm a mom. Mother's Day is a greeting card holiday designed for the likes of me. But my heart was broken. My husband had died, and I had become a widowed single mom. The man who had made me a mother, who got the name 'Dad' on the same day I got the name 'Mom,' wasn't here to celebrate with me.

It's been four years since Robb died so suddenly and tragically, and if I'm honest, Mother's Day is still a difficult day. And here's what I've learned: I’m not the only one walking through a land mine on a day when the world seems to be rejoicing. Mother’s Day can be a joyful day, but for so many, that second Sunday in May isn’t the happy facade the greeting card industry makes it out to be.

Women long to be mothers, but biology betrays them with the inability to conceive or carry a child. They are weary of hearing how exhausted parents are, since they would give anything to feel that overwhelming fatigue.

Birth moms have given their children to adoptive parents, and though they know their children are happy and healthy in someone else’s home, their arms ache with emptiness and remembering.

Couples have suffered the scars of infant loss or miscarriage, the absence of a heartbeat and the death of a dream. Others have opened their hearts and homes to children through foster care and adoption, but their hearts ache on Mother’s Day for the relationships lost, the wounds their children carry, and the indisputable fact that this child started life with someone else. One friend invited me into her hurt when she shared,

“Adoption is always born of brokenness. People are tempted to say that this is what God wanted, this is what he had in mind all along. But adoption means someone’s arms are empty, and it doesn’t cure infertility. One does not cancel out the other. I am completely in love with the children I’ve adopted, and I so wish to know what it would have been like to give birth to them myself. Mother’s Day is a mixed bag of emotions for me.” 

Men, women, and children of all ages are estranged from their mothers, grieving the loss of her mind to dementia, or forging their way through the first year without her. Maybe she passed away several years ago, and this year is harder than others. There are men who have a broken relationship with the mother of their children. There are moms with more children than they can count on one hand, a veritable quiver filled with arrows, and honestly she’d just really love a little breathing space to call her own for five minutes. 

There are single moms who are so exhausted that the last thing they can manage is to teach their children to celebrate her, and she certainly can’t afford to buy herself anything and pretend it’s from them. 

In my book, Let’s Pretend We’re Normal: Adventures in Rediscovering How To Be A Family, I penned a grace note to women in this club, 

“Single moms are moms. And that is valiant, courageous, constant work. I read somewhere this saying about single moms that I love: no matter how we came on board, we are in the same boat. Yes, grief from death is a deep cut, but it is a clean cut. The grief from divorce is deep and jagged. It’s a wound I do not know, and my heart aches if you are one who must carry your children through this field of land mines."

Mother’s Day can be terribly painful, especially inside the church. We ask moms to stand, we applaud the moms in the congregation, we show tear-jerking videos about moms on the big screen, and we give fresh carnations - only to the moms.

“But Tricia,” you might be thinking, “we love to celebrate the moms in our church on Mother’s Day. It’s part of our church culture and our springtime traditions, and the moms of our church really love it.” 

Yes, I believe all of this could very well be true, and perhaps the tradition should continue. Certainly we can’t go around canceling calendar events because someone might feel alienated. If you have a mom - or if you know a mom - then by all means, celebrate her on Mother’s Day. But please, do not expect the church or the world at large to do it for you in ways that wound people who already feel left out.

You may not know the stories of the people around you, but everybody has one, and Mother’s Day can feel like a land mine. If I may speak for those with hurting hearts, a celebration tempered with sensitivity is an unspeakably beautiful gift.

Dear Jesus, Man of sorrows, you know our broken hearts. You are good, faithful, and unchanging, even when we hurt. I thank you for the gifts of parenting, but I thank you also for the gifts of healing. Thank you for mothers, and thank you for those with broken hearts and the courage to be loved. You walk with those who are broken hearted, and you are near to those who are crushed in spirit.

Excerpted from Let's Pretend We're Normal by Tricia Lott Williford Copyright © 2015 by Tricia Lott Williford. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Tricia Lott Williford’s great loves are teaching, writing, and her two young sons. Her first book, And Life Comes Back is an ECPA finalist for the 2015 Christian Book Award in the New Author category. Her second book, Let's Pretend We're Normal releases in May, 2015. She lives in Colorado with her sons and blogs regularly at