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Mother’s Day Isn’t Always Like a Hallmark Card

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Alex is a writer and teacher from the UK who lives in Shenzhen, China. She is currently studying for her PhD.

While Mother's Day is usually a happy occasion, for some it is the hardest day of the year.

While Mother's Day is usually a happy occasion, for some it is the hardest day of the year.

History of Mother's Day

Mother’s Day began in 1908 through the work of a woman named Anna Jarvis.1 Jarvis campaigned for the establishment of a mother’s day after the death of her own mother, a social activist whom Anna greatly admired.

It took several years of campaigning up and down the country, but Anna quickly gained support from the public. Many of her supporters wanted a special day to celebrate the amazing mothers and mother figures in their lives.

By 1911, all the states in America observed Mother’s Day, and by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official holiday.

The Perfect Mother's Day?

Many women experience Mother’s Day as a happy, joyful event spent with their families. The day involves being woken up by a hug and kiss and gifts of flowers, chocolates, and hand-made cards.

With older children, perhaps perfume and jewelry, flowers and a nice meal at mom’s favorite restaurant.

While this is the idealized concept of Mother’s Day, the reality, for many, is very different. Here we explore the aspects of Mother’s Day that are rarely discussed.

Mothers of Stepchildren

Depending on the relationship, mothers of stepchildren can find Mother’s Day a difficult balance. As Jamie Scrimgeour notes, “Mother’s Day can be a tough day for (some) stepmoms.... Especially the stepmoms who have wholeheartedly jumped in and provided a motherly role to their step kids.”2

Do the children spend the day with her, or their birth mother? If they choose stepmom, should she feel guilty? What if they don’t? Does that mean the children don’t love her?

Some children go all-out for their birth mother, leaving stepmom feeling jilted, while other children feel more of a bond with their “new mom” and leave their birth mother out in the cold.

Jennifer Aniston in Mother's Day Movie

As Jennifer Aniston's character in the 2016 movie Mother's Day shows, sometimes stepmom is barely older than the kids which can make being amicable a little difficult and lead to a lot of awkward conversations! Either way, bio-mom versus stepmom is often a tense situation for both mothers and children and requires a great deal of communication and maturity to navigate successfully.

Mothers of Grown Children

For women with grown-up children, Mother’s Day is a rather different affair. Long gone are the hand-crafted cards and sticky-fingered hugs. The special day is, for some mothers, a reminder of their fading youth, of their empty nest, and a reminder that their parenting days are over.

However, it is not always a gloomy affair. Mother’s Day can be a very rewarding experience for mothers of grown children because adult children are able to do more to show their appreciation of their mother.

Since adult children don’t usually need to “borrow” mom’s money to buy a gift and are earning their own wages they can treat mom to something really special such as taking her out to a fancy restaurant or even on a special trip!

Unlike small children, grown children don’t (usually) need to be reminded that it’s Mom’s Day. They are less likely to ruin everything by throwing a tantrum, and are (slightly) less likely to eat mom’s chocolates!

However, some adult children can’t be with their moms on Mother’s Day.

Adult children who have grown up and begun lives and families of their own may be too far away or too busy to visit mom. There’s also often a new mom in town in the form of daughter, or son’s wife. As a result, Grandma can feel she is left out on the sidelines on Mother’s Day.

“Connect with your grandchildren,” advises Joanne Stern.3 “Let them know how much they contribute to your life. Plan ways to become a better grandma and more intimately involved with them.”

The Childless and the Childfree

Two completely different groups of women who have to deal with Mother’s Day, and who are sadly often considered to be the same, are the childless and the childfree.

Childless women come in a variety of forms.

They may be women who simply haven’t entered motherhood yet because they are young or trying to get their life settled. These women may regard the day with vague indifference or enthusiastic expectation of their own future motherhood.

However, some childless women are so because they have not been able to conceive a child. Some of these women have suffered countless miscarriages or spent thousands of dollars on IVF and would love nothing more than to be presented with an already half-eaten box of chocolates and a sticky card by their little one.

For this group of childless women, Mother’s Day is a very painful reminder of what could have been.

“[We may not have] a child to lift out of a crib every morning or pick up from school in the afternoons…Nevertheless, we are still mothers,” says Robin Cassady,4 who suggests women who have miscarried should still celebrate Mother’s Day because it can help with the processes of grieving and healing.

On the other end of the spectrum are the childfree. A group of women who don’t want children, many of whom shudder at the mere thought of being woken up by a gummy-mouthed midget on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning.

For childfree women, besides celebrating their own mothers, Mother’s Day is nothing more than a mild annoyance to be endured before another half-priced chocolate day.

Mothers of Absent Children

While we all tend to imagine Mother’s Day as one of those stereotypical “Kodak moments” that are picture-perfect visions of smiling, happy families, there are all kinds of reasons why a mother may not get to celebrate her special day with her children.

While this may be because the children have grown up and moved away, or they're with their bio or step-mom, sadly, other more permanent situations can cause mothers to be away from their children on Mother’s Day. These include situations where mothers are estranged from their children, mothers don't have custody of their kids, or when a mother or child is sick in the hospital.

Another situation that is rarely discussed is the mothers who have lost a child. This may be the death of an adult child from an accident or illness or the death of a young one. For any mother who can’t be with a child they love, the celebrations of Mother’s Day can be a very difficult time even if other children or relatives are present.

In this situation, some mothers find it best to avoid Mother’s Day reminders and keep busy. Others spend the day with other loved ones or find companionship from mothers going through similar ordeals.

It's Your Day

“If you’re alone, do what you want,” says Sheri McGregor.5 “After all, it’s your day.”

If you get to spend a loving Mother’s Day with your mother or your children with sticky hugs and gummy smiles and hand-made cards, then savor every moment. Moms are truly amazing women who help define who we are and who we become,6 and the joy of children is what makes being a mother all worthwhile.7


  1. Antolini, Katharine Lane. Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother's Day. West Virginia University Press. 2014.
  2. Scrimgeour, Jamie. To the Step-Mom Feeling Unappreciated on Mother’s Day. May 5, 2020.
  3. Stern, Joanne Stern. Celebrating Mother’s Day With Your Adult Children. Psychology Today. May 7, 2010.
  4. Cassady, Robin. You’re Still a Mother on Mother’s Day if You’ve Had a Miscarriage. HuffPost. April 15, 2015.
  5. McGregor, Sheri. Done With the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children. Sowing Creek Press. April 26, 2017.
  6. Penn, Steph D. Dear Mom, 10 Reasons I’m Thankful for My Mommy. VenusDiva. May 8, 2013.
  7. Johnson, Stacy. 15 Reasons I Am Grateful for My Kids. Daily Herald. November 26, 2014.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.