What Makes Mother's Day So Complicated? What Makes Father's Day So Different?

We just celebrated Mother’s Day this month. How was it for you? For some people, men and women alike, it can be complicated. Feelings sometimes emerge out of left field with no warning at all. They can include anger, disappointment, longing, joy, abandonment, jealousy, loneliness and confusion just to name a few. Why is this holiday, which is supposed to be a joyful celebration fraught with such complication?

For many of us, it brings up feelings that have been buried, never acknowledged, or seen as inconsequential until Mother’s Day approaches, arrives, or leaves us wanting. I remember well the first Mother’s Day I experienced after my mother’s death in 2012. I became acutely aware of a feeling I’d never experienced or articulated before: I’m an orphan. The sheer word made me shudder a bit. How could I feel such a thing this late in my life! I immediately tried to downplay it by trying to talk myself out of it. “You’re in your 60’s what did you expect?” But no amount of self-talk could quell the stark reality of what I was feeling: I’m alone in the world without my mom.

Some of us feel this same feeling even when our mothers are still alive. We long for connection that just isn’t there. We recognize we have felt like an “emotional orphan” most of our lives. Was there something so wrong with me that caused her not to want me? We wrestle with deep feelings of inadequacy, bewilderment, and self-worth.

If you have struggled with any of these feelings you are not alone. The first step is just to acknowledge that your feelings exist and to accept them. The next step is often the hardest. It is to allow yourself to feel the loss and grief of not having your mom or the kind of relationship that you wish you would have had. The final step is to be creative. Do something different. It may mean connecting with an older woman you admire and spending time with her. It might include having lunch, going shopping, discussing a book you’ve read recently or taking an unhurried walk in nature. It may mean being intentional with your own children whether they are young children or are now adults. Create some new memories and celebrate who they are and who you have become.

Finally, give yourself time. The steps above are not quick fixes. You may find it beneficial to journal, talk with a trusted friend or see a counselor. They will take a process of time but I promise it will be well-worth the investment, both for you and those you love.

With Father’s Day approaching, I hope you will begin thinking about your feelings, frustrations, expectations, losses and desires in advance so that you are not blindsided. For some, Father’s Day evokes a very different set of feelings than those they experience at Mother’s Day. Stop for a minute right now and think about your father. What images, words or memories come immediately to mind? How do you feel about what came to your mind?

For me, when I think about my father it’s a mixed bag. My parents divorced when I was 5 and I had little relationship with my biological father growing up. My mother remarried when I was 8 so I was raised by my step-father who later abused me. It took years for me to come to grips with the “longing” I had for a father who genuinely loved me. I was abandoned by my biological father and abused by my step-father.

My step-father, however, played a significant role in my religious upbringing. We began attending church as a family and at the very young age of 10, I gave my heart to Jesus. For the first time in my life, I felt genuinely loved and secure. That decision was life-changing. It did not immediately heal all the hurts and disappointments I carried as a child and on into adulthood. It was the beginning of learning what it was like to have a Father in heaven who deeply loves me, desires to be in relationship with me, and calls me His own.

Maybe like me, you’ve never known the deep love of a father. As Father’s Day approaches it stirs in your heart such a longing to be loved and adored. I understand. There’s more to my story that I am anxious to tell you about. But for now, know that the healing of the “father wound” is a process and it requires your honesty, vulnerability, and willingness.

Take some time to write out your feelings and longings. Ask God for help. Share with a trusted friend or counselor and begin the journey today. I’m with you and I’m praying for you!