Mother’s Day Isn’t All Happy; It’s Complicated

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5 Ways People Deal with Mother’s Day… And Life.

Do you have a Mother’s Day Hangover? Not from alcohol (though alcohol may have been involved!) but from family togetherness?

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The accepted idea is that Mother’s Day is a day for everyone to celebrate. Go to brunch. Have a big family dinner. Flowers. Cards. Hugs. After all, everyone has a mother.

Hmmm. Mother’s Day is actually so much more complicated than that.

It is very likely that you are one of millions of people who didn’t get great mothering.

First of all, as a mother myself I am well aware that it is totally impossible to be always on your game. As a mother you know that there are times when you really screw up, even if you are doing the very best you can. Sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth to be the best mom.

We all know this whether we are mothers or not. You can’t always bring your A Game to anything. We all have imperfect mothers—some of them much less perfect than others. As young children we all developed patterns of behaving that helped us make sense of our imperfect world.

Here are 5 of the most popular coping styles I see in my therapy practice:

1. The Overachiever

As a child you did well in school, and maybe in sports or the creative arts as well. You got lots of positive reinforcement for doing well, and felt loved and cherished for being so successful. Now, as an adult, you still do well at work and in most of your endeavors. People find you smart and confident, and are often envious of your success.

But inside you are anxious and unsure. You think that if people really knew you, they would see that it’s all smoke and mirrors. You are like a duck, calm on the surface, but underneath the water you are paddling as fast as you can.

All this success has not brought you the peace of mind you thought it would, and you don’t know where to look for it next.

Your perfectionism is driving you crazy. You want to let go of it, but you just can’t.

Mother’s Day is complicated for you. You love your family, such as it is (hey, we’re all human!), and you want them to love you and make you feel important. But somehow being with your family just highlights the fact that your success isn’t enough. Something is missing.

2. The Easygoing One

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You’ve always been the one who goes with the flow, even as a young child. You seldom get flustered, and you often let the little things go and defer to others who seem to care more. You are well-liked and easy to be around.

The problem is that in your adult relationships—both at work and in your private life—you are starting to feel like you don’t have a voice. You are exhausted from trying not to care too much about your own needs and desires.

Or maybe the issue is even more insidious…

You don’t even know what you want any more.

Mother’s Day is pleasant, you love your family, but these days it seems like they hardly notice you are there.

3. The People Pleaser

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You have always been popular, you love your large friend group and have an active social life. There are always parties and get-togethers to go to; you are never bored or lonely.

At work you are well-liked and the go-to person for many problems that others don’t want to take on. This is starting to get tiring. In fact, if you are truly honest with yourself, you are exhausted and just wish people would take care of their own s**t.

Mother’s Day is a happy event; you are probably the one who organized the family gathering and made the reservations. No one specifically asked you to, but you knew that no one else would do it right if you didn’t do it yourself. Those Mother’s Day reservations go fast, don’t they know that?

4. The Screw Up

Children need attention, and they will get it one way or another. Negative attention is better than no attention, and kids understand this intuitively. In psychology we call the kid who looks for negative attention the “identified patient”, or IP. When parents bring a kid in because they are a problem in one way or another, we look at the whole family to see where the issues are. Kids aren’t born with behavior problems; they are simply expressing some sort of dysfunctional family dynamic.

If you are the family “screw-up” please know that you were doing your best as a kid. Now as an adult you may have a mess on your hands, but with some good professional help you can figure it out, and shed the burden of being the family’s IP.

5. The Sick One

Most kids get attention when they are sick, so kids who otherwise get no attention at all will sometimes become sick a lot. It makes a lot of sense to a young child’s unconscious mind. If you have chronic problems as an adult, this may be part of the equation. I’ve seen families where the parents and children have an unspoken competition over who is sicker. It’s hard to see when you’re in it, but friends and other family members may notice and gently point this out.

It can feel embarrassing to think this might be why you feel lousy all the time, but honestly, your young self was smart; they were doing exactly what they had to in order to get the attention they needed and deserved.

Our bodies have an intuition of their own, and they will tell us when something is not right. Your headaches or stomachaches or back problems may be trying to tell you to pay attention to something that you have been trying to ignore. Listen to your body, it knows.

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We all develop ways of coping as young children that help us to navigate our early world. As adults they are often our greatest strengths. At some point, though, they get in our way. We can end up unhappy, unsatisfied, lost, or even sick.

The good news is that all of these things are within our power to change.

Are You Ready to Make a Change?

If you have had enough of perfectionism, or people-pleasing, or feeling invisible, give me a call at 323-999-1537, or shoot me an email at for your free 20-minute in-office or phone consultation to see how therapy can help you feel better right now!