As May rolls around each year, millions of people will rush to buy gifts, cards and flowers for the mother figures in their lives. They will spend May 14 spoiling said mother figures – with lunches, phone calls and other meaningful gestures that show the women who have guided them just how much they are appreciated.
But for so many other people, Mother’s Day can be a challenging time – especially for those who have lost their mothers, have difficult relationships with them, or are struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss.
It’s important to acknowledge and support those who find this day hard, and to recognise that not everyone has the same experience. To provide some guidance on how to support loved ones who may be struggling, we asked clinical psychologist Jaimie Bloch to share some of her tips and advice on how to navigate this sensitive time with empathy and understanding.
“Unfortunately, there are no magic words,” says Jaimie. “The best thing you can do is ask that person how they are feeling in a non-judgmental and open manner.
It is important to remember that grieving, mourning, and remembering are so individual and we do not want to start off any conversation with an assumption for that person. Therefore as supportive friends or loved ones, we want to ask questions, be curious and hold our loved ones in mourning or grief through honest and authentic loving conversation that is not based on an assumption of how they should feel.”
Ahead, here are some things that Jaimie encourages us to remember:
How to support someone who finds Mother’s Day challenging:
1. Do not be scared to reach out, out of fear you will sound dumb or say something stupid. The last thing a mourning and grieving person wants is silence.
2. Do not assume how someone is feeling. The spectrum of emotions in grief is vast. For many, Mother’s Day may be painful. For others, they may be looking back on positive memories, or feeling hopeful for the future. We are not mind readers and we should never assume how someone may feel. When we make assumptions we could possibly be making that person feel worse or unheard on a day that is difficult.
3. Check in with your friend or loved one authentically. This means knowing how to open the conversation.
Start simply by saying: “You’ve been on my mind today, how has your morning been going so far?” or “Hey, been thinking about you today. I wanted to check in and see how you were feeling?”.
These types of questions are open and allow the person who may be experiencing some grief or sadness an option to discuss how they are going with no expectations.
4. Allow the grieving person to share with you what they feel. This may mean they may share their hard and painful emotions or they may share their special, hopeful and positive memories. They may choose to share nothing. Whatever the case, it is important to allow that sharing to take place. Do not press them for more or try to investigate if they are lying or hiding how they feel. All anyone ever needs to know is that someone is thinking of them, there is someone safe to share with if they choose, and that is their choice.
How to support yourself if you are finding Mother’s Day tricky:
1. Sit with your feelings, whatever they are. Whatever you feel is ok. You may feel a mix of many feelings, sadness, anger, hope, and joy. For many, there is a pain but there also may be loving memories or hopeful thoughts for the future. It is normal to experience this range of emotions.
2. Acknowledge your feelings and know they are valid. It’s ok if someone else feels different to you, everyone mourns and grieves in different ways and it is individual to each person. It is important to acknowledge and validate your own feelings rather than feel guilty or ashamed.
3. Find a way to honour your loved one or the memory/thought. Rituals are a great way to honour someone or a memory. It could involve something you did with the person you are grieving or it could be a ritual to honour the dream or hope you shared for this day. Whether it’s lighting a candle, gardening, going to sit at the beach and watching the waves, whatever feels honouring and respectful for that person or memory is most important and individual.
4. Look at your routine in the days and weeks coming up to this day. Grief and loss can take a mental and physical toll on you. Therefore in the weeks leading up, it is important to make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and getting out for movement and exercise and doing things that spark joy and connection. Taking care of yourself in the lead-up will help you manage better on the day.
5. Connect with others. This may be reaching out to loved ones you feel safe to share how you are feeling with. It is also a great idea to get onto forums and find communities with other people who have shared experiences as you. It will help you feel less alone. Support groups and forums can be a great way to feel less alone and speak with those who have shared experiences.
6. Speak to a professional. We often feel like we must hold it all together and get on with things, whilst we quietly suffer in silence. You do not need to hold this mental and physical load alone. If you feel like you are bursting at the seams more often than not, it is important to know that you can reach out for professional support. Psychological support can give you tools to move through your grief, help you learn to share how you are feeling or give you an open space to vent without judgement.
Jaimie Bloch is a Clinical Psychologist, Behavioural Expert, Researcher and Program Developer.
She is passionate about working with youth and adults in understanding, developing and managing the human experience. Jaimie has been working with youth and adults within a range of contexts since 2007. She is an expert behavioural consultant for children and adolescents and has a special interest in the treatment, creation and management of interventions both in individual, group, school and online forums for children, adolescents, adults and families.
Jaimie has spent years studying and perfecting her craft with a Bachelor of Psychological Science, a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours), a Graduate Diploma of Professional Psychology and a Master’s of Psychology (Clinical).