Melancholy on Mother’s Day? You’re not alone

Mother’s Day can be a mixed blessing for a woman who has a child with a disability. For years after our son Gus was born, I begged my husband not to get me a gift for Mother’s Day. “I’m not your mother!” I told him.

I knew Gus wouldn’t be making me a card. He wouldn’t be presenting me with dandelions picked especially for me. Our son has severe mental and physical disabilities—he doesn’t understand what Mother’s Day is.

Me with Gus at lunch during a recent visit to Wisconsin.

I was determined not to let any of that bother me though. I knew I was a good mother, and I knew my son loved me in his own special way. But then one year—Gus must have been 5 or 6—I burst into tears on Mother’s Day. “I’ll never get to celebrate like all the other mothers do!” I wailed. My poor husband didn’t know what to do.

Turns out our reactions were typical. For a lot of parents, coming to terms with a child’s special needs is like going through a grief process. On that Mother’s Day, I was feeling a profound sense of loneliness, but this article on the states of grief for parents of children with special needs reassures me I am not alone:

These feelings of grief and loss are often experienced but rarely spoken about or shared. Parents may be worried that expressing their feelings of anger, depression or fear may not be welcomed or tolerated by those around them. They may even feel pressure from family and friends to be “strong” or to remain positive, leaving those feelings of grief without a place for expression. It is important for families to understand and talk about these feelings, and to know that what they are feeling is natural.

Ever since that outburst of mine, we’ve gone out of our way to celebrate Mother’s Day. This year we started early. I shopped for clothes last week, and when I couldn’t decide between two outfits, my husband whispered, “get them both.” He said Gus wanted me to have new clothes for Mother’s Day. I wore one of the new outfits this past week when my husband and I went out for a special dinner.

Instead of Mother’s Day, I now celebrate Mother’s Month. For the real Mother’s Day we’ll head to a nearby town to visit my son’s grandmother—my mom, Flo. And next Saturday we’ll head to Wisconsin to visit our grown son in his group home. We’re proud of him. I’m proud to be his mom and happy to celebrate Mother’s Month as a family.


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