05/09/2015 09:34 EDT | Updated 05/09/2016 05:59 EDT

For Some People, Mother's Day Is a Little More Complicated

Felbert Eickenberg / STOCK4B via Getty Images

Since my mom died almost 10 years ago, I've struggled with Mother's Day. It doesn't help that I am also childless and single. I have no doting mom to take out for brunch; no bright-eyed children trying to feed me scorched pancakes in bed; no annoying mother-in-law to placate. Not even a partner to present me with a card from the "furkids." (As for the furkids themselves, they are sadly lacking in culinary and card-buying skills.) And so: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. My Mother's Days are as wide open as the Saskatchewan sky.

My personal opinion is that "mother" is the most important role a woman fills, as her love and encouragement for children makes the world a better place for all of us. I have many wonderful mothers in my life. My sister is the mother of three beautiful adult daughters; and those daughters are all mothers to a motley crew of adorable rugrats. My Auntie Mary stepped into the role of "mother" for me as best she could since my mom passed away.

My friend Heather wrote a ground-breaking book on her experience of disability, maternity, and motherhood. I have known many other fantastic mothers, including my Grandma Andre (mother of 12) and my Baba Stefaniuk (mother of eight). Both raised their children in rural Saskatchewan through the Depression and war years, without electricity or running water in their homes. All of these women are my heroes.


Author and her mom, circa 1980

I could, if I wished, spend Mother's Day with my sister or my aunt, and their families. But, like my friend Carol, I find that "Mother's Day simply serves as a painful reminder of what I don't have." I spend the day feeling empty and tetherless, and I prefer to be alone. I do acknowledge the day, and honour my mom by purchasing flowers for the garden (her Mother's Day gift of choice). My mom was strong, vivacious, and caring. In one eulogy, she was described as being a "firecracker." It's difficult not to smile when I think of her. Mother's Day is typically a mix of happy memories and sad introspection for me.

I'm not the only one who finds Mother's Day complicated. When I recently polled my friends, I found a wellspring of Mother's Day heartache, and stories and tangents I had not considered. No one seems to talk about this, and I think I understand why. Mother's Day is meant to celebrate all the amazing things that mothers do and are. It's a concern that by exploring the sadness some feel on this day, we may hurt some beautiful moms, and take away from their day. But at the same time, I want to acknowledge those people, like myself, who find Mother's Day difficult. I hear you. Your stories matter.

Those stories frequently recall painful memories. Some people, like my friends Teresa and Donna, lost their mothers at a young age. Teresa was five; Donna was nine. Teresa's father remarried, but her relationship with her stepmother was tenuous at best. Donna's father did not remarry, and Donna recalls with sadness the times when her class at school created Mother's Day crafts to take home.

Other people have difficult relationships with their mothers. At "best," this may mean clashing personalities; at worst, it may mean abuse and neglect. As my friend Jo says, "We all want a mum who fulfills all the things the word implies and some of us get cheated. And it's tough, really tough." Mother's Day -- meant to celebrate the do-it-all and loving mother -- can underscore these difficult relationships and stir up a whirlwind of emotions.

It's not always about the moms either, as children are an important part of the Mother's Day equation. Sometimes it's about difficult relationships and sometimes it's just a lackadaisical attitude towards Mother's Day. Teresa told me that, "My [adult] son usually doesn't do anything and it hurts...I want it to be a special day but it usually isn't."

Few of my friends openly addressed how not having children affected their Mother's Days. While some people do make a decision to not have children, others just end up in that situation. Although I always envisioned myself as a mother, I seemingly followed a series of decisions that rotated all over the map, like a crazy infographic, ending at the square: "44 and no children."

Other women cannot conceive or have unsuccessful pregnancies, and may be working through IVF, adoption, or fostering. And then there are those who lost their children through many myriad ways, and are carrying that pain in their hearts. Mother's Day cannot be easy for any woman who feels an emptiness due to an absent child.

For those who find Mother's Day complicated, the coping mechanism of choice seems to be avoidance, and avoiding this highly-commercialized and incessantly-advertised holiday can be difficult. If you don't "do" Hallmark holidays, like my friend Sandy, you may find that your "antenna just isn't tuned to the noise at all." But for those of us missing our moms or children, we come in on a defensive position, knowing how deeply all the commercialism can affect us. As Kathy says, "When I can ignore the in-your-face commercialism, I'm much better off." Jen is much the same: "[I'm] trying not to pay attention to the ads and trying to distract myself."

Everyone's experiences are different. Some women may know nothing but joy on Mother's Day, and if that is you, embrace it. But I would ask you to be gentle with those who find the day complicated. Offer them love and space to deal with their feelings. It seems that, for many of us, Mother's Day intertwines heartache and joy -- much like motherhood itself, I guess.

With thanks to Roberta, Pam, Teresa, Tracy, Danielle, Jo, Tammy, Jodi, Kathy, Staci, Donna, Carol, Leonora, Heather S., Sandy, and Jen, for their stories; and to all the mothers - wherever they are on the continuum of motherhood - who deserve to be celebrated every single day.