So you don’t have a good relationship with your mother.
And that’s an understatement: you really, truly dislike her.
You don’t like the way she nags you, invalidates you, and pressures you to do chores, homework, and run errands every day. You feel like she criticizes you constantly. You can’t have a conversation with her without wanting to tear out your hair. You think she’s manipulative, self-centered, and definitely not a good mother.
In a nutshell: you just can’t stand her.
But Mother’s Day is coming up. Which means that around the world, everyone is gearing up to buy Hallmark cards, order flowers and – a la COVID-19 – cook homemade breakfast-in-bed for all the maternal figures in their lives. Your friends are post photos of them and their moms with sappy messages like “She’s my rock, my best friend” and “…always there for me through thick and thin…” and “Don’t know how I’d live without her.”
Meanwhile, you’re wondering how you’re going to survive in the same house with your mom until the end of high school.
For you, the second Sunday of May always seems like a day-long fake fest. You feel like a hypocrite if you do anything nice for your mom, because you know by the next morning (if not sooner) you’ll probably have an hour-long screaming match. But you also feel like a terrible child – and member of society – if you don’t at least buy her a rose or a nice card. At the same time, you can’t bring yourself to pretend everything is all fine and dandy between you two.
Because it’s definitely not.
Where do you go from here?
Conflict With Parents is Common During Adolescence
Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Executive Clinical Director of Evolve Treatment Centers, says this is a common situation. She says many teens are distant with either one or both of their parents, but they’re too embarrassed to talk about it with their friends because they think they’re the only one who has it so bad.
So here, we’d like to provide a note of reassurance: you are not alone. Studies show that conflict with parents tends to increase during adolescence.
But what do you do when you’re in the middle of a fight with your mom on Mother’s Day?
Or if you can’t bring yourself to give her a card?
Don’t Say What You Don’t Mean
One tip that might help is don’t say what you don’t mean.
In other words, don’t feel compelled to say “I love you” if you don’t mean it. You can choose something milder, such as “Hope you have a wonderful day” instead.
Or you can go out and buy a neutral Mother’s Day card that has a pre-written message. It doesn’t have to be something mushy and gushy. You don’t even have to write anything on it in yourself: you just have to make sure it’s polite.
Just in case you weren’t sure, polite means the card shouldn’t contain a mean or insulting message. Mother’s Day is not the time to unleash all your grievances and lash out against your mom.
In other words, just because you “don’t have to say what you don’t mean” doesn’t mean you should say what you really think.
Remember what you learned in elementary school?
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Choose The Middle Path
This tip illustrates a concept from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) called the middle-path approach.
In DBT, this approach helps you find the balance between two opposite extremes. While you don’t want to express your genuine anger and vitriol, you also don’t want to cut yourself off, emotionally by ignoring your mom or stonewalling during all your conversations.
It’s important to maintain the middle-path approach when trying to repair a broken relationship.
Which means a polite “Happy Mother’s Day” is better than ignoring your mom altogether this Sunday. It’s definitely better than throwing a temper tantrum in which you list all her faults. It’s also better than doing the opposite: writing a long, mushy, sentimental letter that you know contradicts the way you really feel.
Another tip for struggling teens: try your best to focus on the good. At least for one day.
Chances are, your mother may have made some mistakes, but she’s also done good for you. Think of one or two of these gifts you’ve gotten from her and use Mother’s Day as a time to say thank you.
For example, does she pay for your schooling or extracurricular activities?
That’s something to appreciate.
Has she provided you with opportunities that have worked out well for you long-term?
Has she ever gotten you something you really, really loved?
And you can always think about all the positive traits you inherited from her. Remember: half your DNA comes from her. Think about that for a moment, and you’ll realize it can be a source of joy and gratitude.
Be Yourself, Find Perspective, Take Action
So no, you don’t have to pretend everything is perfect on Mother’s Day. However, you can display appreciation for what she’s given you while avoiding showy, mushy gestures of love that can feel – at least to you – dishonest.
You don’t have to say “I love you,” but you can thank her – genuinely – for the things she has done for you.
Ask your mom if she and you can go to family therapy together, so you can work on your relationship.
So that next Mother’s Day, or the one after, you’ll genuinely want to say the words she most wants to hear:
I love you, mom.