Your friends are posting pictures of the flowers, cards, and presents they got from their kids. Or the brunch they’re enjoying with their smiling teens. At home, of course. It’s a COVID Mother’s Day, after all. Or some sweet photo of them embracing their daughter or son. You feel pangs of emotion. Self-pity. Jealousy. Guilt.
The same thing happens when you walk past the Hallmark aisle at the drugstore. Those sentimental cards about the loving relationship between mothers and kids make you wonder:
Do mothers really have those sorts of relationships with their teens?
Because you definitely don’t.
You know your teenager won’t bother doing anything for you on Mother’s Day. And if they do, you’ll know it’ll just be a gesture. Because the three-hundred sixty-five other days of the year, they make no efforts to hide the fact that they think you’re a horrible person. They constantly insult you. They’ve said “I hate you” more than once. They test your limits, violate your rules, and speak to you with surliness and disrespect.
So how, exactly, should you approach Mother’s Day?
Accept the Problem
The first thing you need to do is embrace the fact that your reality is not the way you want it to be: you don’t have the best relationship with your teenager. Say that statement out loud if you’re in denial, or if you keep pretending everything is okay:
“I don’t have the best relationship with my son/daughter.”
If you managed to say that out loud, then congratulations! You’ve taken the first step towards Reality Acceptance, a skill therapists trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy teach patients to help them come to terms with painful life situations or realities.
Reality Acceptance is the secret to handling the painful feelings triggered by a Mother’s Day card at the store or your friends’ perfect Instagram posts. The way to eliminate those extreme feelings – those overwhelming, debilitating waves of self-pity, jealousy, depression, or even anger – is through accepting, and not denying, that a problem exists.
Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Executive Clinical Director of Evolve Treatment Centers, says “the very first step in coping with a problematic reality is accepting the fact that it is your reality.”
Many mothers of struggling teens don’t want their current reality to be the truth, she adds.
“But until you accept that this is your life, you’re going to be in pain. The more we resist, the more anxious, angry and hopeless we become.”
It sounds simple, but the process can be difficult. For many parents, just reaching a point of acceptance can bring up lots of emotions. Mothers might feel guilty for their parenting mistakes. They may regret that they didn’t reach out for help sooner. If their teen experienced a trauma in childhood, they may feel sad or depressed they were unable to prevent it. Upon reflection, they might feel even sadder that their child hasn’t always acted the way they do now.
Which is why many parents choose to deny reality and pretend that everything is normal, even when it’s not.
Reaching this point of acceptance may, for some, require going through the various stages of grief.
After You Accept, Adapt
Once you reach the point of acceptance, you can start making changes. Real acceptance means you’re ready to tackle the problem of what to do about your relationship with your teen. And you’re also ready to figure out how to cope on Mother’s Day.
First, it’s never too late to seek help.
There are a variety of resources available to you as a parent, such as support groups, parenting classes, individual therapy, and family therapy. If your teen has a specific mental health or addiction issue, you can join niche support groups like NAMI Family Groups or Al-Anon. If your teen has conduct issues or a conduct disorder, parent training – also known as parent management training (PMT) or behavioral parent training (BPT) – is essential.
There are also a variety of resources available to your teenager. If they struggle with a mental health, behavioral, or substance use disorder, the first step is to arrange a clinical evaluation with a mental health professional. If an evaluation determines that your teen can benefit from outpatient therapy, schedule the first appointment as soon as possible. And if the assessment indicates more intensive treatment – such as an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), or even a Residential Treatment Center for Teens (RTC) – then start looking into those options immediately. Treatment programs typically include weekly sessions of individual therapy, family therapy, psychiatry, parental support, skills-coaching, 12-step programming (if applicable), and experiential therapies such as music therapy, art therapy, or exercise.
Mother’s Day With a Struggling Teen
Now we’ll offer two tips to help you cope on Mother’s Day when you have a teen in the house who’s as likely to say “You’re the worst mom ever!” and slam the door to their room as they are to say, “I love you mom, happy Mother’s Day!”
- No to Comparing. First, avoid comparing your life to others. If scrolling through social media and seeing all your mom-friends post sentimental photos of themselves and their kids with their perfect cards and flowers and breakfasts-in-bed makes you feel bad, then it’s probably not a good idea. We suggest avoiding Instagram, Facebook, and social media in general for the day.
Also, we’d like to remind you that rosy-looking pictures don’t mean everything is all perfect in your friends’ lives. On social media, you see a highlight reel. You don’t see photos of family arguments or the crying-fest they had just moments before a cute picture was taken. Families may hide the fact that they’re dealing with a struggling teen. It’s not something people tend to boast about on social media. But here’s the truth when it comes to behavioral issues in teens: they’re more common than you think.
- Yes to Self-Care. While self-care is important for parents all the time, it’s especially essential on occasions such as Mother’s Day, birthdays, or other family-oriented holidays. Why? Because your expectations for the day, based on our social norms – presents, fuzzy cards, warmth, love, family togetherness, unity – may lead to disappointment. Which is why, if you’re the mother of an at-risk teen, we advise you to manage your expectations. If you do receive a gesture of warmth or effort at reconciliation from your child, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if not? Well then, that’s why you managed your expectations in the first place. Additionally, there’s never shame in buying yourself a card, flowers, or even a gift. In fact, we suggest all moms get themselves something nice on Mothers’ Day: you deserve it.
Because even if you think you could do better in your relationship with your teen, the very fact that you’re trying makes you a good mother right now. That deserves acknowledgment: we see you. Good job mom!