Ask a therapist: How to celebrate Mother's Day as a divorced parent

Mother's Day is around the corner, and this is the first year we will not be celebrating it together. We have been separated for almost a year.

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  • Question: My spouse and I have been separated for 10 months and are working toward divorce. Mother’s Day is around the corner and this will be the first year we will not be celebrating it together. I anticipated holidays and birthdays would be very hard, but for some reason this day is presenting even greater challenges for me.

  • My spouse was the one who planned Mother's Day by getting cards and gifts with the kids, making reservations and handling things at home so I could have the day “off.” This has always been a day that we celebrated as a nuclear family, without the extended family and friends who often share in other holidays and celebrations. In other words, his absence will change everything for the children and me. I feel completely at a loss as to how to mark this day in a way that won’t feel hollow and empty and serve as a reminder of all our family has lost.

  • I know I can step up and do the planning and try to find something the kids enjoy we could all do together. The problem is, I want to turn off the TV, not answer the phone and hide from the world so that I don’t have to see all the happy families out sharing this day together.

  • Can you offer me any advice on how I can approach this day in a way that is more positive and allows me to be truly present for my kids? Any tips or suggestions would be greatly welcomed.

  • – Newly Solo Mom

  • Dear Newly Solo Mom,

  • The first anniversary of any loss is very hard — and the end of a marriage is a major loss indeed. This day is especially challenging for all the reasons you have stated and because of what it represents to you — one large piece of how you define yourself and how you believe others both view and identify with you. When you went from being a spouse and co-parent to single mom, your role in the family and identity in the larger community was altered and now you are tasked with figuring out how to grow successfully into your new reality. What could be more significant to this task than Mother’s Day, which celebrates the love of a couple and the fruit of their union?

  • Begin by wiping the slate clean

  • Think about how you can celebrate this day in a whole new, yet significant and fun way. Assemble your children for a talk and ask them for input on what they would like to do. Let them know you are truly open to their suggestions and that together your new family will come up with a plan. Suggest some activities that you know they would enjoy. Be creative and think outside the box. Some ideas to consider could include an outside activity like a day trip to the beach, river, or amusement park, a picnic, boat ride or a trip to the zoo. Something that gets you out of the house, allows you lots of movement and a continuous change of scenery could be just what you all need. Given the often painful reminders, avoiding past rituals and places of celebration are a good idea this year.

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  • Consider a joint celebration

  • If you have single parent friends of either sex, consider celebrating together. For children, it’s usually the more the merrier and, this way, you would have the support of other adults who are dealing with the same thing you are. It’s a good bet that if you were to sit down and think about it, you could come up with a list of folks that have been where you are and have moved on successfully. Surrounding yourselves with friends helps to remind you that you are not alone and that life goes on.

  • Remember this is a process

  • It will take time to get comfortable with your new life and to come up with new ways to mark celebrations, celebrate special events and be together as a family. It will be different — not worse — and maybe over time, much happier than your old life.

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Toni Coleman, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She is a well-known relationship expert and author, working with many publications, television and radio programs. Follow her on Twitter @CoachToni and FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman. Toni writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com.

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