Missing Mothers on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2020 for many, will be characterised by absence. No family gatherings, no meals out, probably not even a walk together. For some families, this will be tempered with a skype call, or a thoughtful card or delivered gift. However, for many families absence and loss may feel very familiar and painful, at this time of the year.

Mothering Sunday, despite the commercialism, can be an opportunity to celebrate the mother-child relationship and enjoy some special time together. This is especially the case for children and young people who have had, what Winnicott (‘The Maturational processes and the facilitating environment'-1965) described as ‘good enough’ experiences of mothers. However, child psychotherapists in their clinical work encounter many children who have not had good enough experiences with their mothers (or parents) often due to abuse and neglect. Some of these children will remain with their mothers whilst professionals offer interventions, and others may have been placed with family members in Kinship care, or in foster care. The idea of celebrating mothers can be very problematic for children in these situations and can raise lots of difficult questions about why they are not with their mothers. Child psychotherapists also often encounter children and young people who have absent mothers, perhaps through bereavement or perhaps through other circumstances. This time of year can then stir up feelings of loss, grief and anger, even if the bereavement was many years ago. 

Child psychotherapists also often work with parents directly. In their sessions, some mothers feel able to speak about their sadness at having a difficult relationship with their child, which can have arisen for many reasons. Other mothers have very sadly lost their children or babies due to bereavement, and even if they have gone on to have other children, still very painfully feel the loss of their child, especially perhaps on Mother’s Day.  

Therefore, perhaps this year, as absence will be such a feature for many families, we can think about the way that we talk about Mother’s Day generally. Flowery poems that children write in nursery and school about mothers can be touching for many families, but for some will be very difficult. Often, children will not know how to articulate these troubling feelings but may show us with their behaviour. It is important to try and think about what this behaviour might be communicating so that we can try to understand.


Whether you are separated by bereavement or isolation, ACP Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Rachel Melville-Thomas talks about how celebrating Mother’s Day can be important, even if your mum isn’t here.

“The original name “Mothering Sunday” reminds that this is a day to celebrate ALL types of mothering care that we receive. From mums, grandmothers, aunts or simply warm supportive inspiring people who “mother”, nurture and care for us. Saying thank you to one of them can be a way of celebrating not just your mum, but anyone you know who provides that kind, nurturing presence.

“For those of you dealing with the loss of your mum, take time to remember her. Buy/make a card if you like and place it somewhere special. Do something to honour her- like enjoying food or music she liked. Sing a song she taught you. Look at some photos. Tell someone near you about your mum, imagine what she would say if she could hear you. Think about what you do, or what you believe, or the values you have – are some of them from her? Be grateful – because these things never leave us – in one way she is always “in mind”.

“If isolation means you can’t visit a grave, there are many ways of remembering your mum in your own home and garden. Standing still, closing your eyes, or looking at something beautiful can be a wonderful Mothers’ day moment. It is my belief that the conversation you have between you and your mother is best done in the quiet shelter of your heart.”

“You can help children and young people with the grief of losing their mum and the remembrance of that grief on Mother’s Day by giving them space to talk about all the feelings – sadness, anger, frustration – not just the warm remembrances. All people without a mum – adults and young people, may benefit from doing something special on Mother’s day – like baking a cake in memory, drawing a picture, lighting a candle, taking a walk in the Spring air to notice flowers she liked.”

To find a therapist to support your child and family please visit https://childpsychotherapy.org.uk/fat