Navigating Mother’s Day After Divorce

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | May 6th, 2018

I just moved into a new apartment. It’s a corner unit with lots of sunlight and a great view. But my kid doesn’t care about the view – he loves the pool. When I asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday this year a pool party was at the top of the list. I called the building’s manager and discovered that the only free date for the next three months was May 13th. I pounced on it, sent out invitations…only to have a bunch of ‘no’s’ pour in. At first I panicked – did the other kids not like my kid? But then I realized that the reason the date had been free was that it was Mother’s Day.

My mother passed away when she was fifty-eight. In the years between her death and my son’s birth I turned my head when I walked by pink card displays, deleted emails that extorted me to not forget my mother, and didn’t go out to eat that Sunday. My first Mother’s Day my ex-husband bought me card with a crude joke in it that he didn’t even bother to sign. It went downhill from there.

Even though they’re Hallmark holidays, a lot of stress and emphasis are put on days like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s and Father’s Day. Holidays that have the potential to bring a lot of pain to someone’s life. It isn’t easy being alone when everyone around you appears to have someone. It isn’t always fun to buy your own presents, even if it’s something you’ve learned to mostly embrace.

Whether it’s your first Mother’s Day after divorce or your tenth, you may feel a pang of loneliness if you don’t have a new partner with whom to share it. And that’s okay. Denying and stuffing our emotions only leads to a lot of bottled up pain which, in my experience, explodes at the worst possible time. If you need to cry a little – do it. I have. But I’ve learned to turn those tears into sweetness.

If my son catches me crying, I’m honest with him about how I miss my mother and how much I loved her. I recall the good times – from eating cookie dough in the kitchen to dance parties in the living room. When I share memories of her life with him I’m painting a picture of a woman who would have loved him very much. A woman who would have read with him on the couch, or colored pictures at the dining room table.


In doing so, I demonstrate for him that emotions are valid and that there are healthy ways to express them. But I also demonstrate that you don’t need to wallow. That you can remember the good, and grieve and mourn, without becoming bitter. A lesson that applies to both my mother’s death and my divorce.

When I put on the music and dance with him, I tell him which was her favorite song. But I also share my favorites (Janet Jackson – always). On Mother’s Day I buy my favorite flowers. In showing ourselves to be full and complete people without our children we give them permission to grow into themselves. To place in our children our happiness, to overly invest ourselves in their accomplishments, does not give them the freedom to be themselves. I want him to learn how to properly express and manage his emotions but also teach him that he is not responsible for managing mine.

In showing ourselves to be full and complete people without our children we give them permission to grow into themselves.

One time, when he caught me crying, he was very concerned. I wiped away the tears and told him, “Honey, you don’t have to worry about it. I’m sad right now, but it’s not your job to fix it.” His smile contained relief and peace, he hugged me and ran off. Do I want him to accomplish great things? Of course! But they will be on his terms.

My father placed a lot of demands on me – I had to be the best, get the highest grades, live up to my family’s reputation. When I asked my mother what she wanted me to be when I grew up she’d always smile and respond, “Happy. Whatever that looks like for you.”

She wasn’t a perfect mom. None of us are. But she was a good one. I miss her every day – but at the same time, I know that she loved me deeply. Mother’s Day can be a day where you can bow to social pressure to buy the gifts, and the cards, and go out to eat. Or it can be a day where you celebrate the love in your life that truly matters.


My Mother’s Day will be small – my son and I. I’m rescheduling the party to a date that works better for people with families. I have no local family with which to celebrate. No one will buy me a card, or flowers, or a present. But we’ll go out to eat at our favorite place and gorge ourselves on beignets. I’m buying my own flowers because I think it’s important to demonstrate for him that I can take care of myself. We’ll splash in the pool, dive for rings and practice our backstroke together.

And we’ll probably play our favorite game. At odd times during the day, I’ll randomly announce, “Guess what I’m thinking!” He’ll grin and say, “You’re thinking you love me.” To which I’ll feign surprise and exclaim, “What? You read my mind!” before tackling him for tickles. The fact that he’s so secure in my love for him is worth more than anything else. To me, that love is what the day is really about.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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