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Expert Advice

How to be more thoughtful about your Mother’s Day greetings

We would probably get a few strange looks if we wished everyone “Happy graduation” regardless of whether or not they are completing school. But as the second Sunday in May rolls around, we can fall into the trap of wishing every woman we meet a “Happy Mother’s Day” without a second thought. Our hearts are in the right place, but we may be unintentionally insulting or hurtful. Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate and share gratitude with the women who have helped us become who we are—while also being compassionate to those who find it difficult.

To understand how best to support a loved one who may not be looking forward to Mother’s Day, we talked to eleven experts in the areas of loss, infertility, and family dynamics. They agreed that these three steps can help you be thoughtful about how you address people on Mother’s Day:

  1. Don’t give in to the impulse to say “Happy Mother’s Day” automatically to every woman you encounter.
  2. Before using this greeting, pause and consider what this person has experienced—what feelings might the day bring up for them?
  3. Find different ways to acknowledge the occasion—think about your loved one’s particular needs for the day and be a part of creating meaning for them.

Mother’s Day may be really hard for a lot of people you know, and you won’t always be aware of the challenges they are facing unless they tell you. So catch yourself before automatically wishing your child’s math teacher or the woman who works at your coffee shop “Happy Mother’s Day.” It’s awkward to be on the receiving end of that sentiment when you don’t want children, or if you don’t have them for whatever reason. Chances are good that you know a woman whose dream of starting a family is on hold due to relationship status, fertility challenges, or not being on the same page as a partner. Mothers who have a seriously ill child, have miscarried, or whose child died may always have a part of their hearts reserved for their loss. It can also be hard for those whose mothers are sick or have age-related memory issues. And if they’ve lost a mother—whether recently or years ago—Mother’s Day can remind them of her absence in a painful way.

There are many things that friends and family can do to help someone through a difficult Mother’s Day. We’ve combined feedback from our experts into specific advice about supporting someone who is:

  1. Grieving for a child
  2. Grieving for a parent
  3. A widowed parent
  4. Facing infertility

There are many other situations that can make Mother’s Day tough, but the three steps above still apply. You won’t be able to shield your loved one from the sea of happy pictures of moms and children on social media. But acknowledging that the day might be hard and offering to listen can make a world of difference. And if they don’t feel like talking, even the smallest gesture—a text, a card, a treat from their favorite bakery—will remind your friend that they are seen and loved.