How to survive being childless (and mumless) on Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day. A 24-hour celebration of love. Full of flowers, chocolates, sticky handmade cards from your babies, comforting – grateful – hugs with your mum, and declarations of joy and fulfilment (‘This is what life is about’) all over your Social. #blessed

Unless of course your mum is dead. In which case it’s even tighter cuddles with your little ones, some poignant ‘Miss you, Mum’ Facebook posts, and a Sauv Blanc-fuelled sentimental sitting back as you watch your kids around the dining table — laughing and teasing each other and making you breathe pride. ‘I wonder what their kids will be like?’ #circleoflife

Unless of course you (unhappily) don’t have children either. In which case it’s clinging to a bottle of Jack and taking one Valium (non-mother’s little helper) to get you through this torture. #sweetbabyjesuswhy

Aargh, Mother’s Day. A 24-hour trauma for some. 

Definitely for me. I didn’t have children (was able to, just didn’t meet the right man. ‘Social infertility’ they call it. Sexy, right? Call me) and my mum (Bibi — I’m Little Bibi) died when I was 22 (cancer killed her in two weeks when she was 40). As my friend Gemma says: ‘Well done on having a life so shit you made money out of it.’ 

Yes, this double-whammy grief is felt on days with no pink embossed cards attached — but there is something about Mother’s Day that is especially flooring. It doesn’t matter that it’s contrived commercial crap; it matters that you/I don’t have that generational love.

What also matters is that this extra-painful day is just that — one day. And if you’ve survived the visceral grief of losing your mum and your dreams of having babies, you, sister, can survive this, too. Let me help…

Take yourself off social

Seriously, this is ‘salt in wound’ territory that even the most fervent self-flagellating Catholic would baulk at. (Weirdly, I had the urge to look at my Insta the second I wrote that sentence. A friend had posted photos of her newborn son with a message beneath. She wrote how her child’s birth had changed everything – EVERYTHING – in her life ‘x a billion. For the better’. And she wrote of her ‘shocking overwhelming love’. When I saw the photos I knew I shouldn’t read the post. But I read the post. And reading the post made me feel how I knew reading the post would make me feel: stop-in-tracks numb and full of empty grief. So I blocked. This is self-preservation. Mother’s Day will be like this. X a billion. Don’t be a martyr here.) 

Reclaim the day

Meet up with friends in the same situation as you. (And there could be more than you realise… If we’re talking not having kids, 1 in 5 women in the UK will not have children.*) Tip: don’t go for lunch in a child-or-nan-friendly place. Honestly, your masochism is worrying

Do what you need to do to ease the pain

It’s your pain; it’s valid; honour it however you choose to. Hide away, run away, grieve away. Spend frivolously. Eat piggishly. Drink foolishly. (Avoid Babycham.)

The greatest advice I can give here, though, is to listen to the inspirational Jody Day — Founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. 

Over to Jody…

“Mother’s Day is complicated for many of us because of strained relationships with our mothers and/or family of origin, bereavement, estrangement, illness, loss and a host of other things that don’t fit on a Hallmark card.

“Involuntary childlessness can often create an additional strain on relationships between mothers and daughters as they can be as clueless as anyone else in society as to how to support us, talk to us, include us, or hear us.

“Mothers can often feel grief over the loss of their longed-for grandchildren, too — although her daughter isn’t the one to seek support from around this… Mother’s Day isn’t the day to “educate” your Mum on how better to support you, but perhaps, at a more neutral time, you might like to suggest she watch my TEDx talk or read my book.

“Having childless allies is crucial to surviving Mother’s Day. These allies need to be women who are permanently involuntary childless and who are seeking to embrace that (the good and the bad) — as 10% of women without children chose that (“childfree”) and so don’t necessarily struggle; and many involuntarily childless women seem to deal with it by ignoring the pain and hoping one day it will go away. (It won’t – it is grief and time doesn’t heal grief: only grieving heals it.) You can meet your allies through Gateway Women’s private online community on MightyNetworks and through our global network of meet-ups

“If you’d like to attend church on Mothering Sunday but cannot face it, look for a Mother’s Day Runaway service — which are alternatives springing up in churches across the UK. They were started by Lizzie Lowrie, author of the blog and book Salt Water and Honey. Lizzie and her vicar husband are childless after multiple miscarriages and she understands all too well the tension between the family-friendly focus of most Christian services and childlessness… 

“If you’d like a sanity check and support during Mother’s Day itself, the Gateway Women online community is running an all-day, live, moderated, supported chat from 7am-midnight. Go to to access/join.’ 

Yes, this day can be the mother of pains for many — but you’ll be okay. See you on the other side… 

Watch Jody’s ‘Coping with Mother’s Day’ webinar on the Gateway Women website.

Jody’s book Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children (published by Bluebird/Pan Macmillan) is out this month.

*According to the UK Office for National Statistics, 18 percent (1 in 5) of women who reached 45 in 2017 in England and Wales ended their childbearing years childless.

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