Taking care online when Mother’s Day is hard for you

For Danielle Snelling, Mother’s Day is a reminder of what she no longer has.

She was 23 when her mum, Rosa, died from a rare gynaecological cancer.

Danielle says losing her mum at that young age was isolating and lonely.

Seeing pictures and messages of people celebrating Mother’s Day online brings up a lot of those feelings.

“A lot of my work is looking at social media, so it’s lovely for them, but gee it hurts,” the 35-year-old from Naarm/Melbourne says.

“Mums should be celebrated, but for millions, it just looks a little bit different.”

People may find Mother’s Day difficult for many reasons, says Catriona Davis-McCabe, president of the Australian Psychological Society.

“For some, it can provoke distressing thoughts and feelings.

“People who might find it difficult can be someone who has lost their mother, someone who has lost a child.”

Dr Davis-McCabe says for those experiencing infertility, or who have strained relationships with their mother, it may bring a sense of sadness, loss, guilt, and even anger.

The complex label of ‘childless not by choice’

While childlessness devastates some, not every person who once wanted kids feels crushed when that doesn’t eventuate.

Unidentified woman with blonde hair sitting on couch with a Jack Russell Terrier. She wears jeans and her cut is out of frame.

How social media intensifies the pain

Having lost her mother to breast cancer in 2006, Mother’s Day was already a difficult time for Rachel (who asked that we don’t use her surname).

Years of failed infertility treatment only made the day so much harder.

The 42-year-old from Naarm/Melbourne, currently living in Canada, says social media can be particularly triggering.

“People need to know they’re not alone in infertility, being motherless … having to silently suffer through all of your friends and family and the media celebrating the one thing you desperately wanted but couldn’t achieve,” she says.

A woman wearing a hat and backpack, with her small dog hiking along a rocky track.
Rachel likes to get out in nature on Mother’s Day. (Supplied)

Dr Davis-McCabe says social media often portrays idealised images and displays of the “perfect family”, which can leave people feeling “not good enough or less than”.

“There is also FOMO that can happen on social media, and Mother’s Day is no different,” she says.

“We compare ourselves, do a social comparison of ourselves to other people.”

And there is a pressure to enjoy Mother’s Day, she adds.

“Even the retailers and shops — it’s in your face. There is not much thought for people who might find it difficult.”

Tips for taking care online this Mother’s Day

Danielle runs Motherless Daughters, supporting women and girls who have lost their mums.

She co-founded the charity after finding validation and comfort in talking to other women who lost their mums at a young age.

Danielle says limiting social media use is one way she suggests members of her community avoid being upset around Mother’s Day. And to remember: what you see online isn’t always reality.

“Not everyone is as picture-perfect as what they appear on socials,” Danielle says.

An older photo of Danielle Snelling and her mum Rosa. Danielle wears a blue dress and Rosa wears a black dress.
Danielle Snelling says Mother’s Day reminds her of what she no longer has. (Supplied)

For people who have lost their mums but still want to participate, she suggests posting a photo of their mum and “inviting people to share something nice, or a nice memory that they have of her”.

Learning about the history of Mother’s Day can also help motherless people have some ownership over it and feel more included, Danielle says.

The idea for Mother’s Day gained traction in the early 1900s when West Virginia woman Anna Marie Jarvis held a church memorial to honour the legacy of her late mother.

“She tried to get the day abolished because it became very commercialised and lost its true meaning,” Danielle says.

Dr Davis-McCabe says understanding why social media posts might be triggering can help.

“Be honest with yourself and name your feelings. It might be: ‘I’m feeling really sad right now’ or ‘really anxious right now’.

“Sometimes just acknowledging that can help us to create a sense of distance, and slow down and consider our reactions might be based on those negative feelings we are having.”

‘Nurture and comfort yourself’

Dr Davis-McCabe recommends talking to loved ones about how you are feeling, and normalising those emotions.

Prioritising self-care is another strategy she suggests, whether that’s practising mindfulness or doing things you enjoy.

Portrait of Danielle Snelling wearing black glasses and a white blouse, smiling to the camera.
Danielle Snelling started Motherless Daughters to help other women struggling without their mum. (Supplied)

Danielle says it’s okay to focus on yourself instead of trying to meet other people’s expectations.

“Make your favourite food … watch your favourite movie, get your nails done. Make the day about you.

“Nurturing and comforting yourself is really important.”

Rachel spends time in the morning wishing her mother-in-law, grandmother, and family and friends a happy Mother’s Day before disconnecting from social media.

“I go out into nature — anywhere with fresh air. And time with my husband and dog works well for us.

“The mountains or beach are always favourite choices due to the beautiful scenery, fresh air and enormity of what’s in front of you.”

She says a picnic, good music, and gentle exercise are all helpful.

“[It] helps to remind us that although this isn’t the life we planned, or would have chosen for ourselves, it’s not less, it’s just different.”

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