Why I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day

By Caitlin Kelly


This lovely young girl survived a rough, strange childhood…


This week is awash with reminders from every direction to celebrate your mother — to buy her flowers and presents and take her out for dinner.

It’s a time of sentiment and emotion and gratitude for all that nurturing and support,  feelings we’re all meant to share.

Not for some of us.

My mother has one child.

She wants nothing to do with me; the details are too tedious to repeat here, but she can’t be bothered acknowledging my existence.

She lives a six-hour flight away from me in a nursing home.

She has plenty of money to pay for it so needs nothing material.

She has a devoted friend — a woman my age who is rude and nasty and bizarre to me — so she’s all set in that department as well.

She is bipolar and suffers several other conditions.

My handsome hubby, Jose…who loves my independence and trusts me in the world

I lived with her to the age of eight, when my parents divorced and I was sent to boarding school and summer camp, arguably steeped in the kind of privilege that protected and cherished me and made me feel safe and secure and valued.

Not really.

Boarding school meant sharing a room with two or three or four strangers, most of them young girls like me who didn’t want to be there.

It meant a life regulated by bells — 6:55 wake-up, 7:10 go out for a walk around the block (neighbors set their clocks by us), 7:25 breakfast in the dining hall, seated at a table chosen for you.

We ate when we were told to and ate whatever we were given, whether we liked the food or not.

To make a phone call meant filling out a permission slip detailing the reason you needed to speak to someone.

No one hugged or cuddled or kissed us. That would have been weird.

Boarding school also meant having no privacy, ever — even the toilet stalls and bathtub surrounds didn’t reach the ceiling and girls would throw paper bags of cold water over the walls.


So I quickly learned to be private, self-reliant and extremely cautious about opening up to others.

Luckily, I loved summer camp and looked forward to it every year.

But this life meant I spent little time with my mother; I lived with her full-time only in Grades 6 and 7.

She threw great birthday parties and we enjoyed a comfortable life. Over the years, living very far away from her, I saw her once a year or so.

She taught me a variety of skills: how to be frugal, how to travel safely and alone, how to set a pretty table with linen napkins and candles, to read widely and voraciously.

But I’m not sure she really ever wanted to be someone’s mother; her own mother was often a selfish monster to her, although very kind to me.

Then I left her care forever when I was 14 after she had a breakdown in Mexico, where we were living. I couldn’t take how scared this made me feel.


She inherited money so, in my early 20s, she traveled the world alone for years.

The only time I saw her was flying, at her expense, to wherever she was at the time — Fiji, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica. Some of the trips were terrific, others less so.

If I didn’t get on a plane and go to her, I would not have seen her.

I learned to do what she wanted.

It all looked so glamorous from the outside.

But she had many breakdowns and hospitalizations, starting when I was 12 and continuing for decades. As her only child, I had to make snap decisions about her care with no outside advice or guidance. It was exhausting and overwhelming.

I rarely told anyone. What would I have said?

She drank. She had multiple health crises. She had no male companions and few close friends interested in helping out.

We later had about a decade where we got along, seeing one another once a year or so while exchanging regular, loving letters and phone calls and birthday cards and Christmas gifts.

For the past six years, we have had no contact and likely never will again.

This makes me sad and angry.

When I see women enjoying their daughters, and vice versa, my heart hurts.


If you and your mother love one another, this is a great gift.

Cherish it.


If you have children — which I don’t, by choice — cherish their love for you and devotion to you. Savor it and protect it.

Millions of people hate Mother’s Day, for a good reason.

And reasons usually only our very closest friends ever really understand.

It’s socially taboo to not love your mother deeply, these days professing it loudly and repeatedly over social media.

This holiday?

We just want to get through it.




26 thoughts on “Why I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day

  1. I relate to so much of this. My circumstances are similar to what you describe and different as well. I hate Mother’s Day. Hate. It.

    I’m in contact with my mother, but it’s hard and messy and unpredictable, and almost no one understands it.

    I’ve spent a large part of my adult life recovering from a childhood with a woman who was mentally ill and not equipped to be a mother, while trying desperately to not repeat the cycle with my own children.

    I now *try* to look at Mother’s Day as a day to reflect on the people in my life who have nurtured me — male, female, friends, etc. Some years this is easier than others. Still, I sink a bit as the holiday approaches and can’t help feeling slighted for the hand I was dealt.

    I wish I had something more helpful to say to you and all the others with complicated mother situations — self included. Hope you are able to do something for yourself this weekend. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. So sorry to read this….but people must know that this myth of MOM is such bullshit for many of us. We were/are lucky to have survived.

      I’m very grateful for loving and nurturing friends and my husband. Glad you have these as well.

      And the worst part? As you say, no one understands it. As an only child, I have no one else who has a clue about what it’s been like…except my husband (and my ex) who have seen it firsthand.

  2. My mother and I haven’t spoken in years, and I’m thinking our relationship has about one more conversation left in it. I’m not going to lay the story out, it’s not all that interesting.
    What IS interesting is one gent by the name of Jose. Is that a seersucker suit? If so, how very southern.

    1. Sorry to hear it. But grateful to know I’m not alone…:-)

      Yes, seersucker. When he worked at the NYT, they’d have a seersucker day every year as well. He bought it (of course! in New Orleans.

  3. I am terribly sorry that you didn’t have the loving support of a healthy, nurturing caretaker. There are no words…

    My mother was also abusive. When she died in 2013, I didn’t grieve for the loss of my mother — I grieved the loss of the chance to ever have one.

    1. Thanks for the kind words…really. I was very fortunate to have loving friends and their parents and my summer camp counselors were really a great part of my life as well. I felt completely valued and loved there every year.

      Boy, that sums it up. 🙂

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  5. Jann Jasper

    I grasping for words here, nearly speechless. Caitlin, the more I read what you’ve shared about your life and all the interesting – and often brave – things you’ve done, the more I like and really admire you, although we’ve never met. This essay about your mom just blows my mind. I tip my hat to the woman you have become, despite all this.

  6. I don’t like Mother’s Day, either. My mother died 40 years ago, and I often wish she were here to help in some of our awkward sister dynamics. Although she was a challenge in many ways, I loved and still love her. But I still don’t like Mother’s Day. The whole thing just irritates me. Fortunately no one in my family is big on these stupid culturally-sanctioned holidays. Meanwhile, my adult stepdaughter is much more traditional and does celebrate Mother’s Day. She used to send me very tender, affectionate cards on the day that touched me in spite of myself. But for reasons she has never explained, she stopped liking me about six years and now she never communicates with me. This year, I’m walking an 8k run with other women. Hope you have a good day. Enjoy yourself!

    1. So sorry about your stepdaughter…how weird and hurtful.

      People….I despair sometimes. Often.

      Thanks for sharing this and let’s get THROUGH this stupid weekend. 🙂

  7. First of all, who could help loving a man who dresses so perfectly?

    Secondly, I’m saddened by your story, but it is familiar to me. A couple of my friends have had mothers who, for various reasons, have not made being related a positive thing. I was fortunate in that my mother lived for her children as long as we needed her and, when we didn’t, she cut us loose to make our own ways. She died many years ago, but it’s still bittersweet when Mother’s Day comes around. I’m a perfume addict but, even though it’s been thirty-two years, I cannot bring myself to take advantage of Mother’s Day fragrance specials at the Bay.

    Mothers. So fraught, forever.

    1. He is a snappy dresser! 🙂

      I hear you…I know a lot of women are having a very rough time this week, thanks to an online writers group I’m in. We’re just getting through it and sharing stories we’ve never been able to share anywhere else.

  8. I’m sorry that you’ve had such a difficult time with your mother. It’s sad.

    My mother had a similar, hurtful experience with her mother (who passed away a few years ago). It’s a complicated story and a very sad one. And I wish I had had close relationships with my grandparents — the rifts in our family prevented that. All of them are dead now, so it’s too late.

    1. Thanks…

      Our family is riddled with anger and estrangement and it’s a real waste of time and energy. It does a lot of inter-generational damage, as you have seen. Sorry that it meant you never really knew your grandparents. That is also really a shame…

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