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.




Rage, fear, guilt, remorse…Happy Mother’s Day!

By Caitlin Kelly

Mother and Child
Mother and Child (Photo credit: gem66)

Sorry, but this isn’t the place for flowers and candies and sentiment today.

Millions of people aren’t hugging Mom or making her dinner or staring sadly at her photo, mourning someone who is long dead.

For many people, the word mother is more a descriptive noun than a nurturing verb.

I wrote about this last year, prompting two followers here to reveal some of their more challenging maternal histories as well; both, not surprisingly, have become friends off-line as a result.

No one wants to admit publicly they did not get along with their mother, unless it’s a tell-all-fuck-you memoir like Sean Wilsey’s — whose stepmom threatened to sue him if he went ahead and published. (He did.)

My mother lives in a nursing home now, in a Canadian city a seven-hour flight from me. We haven’t spoken since May 2010 and I am not sure if or when we will, or when or if I’ll see her again. She has some dementia, how much is unclear.

Our relationship is much complicated by a woman who purports to be a dear friend of hers, who visits her daily and has been both determined and efficient at shutting me out and making sure my mother thinks the very worst of me. Lawyers and others have told me this is not uncommon between people of vastly differing wealth and in a family where estrangement between child(ren) and parent exists and and can be further exploited.

Describing this dispassionately here does not mitigate the incredibly deep hurt I feel, the impotent rage I bear toward this woman and her family or the shrugged-shoulder response of my mother’s few remaining friends and relatives, some as burned out as I by decades of my mother’s assorted issues.

I really miss the best of my mother — her laugh, her intelligence, her wit, her charm, her beauty, her range of interests. In earlier, healthier years she was an actress, model, TV host, journalist, broadcaster and lay chaplain helping hospice patients, pretty amazing to me since she had already survived multiple cancers herself.

She traveled the world alone for years on end. She settled, for a while, in unlikely places, like the Mexican desert or Roswell, NM, Bath, England and Lima, Peru. I saw the world when she’d send me a plane ticket to meet her.

We had some serious adventures together:

— sleeping with our arms and feet entwined on a freezing cold overnight train through the Andes of Peru

— snorkeling for blue starfish in Fiji

— playing endless games of Scrabble in Costa Rica

— driving through the mountains and valleys of Mexico in a camper van, Judy Collins’ eight-track of Wildflowers playing

Wildflowers (Judy Collins album)
Wildflowers (Judy Collins album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— the fantastic birthday parties with cakes with sparklers she threw for me, one with little girls who came all the way to Montreal from Toronto for my 12th.

— laughing our asses off at almost anything

— comparing notes on the latest issue of Vanity Fair

I hate not having a mother any more, even if she is alive.

So, enjoy the day for me, and for her.

Do you hate Mother’s Day too?

Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Sve...
Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Svenska: En mamma som kramar om sitt barn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bear with me.

Like many others watching the annual flood of maternal sentimentality, this isn’t a fun week for me. (It’s celebrated on May 13 here, but not necessarily in other countries.)

My mother lives in a nursing home in a city a six-hour flight away. I don’t plan to send flowers or a card, even though I know I should and would like to. I’m her only child. She has no grand-children and many of her friends have died or abandoned her over the years.

We haven’t spoken in a year, since our last verbal exchange consisted of her raging at me without pausing to draw breath. The Mother’s Day flowers I had sent went unacknowledged, then my birthday.

Like many mothers out there — not the cookie-baking, hugging, call me! text me! types — mine has no interest in my life. And she’s now doted on by a woman even the nursing home staff told me they found rude and weird, someone nasty to me whom I’ve never trusted.

So, Mother’s Day?


I know other men and women whose mother, for a variety of reasons, lost interest in their own children, no matter how well-behaved or accomplished or how hard we’ve tried, for a long, long time, to get closer to someone who…just doesn’t want it.

But we never talk publicly about it, the subject taboo.

I’ve re-written this post about 20 times, debating whether or not to even publish it. I am weary of secret-keeping.

My mother, who is beautiful, bright, sophisticated and charming, never re-married after divorcing my father when I was seven. She never seemed to miss emotional or physical intimacy.

When I was 14, we moved to Mexico. There, on Christmas Eve, she suffered a manic breakdown; I left within weeks to move in with my father and never returned to her home except for visits. I saw her first manic episode when I was 12, then again lived through them when I was 19, 25, 27 and beyond. She ended up in jails and hospitals all over the world, as she traveled alone and refused to stay on her medication.

For a long time, she wrote letters often and we spoke every week or so.

In 2003, a 4-inch tumor was pulled from her head and I asked the surgeon to “make her less of a bitch.” The words shocked me as they fell out of my mouth.

His answer shocked me even more. “Her tumor has made her aggressive for years, possibly decades,” he explained, thanks to its location in her brain. She was, for several blissful years afterward, loving, gentle and kind, the sort of mother I had longed for. (Here’s my magazine story about this experience, with a great pic of us when I was little.)

By the summer of 2010, when I flew out to see her on my annual visit, she had become unrecognizable to me, the amount she was by then drinking destroying what was left of her mental and physical health. I called my husband from the motel where I was staying and wept, in rage and frustration and despair, for 30 minutes.

When, if ever, would this shit stop?

The verb “to mother” implies nurture, care and concern. We automatically conflate the two, while “to father” often means simply to create a new life, not to stick around and take care of that child.

I’ve tried to be compassionate. I’ve tried to reach out, for decades. I’ve tried.

I’m done trying.

How’s your relationship with your Mom?

Happy Mother's Day! Fourteen Things My Mom Taught Me

Ambrotype of a mother with baby in a bonnet
Image by National Media Museum via Flickr

I haven’t lived with my Mom since I was 14 and, on a week’s notice, moved in with my Dad and his girlfriend.

So I missed out on some of the things Moms traditionally teach their daughters. Yet my Mom, explicitly and by example, has taught me a lot. She’s 75 and I’ll see her this summer — usually only every two years as we live so far away and money is forever tight for both of us.

It ain’t how to make an apple pie and choose a great mascara, but her lessons have served me well so far:

1) The safest choice is not necessarily the best or wisest, even if it’s by far the most popular. My mom traveled alone throughout Central and South America, a great-looking unattached woman, for years in her 40s. She lived in Lima, Peru for a while and I used to get imported to meet her for Christmas and vacations. Not your typical “Mom” behavior, but such adventures we had!

2) You can travel far and wide and for a long time if you’re willing to live low. She didn’t hesitate to eat sardines in her hotel room if it meant staying out on the road longer and having more fun. She didn’t need the false reassurance of a fancy hotel room or upscale neighborhood as she dressed carefully and modestly to avoid attracting undue attention to herself.

3) When things get really bad, find the hotel manager and cry. Traveling alone as a woman, especially for long periods of time, is often really fun but sometimes really lonely and frightening, especially if you are alone and sick and your loved ones are multiple time zones hence. I ended up alone at 25 in an Istanbul hotel room with the most severe allergic attack (after hours in the Bazaar looking at very dusty rugs) of my life. I feared I might drown in mucus, so hard it was for me to breathe. The hotel manager, of a tiny, nothing hotel, took me to the pharmacy and translated for me and got me something that worked very well.

4) Wedge a chair beneath the door to keep out the bad guys. They can break into the windows, of course, but a solid wood chair under the doorknob is a good deterrent, something she learned in the Amazon.

5) Watch your money very, very closely: APRs, bank fees, money management fees. No one will ever protect it as well as you will. A smart, educated woman will never (right?) blithely hand her money to someone whose “explanations” make no sense to you. It was on her advice I made sure I had a pre-nuptial agreement to protect my assets, handy after the husband quickly bailed.

6) When you’re terrified, stay calm. She has survived six kinds of cancer. She is the Timex watch of women.

7) Save, save, save, save, save. You can never, really, save too much money — especially if you are a single woman with no pension. A shmancy new handbag or designer shoes can mean a month’s rent or mortgage payment. Which is really more valuable?

8) Good perfume, always. (Yes, a few splurges are OK.)

9) Write thank-you notes, promptly.

10) Wear pants with a waistband. It’s harder to realize how dumpling-esque you’re becoming if you succumb to the worst of all fashion crimes — the elastic, ever-expanding waistband.

11) Men are lovely, but non-essential to your survival (see lessons 5-7.) They can be great company, as your friends or your lawyer or your doctor(s) or your husband(s.) But the sun doesn’t rise and set behind any of them.

12) Laugh long, hard and often. Life is way too full of *&^$@!! to not enjoy every minute you can.

13) Every culture has its rituals and beliefs and customs. Ignore them at your peril and when in Rome, act as the Romans do. If that means wearing a salwar kameez or covering your head or dressing like a nun, so be it. It’s their country and you’re just visiting.

14) Cooking is OK, but a great meal in a terrific restaurant is divine. We lived a block from the Montreal Ritz-Carlton, and every Friday, the year she had her own TV talk show, we went for dinner. I was 12. Heaven! I still remember an amazing lunch — and my first pisco sour — at Carlin, in Miraflores, a chic enclave of Lima. (Cheap housing saves some $$$ for a decent drink or meal.)

(Here’s the gift I mailed to her — small, light, affordable and fun — from the Japanese company Muji. It’s NYC in a bag — eight iconic buildings and some cars, all made of wood. The Guggenheim or the Chrysler building, in the palm of your hand! They also have London, Paris and Tokyo, $14 each. My Mom was born in NYC, and married here, so I thought it might amuse her.)

Please give your Mom an extra hug for me.

What are some of the cool/fun/smart things she’s taught you?