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On difficult Mother’s Day, daughter will seek solace at gravesite

Sarah Smith, left, with her late mother Robin Neal, will mark Mother's Day by visiting her mother's grave.

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Sarah Smith was married and starting a family when she began to discern her relationship with her own mother was lacking something.

“It was almost like there was a story that she created and then the story that was real. And I was one of the only people who knew that those didn’t line up. And so it just didn’t feel authentic most of the time,” Smith told Baptist Press. “There were moments that did. There were moments that felt that way, but most of them felt like (life) was centered on her, and not centered on anyone else.”

Mother’s Day is difficult for Smith.

Sarah Smith with her husband Matthew and thier children Kate, 14, Lucy, 11, Jake, 9 and Noah, 7.

Smith, now 39, learned at 13 that she was conceived when her mother was raped at age 23.

“And so, she did the best that she knew how to do,” Smith said. “And I also have to live with (the fact) that might not have been good enough. It seems like the more I progressed in my life, the more she fell out of it, and the more that our relationship became surface level.”

As Smith encountered other mothers, such as her mother-in-law and friends, differences became more vivid.

“I saw how my friends interacted with their children and set such an amazing example for me. And then I also just saw how I wanted to interact with my own children, and was confused about why those weren’t the choices (my own mother) was making,” Smith said. “Because I tried my hardest to study what God tells us to do as a parent. And I just felt like I wasn’t really ever protected, or she was not a safe space for me, and I didn’t feel like that was God’s intention. And so, we sort of started drifting apart because there wasn’t safety there.”

Smith’s mother, Robin Neal, was not physically abusive. She married when Smith was 7 and supplied her every physical need. They attended church every week. They sang hymns together. They held hands. She made sure Smith attended college, secured a job, married a Christian man.

“She was there for the big stuff,” Smith said. “I just really wish that she had been better at and wanted to be there for the little stuff.

“But when I had finally prayed and been to therapy and really had worked through what I wanted to talk to her about, and how to hopefully redeem the situation, she got COVID and passed away.”

Mother’s Day, a holiday marked by sentimentality and an anticipated $35 billion in national spending in 2023, is difficult for many.

Joannie DeBrito, a licensed counselor with Focus on the Family, said various roads lead to grief on the otherwise cherished day, including loss, infertility, divorce and parental custody issues, singlehood and poor relationships.

“I would say the vast majority of moms are rejoicing, but my guess is there’s somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people that are really struggling,” DeBrito told Baptist Press. “There are just so, so many reasons Mother’s Day might be hard for moms, it’s kind of hard to quantify.”

Robin Neal with her four grandchildren.

DeBrito encourages society, churches and pastors to be careful not to overly exalt the day.

“I think in the Christian world we can exacerbate the problem by being a little too jubilant and too celebratory for sure,” DeBrito said. “It’s wonderful and important to honor and recognize the importance of mothers; that is really important. But it does feel like it gets a bit out of control.”

DeBrito sees value in celebrating the day soberly while recognizing that many are hurting.

“We need to be sensitive and we need to celebrate,” she said. “But I think it’s better to celebrate in a slightly more subdued way, where you can just express your appreciation to your mom and do something that’s important to her.”

DeBrito also advises mothers not to exaggerate the day by constantly reminding their families that the day is approaching.

“I think some moms also get caught up in the expectations,” DeBrito said. “And that puts a lot of pressure on children, especially I would say, adult children. Really, you shouldn’t be asking for a gift,” unless prodded.

When Mother’s Day is difficult, DeBrito recommends talking honestly with God, friends and religious counselors, engaging in activities that bring personal joy, or focusing on and fulfilling the needs of others.

“I will emphasize the idea of service,” she said. “We find that often when people are feeling down or depressed about something, and even people who are coping with a clinically based depression, they surprisingly tend to feel better when they are serving other people. It energizes them. And part of that is because it puts them in touch with people and helps them realize, ‘I’m not the only one who’s struggling here.’”

Focus on the Family offers resources to help those struggling through difficult times. Two free counseling sessions with a licensed counselor are available at 855-771-4357, with the line open weekdays from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Central Time. Those needing additional care are referred to a network of Christian counselors, with additional online resources available at FocusontheFamily.com.

Smith, a member of Edgewood Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, will mark this Mother’s Day by visiting her mother’s grave and talking to her about what could have been. She’ll take her husband Matthew and their four children ranging in ages from 7 to 14.

“I like to go out there on the special days and just wish her Happy Mother’s Day and think about what I would like to be saying to her and giving to her,” Smith said, “and thanking God that He chose someone who was strong enough to give me life and that hung on the best that she could.

“I’m thankful that one of the gifts that she gave me was room to grow faith. I have been in church since before I was born. I learned to sing from her, and we sang in church together growing up. And so I’m thankful she gave me that foundation to fall back on when I just really didn’t know what to do.”