I used to dread it. The subtle shift from Easter pinks and flowers in the store to Mother’s Day pink and flowers. It always happens so slowly until—wham, I’m crying in the deodorant aisle at Walmart because I was fully assaulted with the “Happy Mother’s Day” signage from the entryway into the back of the store. It didn’t matter how many pep talks I gave myself. It didn’t matter how I tried to ignore the rows and rows of not-so-subtle hints to the world that another holiday was coming—a holiday to honor a person that I had a complicated relationship with—a holiday that I would once again not get to celebrate as the receiver of roses, candy, and breakfast in bed.  

Infertility and childhood trauma are a double whammy in the gut this time of year. Okay, maybe most of the year if I’m being honest. It’s the worst during this time of year though. If I didn’t want to be a mom so badly, maybe it wouldn’t have stung. If I wasn’t trying to figure out the right things to say to a mom who I love but was fighting with, maybe it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I know I’m in no way alone in this, especially in the adoption community

So, while Mother’s Day was weird for me before I was a mom, I stupidly imagined it magically becoming fun for me after I had kids. So, we were foster parents for nine months before Mother’s Day, 2015 rolled around. My husband filled out a little form for my boys to make little Mother’s Day cakes at school. Now, obviously, I am the one with the problem here. This is not in any way anyone else’s fault. But, the Friday before Mother’s Day, the boys came home bursting with excitement. They had two sweet little cakes they had decorated with sprinkles, plastic cake decorating things, and icing galore. And when I bent to admire their handiwork my oldest said “Won’t my mom be so happy to get these?!”

I blinked and responded that yes, I’m sure she’d love them. And then I went to my bathroom, locked the door, and ugly cried for ten minutes. I called my husband at work and told him he was responsible for dinner and I was feeling sick. Not a word of a lie, but also not the whole truth. Of course, the boys had no reason to make me a gift. None. Zero. Nada. Okay? Their lives were in upheaval and, frankly, it was idiotic of me to assume that if I had a problem with Mother’s Day that the abused, neglected foster kids in my care wouldn’t. But feelings are feelings and mine were hurt. 

So, I waited eagerly for the next Mother’s Day to roll around. We were still foster parents, but the kids were fairly well set in our home. Yeah, that wasn’t a great year either. It was mostly because I was weepy thinking that this might be the last Mother’s Day I got with these kids. Now, to my husband’s credit, he had worked with some other dads to arrange a very nice picnic lunch and he had the boys sign a card. It was sweet. I was miserable. 

So, the next year rolls around and I am stupidly optimistic y’all. I hadn’t felt ill walking into the store and seeing Mother’s Day paraphernalia. We had adopted the kids by this point. But still. I received a lovely bouquet from someone saying congratulations on my first Mother’s Day, and it just tore my heart out. I had been a mom to these kids now for over two years even if they weren’t legally mine. It hurt that this person hadn’t acknowledged that. Especially because it felt like they hadn’t fully accepted my kids as family yet. Look. My emotions are jumbled and they are mine. I don’t love it, I’m just explaining. 

Now, let’s look at this from the kid’s view. They had never celebrated Mother’s Day before. To their knowledge, this was an entirely new holiday. The next year was much the same, but probably worse for them since they knew they were being adopted and they grieved the relationship they didn’t have with their biological mother. We had a few okay years where everyone was sweet to me and I got a gift and it felt good. Then, my oldest needed to be placed in residential treatment. So, our annual Mother’s Day photo didn’t include him, and that hurt. First for the fact that I had missed signals that things were not okay, and second because now I had a tangible reminder that our family was incomplete. 

And so it goes. I love that there is a special day set aside to say thank you to moms. I love that there are moms who are so deserving of gifts, flowers, cards, poems, songs, and special videos at church. To someone who has a weird mom relationship, has no mom at all, or has been abused, Mother’s Day feels like salt in a wound. So, my kids sometimes act out worse instead of better. Which, honestly I get. If I’m a grown adult and I don’t have my emotions happily bundled in a discernable way, how could I possibly expect my kids to? 

We talk about mothers—bout the moms, they had before and about our parents. We try to normalize feeling happy or sad over big days. We try to do an activity that everyone will enjoy. My favorite Mother’s Day to date was when we went to an indoor rock climbing gym together. It was so much fun. The kids also made cute cards at school and they were so excited they had to give them to me early. 

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.