Estrangement is a cold and hardy silence, and one that is amplified on Mother's Day. Many women around the country will not be receiving flowers or a visit from their son or daughter. There will be hundreds of women avoiding the TV, hiding from social media, wishing dearly that the day were over already.
Alongside this, there are many adult children wandering around the high streets, exhausted and exasperated by the brash and sentimental calls to action from retailers to 'Celebrate that Special Relationship'. Some may have locked themselves in a toilet in Starbucks gulping down tears, wondering why they don't have that special connection. Why was I born to a mother that left? Or did not respect me? Or hurt me? And it is possible to have a mother of this kind: sadly they do exist.
On the flip side, Mothers are reminded that relationships with children 'should' have worked sufficiently to produce an annual card embossed in glib, glittered phrases such as 'World's Best Mum'. And there is nothing quite as lonely as an empty mantelpiece on a day that is dedicated to celebrating you.
However dysfunctional these relationships are, from either angle, sometimes we all do need and yearn for that special mother-to-child bond. It's uniqueness is undeniable. So why don't we all reconcile this Sunday? It would be the super-perfect Hollywood ending to an estrangement. We could pick up the phone, break the silence, and try our best to work things out with our son or our daughter, or our mother and even our father to boot. Nothing could be more magical than a Mother's Day family reconciliation. Am I right?
I've imagined this many times too. There would be a quiet dinner somewhere neutral where everything is talked about respectfully, with love, with regret. We'd all let each other speak without interrupting and acknowledge our separate realities and the hurt we may have caused another. We'll all talk like mature adults and admit our foibles one by one. Then we'll heal, and within a year we we'll be hiring a cottage in Norfolk and playing board games just like the old days. Simple.
This wouldn't actually work for many, I'm afraid to say. And I'm often asked about the reasons why family members can't reconcile. It is hard to draw up any kind of rigid theory without more extensive long-term research, and every family has its idiosyncrasies. But after working closely with experts in this field, I recognise that there is an epidemic of stubbornness afoot.
There is a denial of dialogue from adult parents and adult children alike, a misunderstanding of the critical importance of talking. And if dialogue is entertained, family members often can't hear, validate or accept the 'separate reality' of family life that another member may experience. And this is written with no particular reference to mothers, fathers, parents, adult sons or adult daughters in the family. All members are capable of denying the experience of another when it's not necessarily easy listening.
It's undoubted that experiencing family problems is still hugely stigmatised, alongside the idea of taking these problems to family therapy. We're all suppressed under the shame we feel towards family dysfunction, and perhaps also suppressed by post-war stoicisms. Thus, this doesn't help, as there are numerous trained professionals who can mediate and facilitate a fair and productive dialogue between family members. We just need to reach out to them more.
Ironically, the denial of such a dialogue often results in a deeper silence, an estrangement. Whereby a family member distances someone who cannot show the individual the respect, love, fairness and support they feel they deserve in a family relationship, and who continually rejects their attempts to talk about it or belittles their right to do so.
But back to Mother's Day. The problem is love. The problem is the need to feel perfect. The problem is the hordes of meaningless greetings cards, a painfully empty dinner table, and a day to linger on why the dialogue didn't work for all of us who are estranged. But for those of you who have a loving and respectful mother/child relationship, I would suggest celebrating its imperfections this Sunday. Do celebrate your abilities to be honest, listen, talk about your weaknesses and overcome them in time. Because that core ability is something that's really worth a toast.