Mother’s Day: Earning It

by Lisa Hillman
May 11, 2020

When my son was in active addiction, I hated holidays. All of them.

Mother’s Day was among the worst.

Walking through our town, I would pass families with teenagers, toddlers, and baby carriages. My eye would catch a grandmother as she smiled alongside her daughter, both women wearing painfully bright pink corsages or carrying a single long-stemmed red rose or, worse, a full bouquet—testament to their family’s love and adoration on this day of all days.

The sight of them hurt.

Where was my carnation? My long-stemmed blooms?

Years ago, my father, a successful businessman, chided me for making a fuss over Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. He claimed that these “days” were simply commercial celebrations to fill restaurants and sell cards, candy, and flowers.

Nevertheless, I grew up looking forward to them. Especially as my mom aged and became sick with cancer, Mother’s Day was our date for brunch. It was just the two of us. We would sit across from each other at a small, softly lit table where I could savor the protected and precious time with her. Even today, these are sweet memories.

So why wouldn’t I grow up to expect the same from my children?

Except my son was incapable of knowing it was Mother’s Day or any other day.

Jacob began smoking, drinking, and using stronger drugs in high school. Freshman year at college was a disaster. Two years at home attending community college were no better.

Each year, Mother’s Day brought crushing disappointment. Where was my corsage?

It wasn’t until I found Al-Anon that an understanding of addiction—and its effects on me—began to help. I had to mourn the loss of so much: my son not finishing college, starting a career, saving money to buy a house, saving money to buy anything except drugs.

I had to learn that it was all about expectations, and I had to let them—and him—go.

It was in Al-Anon that I learned the kind of mother I needed to be. My son needed a very loving mom—one who understood boundaries, who relinquished a control over him she never had anyway, and who would allow him to grow up on his own.

Not until we gave Jacob an ultimatum—to enter treatment or leave our home—did his “growing up” begin. By then, all I cared about was that he would get well and one day would be “drug-free.”

This understanding—hard won—took time. Today, Jacob is eight years into recovery. His sobriety has brought him to all the milestones that he wanted to achieve: a college degree, a career, and a beautiful young woman he will marry next year.  

His mother is in recovery, too, still learning how to be the mother he needs.

On Mother’s Day, he calls me. We might FaceTime between his home in Florida and mine in Maryland, but he always remembers it.

To get my son back, I had to let him go.

And to celebrate Mother’s Day, I had to earn it.

Author of Secret No More


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Lisa Hillman

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  1. Mothers Day is a challenging day for sure. I have also found that letting go of expectations has freed me of my own disappointment. I will say it is also a practice that requires consist mindfulness. I catch myself taking back control , atleast mentally, often.
    I thank you for your message of hope. I also had set boundries of not living at home with two of my son’s in there addiction. They still remain in there active addiction. I remain grateful they are alive and I keep hope alive that maybe one day they will find there way to recovery.

    • Dear Tracy, thank you for reading, and yes, it takes constant focus to let go of expectations. Even now, with Jacob as an “adult” (are our kids ever adults?), I still need to watch expectations.
      Stay healthy for yourself, and yes, one day your boys may indeed find their own path to health.

  2. You had to earn it?!
    Are you kidding?!
    You earned respect every single day of his life…since the very day you conceived.
    You have a right to your
    I too waited and hoped for a thought, some flowers, a box of candy, a delivery showing g thoughtfulness, caring, love, remembering, thanks…any sign that my kids were thinking of me…not themselves.
    I, too, had expectations.
    No deliveries…no chocolates…no bouquet…nothing!
    Damn it!
    So sad…so disappointing…so lonely.
    And I’m afraid to tell them, or let them know how I feel for fear they will relapse.
    I remain rejected and depressed and miserable and worried and unappreciated…all of the time.
    All of my hope’s have been dashed…no hope left.

    • Dear Anonymous, thank you for reading. What helped me was finding other moms who were suffering.
      An Al-Anon meeting where there were lots of mother (and fathers) with sons and daughters in addiction is what started me back to sanity.
      It takes time and patience…but I kept coming back, and still do.
      I hope you can find the peace and comfort you deserve.

  3. I needed to read this….thank you.

  4. This is a hard one right here. But so true. Mothers day was hard. Having your child in active abuse is heart breaking. I am having to learn to let go of my daughter and what I thought our future would be. So so hard

    • You don’t know what the future will bring, but letting go of expectations is a good start.
      Thank you Amy.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I have released him and my expectations and am still praying he figures out how to live a life he is worthy of, but it’s better, SO much better now that I’ve learned to not own the responsibility of HIS successful life. I appreciate the reminder and affirmation that I’m doing what I should’ve done long ago.
    I did receive a Mother’s Day call from him last night at 9pm. That was progress!

    • Wow..Yes – that was progress. As you know, it’s progress, not perfection.

  6. I hesitated reading your story and actually postponed reading it because I knew that I would be reading something I needed to hear. And I did need to hear this!
    I’m exactly where you were before your recovery and so totally in denial, however, I am at the end of it and need to change. Our 48-year old drug addicted son
    is ruining our life and destroying our finances. Yesterday, I reported him to the APS (Adult Protection Services), a big, big step for me to have taken. It took a
    long time to get to this point but I need to protect myself and my ‘early dementia-ill husband’ of many years. It’s a heavy load to carry but I am strong and will
    do what I have to do now. Thank you for reminding me what kind of mother to our son I need to be. I had it all wrong all these years. Thank you!

    • Thank you Ellen. Please take care of yourself and your husband. You need to come first.

  7. I’m not going to lie mother’s Day was better sweet for me, I love my life and my beautiful daughter, but there is another side to my story.

    I’m very angry , you took my son away from me. Your stronger then me. More powerful then me, I don’t have a fighting chance.

    I hope that one day I’ll see you again, even if it’s just your shell.
    To hear your voice, to look into your eyes, to wrap my arms around you, I’ll take whatever I can get.

    I say I will no longer be a slave to your addiction , cause if I let you go, it’s a loose, loose, situation

    I’ve tried to understand
    I’ve showed you unconditional love and commpation.

    You see, they tell me there’s hope , hope is just a word I hear everyday. I think about you every minute of the day.
    Will you ever change ?

    The drug has more power then family, love, health and happiness, it takes your soul away.
    But every night I still pray that I might get my son back again.

    My pain My love for my son who is a addict.


    • O Jeannie. My heart aches for you in reading this.
      You love your son so much. Yes, there always is hope.
      Breathe. Take care of Jeannie. Sometimes it is not only one day at a time, but one hour at a time.

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