I’ve heard more negative flack about Mother’s Day than I care to think about. This Sunday in May is so built up that nothing short of the honor afforded to the Queen Mother could even begin to meet the expectations of the average over-tired, overwhelmed, and over-stressed Mother.
Why is it the mere mention of Mother’s Day is often met, not unlike Valentine’s Day, with groans and eye-rolling from many otherwise reasonable women? I think it has to do with the breadth of space between Hallmark-inspired expectations and sobering reality.
This crevasse is littered with disgruntled moms who remember years of making brunch for their mothers-in-law while they themselves had very young children tugging at their skirts, golf outings scheduled by husbands while moms stayed home with the kids, boxes of favorite chocolates thoughtlessly given in the midst of hard-won weight loss goals….
I remember my first Mother’s Day. I was in a group of young mothers who all had children born within a few months of each other. Usually this group offered comfort to me as we all commiserated over the common experience of new parenthood.
The problem was that one of these women got a Lexus SUV for Mother’s Day.
Though no one bothered asking, we could assume there was a bouquet of roses arranged elegantly on the hood with the big bow…and dinner reservations with a babysitter arranged.
You can imagine how the conversations went at home that evening…between every couple but one.
So why has this Sunday in May become the resting place for such a storm of emotions?
In an effort to figure out just what the problem was, I decided to interview some women who actually looked forward to Mother’s Day and all the sentiments it supposedly embodies. The resounding message from every mom with a positive view of the day was that, like most events for women, Mother’s Day joy is up to you. That’s right, Mom. Don’t expect hubby and the kids to rise to the occasion on this one.
I was most impressed with Danielle, whose husband gave her the day off on Mother’s Day. Of course, she reciprocated on Father’s Day. This is what Danielle, mother to two sets of twins, had to say:
“Not sure how we started it, but I’m pretty sure it was when we realized that with four young kids, there is no such thing as a true day off, ever. So we let each person spend two days a year — their day (Mothers/Fathers) and their birthday in any way they choose: your time is your own, and no one can make demands on it.”
In other words, you can make the family go for a day hike with you, or you can go spend an entire afternoon at the spa…blissfully alone.
Ask Danielle if she likes Mother’s Day, and you’ll hear a resounding “yes.”
Another very content mother of four told me she recognizes Mother’s Day by remembering that she is a mother because of her kids. It’s more like Mother-Child Day to her. “All I want is a day of treasured memories,” Christine told me. “A Great Mother’s Day is when the Mom realizes it’s not truly her day!” Christine makes sure she carves out other special moments to pamper herself during the year but doesn’t make Mother’s Day about herself. As a result, she never gets the Mother’s Day Blues.
Perhaps these two great moms know the little secret that it took me years to figure out. Some of the best mothering advice I’ve ever received was: claim the time you need.
As I was complaining about how my husband spends an hour or two in front of the television many nights, a wise friend of mine asked me why I don’t do the same. She continued to say that the reason I don’t have down time is that I don’t take down time.
I had to admit she was onto something.
Maybe my relaxation wouldn’t take the form of a prime time show but an afternoon latte with a friend, a walk at lunch, a rest on the sofa with a magazine on a Sunday afternoon, or a decadent piece of chocolate eaten when no one was around to beg me to share.
Unfortunately, mothers overall tend to play the masochist.
Few mothers, especially those with very young children who need a break the most, really know how to give to themselves without feeling guilty about it. But this “mother-as-martyr” serves no one and only heightens the resentment so many overworked and under-appreciated moms already feel.
Mothers need to adopt a new paradigm. That means we have to stop begrudging the fact that our family hasn’t given us the proper deference on the one day artificially pumped up by Hallmark and brunch venues to honor all our sacrifices. Instead, we need to give ourselves the gift of kindness on a regular basis.
But this advice doesn’t always work for the most vulnerable of mothers–the new ones. Not only do they lack the perhaps unfortunate experience necessary to understand no one is going to pamper them but themselves, but they also likely have the least ability to do it amidst piles of soiled diapers, inconsolable crying (that would be the baby’s, just to clarify), and the general sleep deprivation that leaves them too mentally fried to pour formula into a bottle without spilling much less pour themselves a glass of wine.
New dads, step up to the plate. This is the one special Mother’s Day that rests squarely on your shoulders. This is the Mother’s Day where your beloved has embarked on a journey that will shape the rest of her life. She’s exhausted and overwhelmed, questioning her abilities, her sanity, and maybe even her choice to become a mother in the first place. She needs some affirmation–to be told that she is still beautiful to you, that you are astounded at the miracle of her strength, and want to honor her.
The deal is that if you exceed expectations on that first Mother’s Day, you’ll be set for the next 18 years. Because honestly, the kids will make sure the rest of her Mother’s Days are full of scrawled hand printed cards and Dixie cup marigolds.
So what if you can’t buy a Lexus SUV? It doesn’t need to be that big, but a handwritten card that makes her cry is a good start. And, in a pinch, even a Hallmark card with lots of mushy stuff could work if she’s into that.
And see if you can’t swing a good piece of jewelry that’s classic and substantial enough that your newborn infant daughter may consider wearing it for her wedding someday. And for super-bonus points, don’t forget to mention this line of sentimental “daughter’s-wedding-day” thinking as you’re sliding it on her finger or holding her hair back from her ears as she puts on the diamond studs.
Don’t have such deep pockets or are lucky enough to be married to a non-bauble-loving woman? How about planting a pretty flowering tree that will “grow with our new baby?”
The key is to put real thought into it. It will pay off in future years. Don’t be afraid that you’re setting a precedent (for I know that’s what you fear). Instead, realize you’re paying it forward. By overdoing it this year and putting the idea into her head that this is your year to do Mother’s Day, you’ll avoid beginning her life as a mother with that snowballing of resentment that causes women to say they hate Mother’s Day with as much passion as they do V-Day.
But ladies, remember that, aside from the first Mother’s Day when you’re having enough trouble taking care of a tiny little one much less yourself, redesigning Mother’s Day rests on your shoulders.
Anytime a woman depends on others to meet her needs, she will end up short. If you really want your Mother’s Day to be perfect (or any day really), make it that way, and seize your own joy.