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Did Mother’s Day Disappoint?

Personal Perspective: Mom's Day should be a time of appreciation and leisure.

Key points

  • Mother's Day famously creates unrealistic expectations.
  • Managing expectations can reset your Mother's Day, and your mood.
  • Easing the way to more enjoyable family time.
Source: Pexels/Pixabay

I survived relatively unscathed this year. It was pretty great. I swam laps, did yoga, saw my kids, took myself to a fave bookstore, and connected with other moms. But it hasn’t always been this way—far from it.

There was the Mother’s Day when my mother died. The day before (at least we were all together). And the next when my youngest—autistic, who liked to break glass—swept a final, sacred tumbler of Mom’s off the counter, shattering it to bits. Yes, I had to clean it up.

Another Mother’s Day, I drove to brunch almost rear-ending a sedan swerving inches from me, arriving at my destination shaken. Then, my youngest hit and nearly bit my daughter when she drove him home. (Who did she call to unload, further dampening my day? Yup, Mom.) There were times I cooked for everyone, several times. Or, when an ex made reservations at a restaurant with food we couldn’t eat (he knew our dietary restrictions). And of course, the COVID times, when we nibbled take-out on the porch, in the pouring rain. Super soggy.

Maybe the best Mother’s Day gift I ever received was with a four-month-old firstborn. She didn’t like to sleep in more than two-hour stretches. My then-husband took her beyond earshot, likely out of the house, and I enjoyed a blissful two-hour nap. Priceless.

These Ghosts of Mother’s Day Past are minor, and I know it. There are countless children without moms, and mothers who tragically lost children. There are frosty—or worse, abusive—mother-child relations. Children, mothers, who are homeless, lost. Women desperate to be mothers but unable; impoverished moms, widowed, and bereft moms; limitless permutation.

Mother’s Day can be desolate and marginalizing and is just the beginning of how the holiday can be a trap. For many others, the week after Mother’s Day, in my practice at least, had women showing up bedraggled, disappointed, and harried. They assumed Mother’s Day meant they would be appreciated, pampered, cooked for, and able to rest.

Maybe they gleaned moments of that, but breakfast in bed spilled everywhere or was inedible, but meals needed to be made beyond breakfast (and kids left the kitchen beyond recognition). Children didn’t magically learn to do laundry, clean up, bathe independently, or cook. If a mother had a male partner, he might be as helpless as the kids. And if there were two moms, they could be more disappointed than one. Single moms? Well, they got to pick up all the slack.

“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” a popular slogan says. And, “Resentments eat their own container.” All those years I expected a magical Mother’s Day of acknowledgment, appreciation, and rest, I was the one setting myself up. I was hurting myself. But it took me decades to learn. My oldest of four is now 33; my youngest is 18. I’m just finally getting the hang of Mother’s Day. This year, I was happy to receive one card, and it was perfect, with a retro mom and kids image that said, "The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest." We laughed so hard. The daughter who gave it to me is 30 and yet childless. She’s just beginning to understand the work of motherhood.

Over the years, I’ve learned:

  • Tell them what you want: For years we went round and round about where to get together, what time, and even what day. And did anyone make the reservation? I finally picked a venue and decreed, that if they wanted to get together for Mother’s Day, we would be doing it at X place in perpetuity (everyone enjoys the buffet, and I’m surrounded by mothers, many of whom I know and admire).
  • Be specific: Do not wait to be “surprised,” or assume, “If they love me, they’ll figure out what I like.” Presuming mindreading is a well-known trap in any relationship, not just mother-child. Tell them the time, place, and guest list. Or, if you still want to be surprised, offer as many details as possible.
  • Expect less: This is a constant practice. And “practice” is the operative verb. Beyond specifying where, when, and whom this year, I hoped there would be love, not bickering, but I knew not to expect it. I’ve trained myself to feel lucky when we’re all together. We were, and I told them how much I appreciated it!
  • Schedule alone time: Thankfully, I’m past the children-in-diapers phase (though I’m still deep into the first 40 years!). If you need a breather, or time with people other than your kids (mom friends?), schedule it. Or delegate someone to schedule it. And if you don’t, it's better to kiss the idea of solo time goodbye.
  • Designate a mother-buddy: Sharing Mother’s Day letdowns with another mom can be as good as a long nap. Be available to a mother-bestie, and ask her to return the favor. The entire day might be a wash (hopefully not worse), but at least you can laugh and, or, cry about it with a comradess-in-arms.

Finally, here’s to a happier Mother’s Day next year. You deserve it.

More from Diane N Solomon Ph.D., PMHNP-BC, CNM (Ret.)
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