I was walking home after dropping my daughter off at school. It was the Monday after Mother’s Day. My Portland neighborhood was outrageously floral (as it usually is this time of year). The air smelled sweet and petals glowed in the blooming trees.
A block past the playground, I ran into a friend heading the same direction, and we fell into step. “How was your Mother’s Day,” I asked, casually.
“I hate Mother’s Day,” she replied.
I cringed and empathized with her disappointment as she recounted the details. What was supposed to be her special moment had turned into a day of forced cheerfulness, miscommunication, and clashing expectations.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that many (most?) of us have gone through some amount of Mother’s Day letdown. It sucks. But I’m grateful to say those days are behind me. I now look forward to Mother’s Day almost as much as I look forward to my birthday.
What changed? Well, mostly me. Here’s what I did (over time).
1. I dialed down the intensity.
I had put Mother’s Day on such a pedestal I was bound to be disappointed. But here’s the painful truth that was lurking beneath the surface:
I felt I was owed the perfect 24 hours because I felt like I didn’t get enough recognition, rest, or appreciation the rest of the year.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I eventually realized I’d set up a series of pass/fail hoops for my family to jump through on Mother’s Day. When one failed, the whole day tanked. We all ended up disappointed and/or hurt.
My disappointment with Mother’s Day wasn’t the problem. It was the symptom of a larger problem.
I eventually recognized there were problems with our family dynamic that needed attention, but Mother’s Day wasn’t the moment to try to fix everything. It wasn’t fair to anyone, especially my kids. I internally declared Mother’s Day a guilt- and resentment-free zone, and I worked to more clearly communicate my needs during the rest of the year.
2. I signaled my Mother’s Day hopes long in advance.
My family had no idea how I wanted to be celebrated on Mother’s Day because I gave them mixed messages. I wanted attention, but I also wanted solo time. I wanted to do specific activities together, but I didn’t tell anyone what those activities were because I didn’t want to have to plan my own day.
Now, sometime in April or early May, we have a low-key family chat about Mother’s Day plans. I give my family an idea about what I’d like and what might be fun, and then I let them take it from there. They appreciate the guidance + openness + trust, and we’re still far enough out that I don’t feel like I had to plan everything myself.
3. I tried to be flexible if Mother’s Day didn’t go as expected.
After I talk to my family about what I’d like, it’s hands off to show my trust in their competence, and for my own sanity. How they interpret the specifics doesn’t always line up with what I had in mind. But that’s okay, because the effort and caring that went into the plans (more than the result) makes me feel loved and appreciated.
4. In the event of a Mother’s Day fail, I celebrated myself.
Sometimes Mother’s Day just doesn’t work out and no amount of deep breathing or perspective shifting changes that.
If that happens, I do my best to acknowledge the hurt and sadness. It’s real, and skipping past it does no good. I make a plan to talk about it later with my family. But today? Today, I celebrate myself, maybe alone, maybe with a friend, because it’s Mother’s Day and I’m going to fill it with joy.
Because I deserve it. We all do.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on my Babble Voices blog, The Accidental Expert.
SELF-CARE IS NOT SELFISH. This is a theme in Prioritizing “Me” Time, Episode 38 of Edit Your Life — the weekly podcast I co-host with my dear friend and Internet unicorn Christine Koh.
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