People often say motherhood is a thankless job. Some part of that will always be true because manners come about as naturally for most kids as swimming comes for cats. But we like to think that on Mother’s Day we have the opportunity to make it a little bit less thankless. I’ve certainly made that mistake—the mistake of thinking that I would be carried around on a throne by a throng of adorers for the day.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t usually pan out that way.
What is an appropriate Mother’s Day gift, really? What is that perfect trinket or gesture to let a mom know that the work she puts in and the sacrifices she makes are recognized and appreciated? Most moms I know joke that all they really want is a night of uninterrupted sleep, a couple hours of peace and quiet, and a laundry service. Very few of us will get that, though.
Perhaps, if you’re like me, you know exactly what you’ll get for Mother’s Day because you’ll ask for it in no unspecific terms. Perhaps you’ll do this because you’ve learned the hard way that unspoken expectations are the absolute easiest way to ruin any day, and a ruined Mother’s Day cuts particularly deep.
It took me exactly two Mother’s Days to get to this point. On my first Mother’s Day, just three months after becoming a mom, my husband thought that a fitting way to spend the day would be a family trip to a minor league baseball game. Bless his heart. Um, where is the throne throng that is supposed to carry me to brunch on a chaise longue where I will be fed skinless grapes? In retrospect, I can see his logic: Sunshine, outdoors, hot dogs—these are all some of my favorite things. I find baseball to be pretty boring, though, and nursing an infant while sitting next to strangers in the bleacher seats didn’t exactly sound like a good time to me. When an unexpected storm rolled into town, we decided to bail on the plan altogether. My husband watched golf on TV, and I went grocery shopping. Strike one.
The following year, my husband teamed up with a friend, and together they planned a Mother’s Day outing for our two families—a trip to the local train museum. The catch was that my friend and I, both stay-at-home moms at the time, took our kids to the train museum pretty regularly as a way to kill time during that “the days are long, but the years are short” season of motherhood. Our husbands had not experienced a day at the train museum with toddlers. I’m not sure if it was when a fight over a toy train actually drew blood or when we had to ask a conductor-costumed employee which public restroom would be best for changing a blowout diaper, but the dads eventually saw the error in their well-intentioned plan. Strike two.
When my third Mother’s Day approached, I complained to a friend—a more veteran mom—that it wasn’t a holiday that had gone well for me. I confessed that what I really wanted was time to myself, time away from my kids—a desire that in itself I felt bad about. “You just have to ask for what you want,” my friend advised me. “Don’t feel bad about it, and don’t expect your husband to read your mind.”
So I finally told him that while activities like family baseball games or trips to museums had their place, that place was not on Mother’s Day. “I want to go golfing,” I told him, trying to put my desire into terms that he could relate to. He was confused, of course, because I don’t golf nor am I interested in doing so. What I meant was that I wanted six hours to myself, just like he had when he spent a Saturday at the golf course.
He got it. That year for Mother’s Day he got me a beach bag full of tabloid magazines (no judgment, please), an appointment for a pedicure, and a fridge well-stocked with champagne and a cheese tray. He let me sleep in while he tidied up the house, and then he took the kids for the entire day. When I kissed them goodbye I felt a quick twinge of mom guilt (what kind of mother sends her family away for Mother’s Day?), but as I took a deep breath and carried my copy of People magazine out to the sunny back porch, I felt like myself. I felt appreciated.
Taking the kids was a tangible way for my husband to show gratitude for what I do daily as a mom. Asking for it was my gift to myself. Because, as is true for women in all walks of life, especially in circumstances that frequently lead to burnout, sometimes we need to stop waiting for things to line up perfectly for us to get a much-needed break. Sometimes we have to just figure out what we need on our own and make it happen. It’s not a failure on anybody else’s part if they didn’t think of it for us, but it’s a failure of ours if we don’t do it for ourselves. After all, being self-aware that we can’t go 24/7/365 for others without a moment for ourselves is the only way we can keep being the best moms, professionals—women—we can be. No parades needed.
Photo Credit: Olivia Leigh Photography