Mother's Day, Observed

I remember my first Mother’s Day. My oldest was weeks from coming out and joining the world. Oh, I recall those feeling of joy, hope and wonder for what my husband and I had created! I’d finally gained admittance to a coveted society of elders, joining the long line of ancestors, no longer the last link in the chain. Yes, I was very pregnant, but my baby was inside with no little wants and needs except for stripping me of my own comfort. I envisioned a lifetime of days like these when I would be celebrated and expected to do nothing but relax and bask in the glow of my new role. I could get used to this Mother’s Day thing!

So I still have to be a mom on Mother’s Day?

As my second Mother’s Day approached, I waited with deep anticipation. It had been an amazing but long year of little sleep. Oy, I could use 24 hours that were all about celebrating me. My husband and I were deeply in love with our daughter. My husband planned a lovely day; I felt celebrated.

Yet, it also was just another day as a mom and I still felt exhausted. My delightful girl wanted her mama and didn’t appreciate it when nap times were messed with because of family events. The fuss from extended family wasn’t for me, but the giggling bundle I brought along with me.

I remember feeling the slightest tinge of disappointment as I crawled into bed. I brushed it aside. How could I feel disappointed after all that my husband did for me? Next year will be different, I told myself. It will be easier with a toddler to really do what I want to do.

My third Mother’s Day festivities were orchestrated by the little munchkin who called me mama. She was full of hugs and love and ideas of exactly what we should do. Ok, I rolled with it even though the mashed strawberries were not what I expected for breakfast. Still, she mashed them with her own two hands! Then off we went to celebrate my own mom and grandmother.

The next day, that tiny little bit of disappointment kicked in again. What the heck was it about? Wow, I must really be selfish to feel disappointed.

By Mother’s Day number four, I had a broken foot, a set of crutches and a seven month pregnant belly that contained my second daughter. I hobbled after my preschooler who couldn’t sit still. I’ve blocked out all memories of this blessed day.

The Mother’s Days since have been filled with outpourings of love from my daughters. My husband helped them make me breakfast and my girls could barely sit still as they watched me open their homemade cards and gifts. They were wonderful days, beautiful days, yet it’s taken me forever to figure out my post-celebration disappointment. I owe thanks to my daughters, who erupted into major meltdowns after I casually asked if we could switch up the breakfast menu one year. Boom: there’s a humongous mismatch between my expectations of Mother’s Day and those of the little people who made me a mother.

I expected Mother’s Day would be about relaxation, no cleaning up after people, no chores and not having to do anything I don’t really want to do. What I really wanted was a break from mothering! My girls want to be with their mom on Mother’s Day and have visions of how this celebration will play out. Yes, I could take the day off, but I want to be with them, too!

Who knew a holiday about motherhood could be so confusing?

Motherhood is complex. From the early days, when we think they will never sleep, then they do and we worry they have slept too long. The toddler days; our exhaustion due to their emphatic defiance, against the pure happiness we feel while we watch them sleep. The bumpiness of the transition back to school each fall, wishing our kids would just get with the program; right next to our desire for them to stop growing so fast.

Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is filled with a complex set of emotions? I want the day off! I want to be alone and do nothing! I cry with joy at the love my family shows for me!

I am not sure it will get less confusing over the years. I think about future Mother’s Days when my children may be out in the world, not with me to celebrate in person. Oh, I will yearn for these years when they needed me to do so much for them! I’ll wonder if I am still a mom. Yep, motherhood is infinitely complex, thanks to our ever-changing roles and the passing of time.   

The solution: Mother’s Day, Observed

I have the perfect solution for the Mother’s Day conundrum: We need not one, but TWO days of celebrating mothers.

The first one falls on the second Sunday in May. On this day, we celebrate with our families. We let our children and partners shower us with love in the way they want to, and we celebrate our own mothers. This is a relational holiday. We do not become mothers on our own, so we are celebrating the relationships that were created with our own birth and the birth of our children.

The second one is called Mother’s Day, Observed. I consciously pick a day — right around Mother’s Day — to celebrate the unique mother that I am. On this day I do exactly what I want to do, from lunch with a friend to a hike in the outdoors or a nap in bed. If it strikes my fancy, I reflect on what I have learned and how I have grown over the year as a woman, a daughter and a mother. I congratulate myself on riding the waves of this crazy journey of motherhood.

There’s only one guideline in how I celebrate: zero judgment.

Here comes that motherhood complexity again. How often do we take a day for ourselves without including running through a list of what we “should” be doing? When we take time for ourselves, we often experience feelings of guilt and anxiety, too. Mother’s Day, Observed, is an opportunity to practice letting these feelings go every time they shows up. I feel guilty for not doing the laundry: hello, guilt. OK, feel it and then let it go. Wave goodbye to the guilt! This is all about letting go of judging ourselves.

Zero judgment takes practice, hence this rule. Guilt pops up? Ok, it’s there. Next year it might show up less often. Maybe you can only manage a few hours by yourself before you sneak in that much needed trip to the drugstore. And that’s OK. It’s your day!

While not every mom will relate to the conflicting emotions I experience on Mother’s Days past, every mom can use a day to herself. Learning to take time for ourselves is an important practice. Not only for us, but for what it models for our children. The loving kindness you show yourself is what will help them learn how care for themselves as they move through the ups and downs of their own lives.

Happy Mother’s Day, Observed!