Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column What The Actual. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email email@example.com.
How can we make Mother's Day suck less? How is it that we have designed a holiday ostensibly to celebrate moms and give them a break when everyone knows that the burden of any holiday falls on us, even when we are the alleged honorees?
Who remembers to get cards and flowers for your respective mothers? Who makes the brunch reservation, or cancels the reservation made at the crappy, kid-nightmare brunch place and promises her third-born to the hostess to get a last-minute reservation because the identity of the sh*tty brunch place was kept from her as a fun "surprise" until it was almost too late? Who packs toys, bibs, diapers, and — definitely, do not even talk to me about screen time right now — electronics for said brunch? Who cleans the sheets after breakfast in bed? Who still somehow is allotted only 10 minutes to shower and get ready for said brunch ("Why do you need to shower? You look great!"), then has to change the kids' outfits so the mother-in-law doesn't comment on how maybe she should take the kids shopping?
You know who.
Mother's Day is packed with not just emotional but physical labor, and it's not fun, and any attempt to do it differently never seems to work, short of parking the kids with their grandparents and leaving town, and WHAT KIND OF MOTHER DOESN'T SPEND MOTHER'S DAY WITH HER KIDS????
How can we change this?
Not My Day
Dear Not My Day,
My first Mother's Day is around the corner. Rather than it being a day when I feel appreciated for everything I've done this past year, I suspect it will become an opportunity for the rage I've felt at the imbalance of household duties to alight in an incandescence that will power the neighborhood, because a card or a piece of chocolate shaped like a heart is not going to cut it. In fact, after breastfeeding myself into an underweight, iron-depleted early middle age, as well as never AND I MEAN NEVER getting more than three hours of sleep at a time, a piece of chocolate shaped like a heart might send me on a rampage.
My son will be nine months old. He will not be making me breakfast in bed or a card or brunch reservations. He will not be making me anything but happy, since all he can do is giggle and babble, and my expectations of him are very, very low.
That is to say, boycotting Mother's Day this year will be easy. Only my partner is responsible for appreciating me, and I will be clear with him: He can appreciate me best by taking the baby for the afternoon so I can pick up a pork bánh mì, head to the local brewery, and slowly sip a 20-ounce eight percent microbrew while sitting on a bar stool and reading Barbara Kingsolver's Lacuna. (SEE I'M EASIER TO PLEASE THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.)
Brunch in a restaurant is only fun if you can drink as many mimosas as you want and take a nap later.
Mother's Day, however, gets harder once your progeny get older and get ideas. All of a sudden, obligation creeps in. Your kids want to do something for you, but for their plans to work, you have to facilitate them — and then clean up — for the simple, sustained reason that no one else will *AHEM* YOU ON THE COUCH LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE. And if the kids do manage to pull off something nice without your help, it begs the question WHY DON'T THESE PEOPLE PULL THEIR WEIGHT THE REST OF THE YEAR.
The truth is that special days of all kinds are landmines. We have high expectations for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and, yes, Mother's Day, so when reality sets in — THIS THING YOU WANT TO DO FOR ME IS ALL ABOUT YOUR VISION OF YOURSELF DOING IT RATHER THAN WHAT I MIGHT LIKE PLUS YOU EXPECT ME TO THANK YOU WTF — it can be devastating.
Here's what I think: F*ck brunch. Brunch in a restaurant is only fun if you can drink as many mimosas as you want and take a nap later. And Mother's Day brunches that involve kids (and, in some cases, extended family) are forced entertainment.
In fact, Mother's Day itself can seem like forced entertainment, not only because we're told what to celebrate but how: brunch, flowers, chocolates, and cards.
STOP RIGHT THERE GET OFF THE OBLIGATION WHEEL AND COME TO SELF-CARE.
Here's the thing: Mother's Day is supposed to be about you and your happiness. It's not called FAMILY DAY. And, as in life, your happiness on this day depends on SETTING BOUNDARIES.
Expecting anyone else — including our children — to make us happy without being clear about what makes us happy leads to disappointment and, at worst, crouching in the bathtub with the shower curtain drawn and drinking straight from a bottle of cabernet.
Which, to some of us, does not sound bad.
But it's important to let your sweet, sweet babies express their love for you. And yes, those sweet, sweet babies may not yet be old enough to understand selfless giving or, in some cases, cleaning up after themselves. But remember: Whether you like it or not, you're in charge. So you can try to head off a Mother's Day disaster by setting a few boundaries. Here's what that could look like:
1. Give your family a list of 10 things — gifts or activities — that you would enjoy for Mother's Day. Be clear that this list is not optional. Rather, these are the only things that will make you happy and EVERYTHING ELSE WILL RESULT IN A SWIFT AND MERCILESS PUNISHMENT. For example, if you have a partner, he or she may show his or her appreciation in the form of something that comes in a box. GIFTS AND TAKEOUT CONTAINERS WORK FOR THIS. Your children may show their appreciation in the form of something that requires no cleanup. If they choose to make you breakfast, it is DRY TOAST ONLY NO LIQUIDS NO PANS, and that sh*t stays in the kitchen. (Let's be real: Breakfast in bed is like sex in a hot tub: It combines two things we like in a way that ensures neither will be enjoyed.)
2. Decide which hours of the day you will spend with your family and which you will be unreachable. ARE YOU HEARING WHAT I'M SAYING, YOU DO NOT NEED TO SPEND ALL DAY WITH YOUR FAMILY. INSERT YOUR NAME FOR "MOTHER'S" IT IS NOW NO LONGER MOTHER'S DAY IT IS JENNY'S DAY. Say it's 8 to 10 a.m. Or 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Or 6 to 9 p.m. These are the only hours of the day you will be present. Outside of these hours, GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE. This means making plans, anything from ye olde spa day to lunch with a friend, but obligate yourself elsewhere and then LEAVE THE HOUSE.
MOTHER'S DAY SHOULD BE AS SPECIFIC TO YOU AS YOUR BIRTHDAY. IF YOU WANT TO SPEND THE WHOLE DAY WITH YOUR FAMILY, DO IT. IF YOU DON'T, DON'T. LIKE, REALLY. DON'T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT MODELING GOOD SELF-CARE. TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF IS TAKING CARE OF OTHER PEOPLE. YOU'RE A GREAT MOM AND THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND ARE OTHER MOMS, SO FIND SOME OF THEM AND TELL THEM, YOU GOT THIS. NO, YOU GOT THIS. NO, YOU GOT THIS.
AND IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO STILL HAVE ONE, THANK YOUR MOM.
YOU GOT THIS.
Are you currently asking yourself What The Actual about a parenting sitch? Send a question to Jenny by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.