The first year of motherhood is quite a wild ride, not least because so many of the expectations you had prior to motherhood turned out to be so wildly off base. The parts of parenting you expected to be easy are hard; the parts you expected to be hard are harder. It's hard not to be a little bit disappointed at times, especially when your warmest, fuzziest fantasies don't quite live up to the hype. Perfect example? That highly exalted holiday, Mother's Day. How do you deal with feelings of disappointment when your first Mother's Day isn't quite what you'd imagined?
First of all, know that you're not alone. As psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling tells Romper, even seasoned moms struggle with feeling disappointed on Mother's Day — but this holiday can be a particular letdown for first-timers with babies who "can't verbalize how much they appreciate you or buy you a card," she says.
"The gift comes from your partner who maybe isn't as sensitive as you'd like him or her to be, then it's something your partner has to do, not your child... and the holiday becomes about the expectations you have for your partner."
Indeed, I've casually observed Mother's Day slowly morph into more of a Valentine's Day type of experience for many of the mothers I know: A big, glaring opportunity for clueless partners to unwittingly mess up, laying the groundwork for a years-long grudge in the process. This is not to say that your partner isn't at fault here or that you're hoping for too much. As author Susan Shapior Barash wrote for The Huffington Post, "It isn’t that mothers don’t know that Mother’s Day is a commercialized, idealized holiday, one where we tend to hold the bar high and are apt to be let down, even without finding husbands deficient — it’s that husbands could do so much better."
I mean, she's not wrong. Partners could do better, yes. But if your partner doesn't do better this year, instead of wasting time feeling resentful, Dr. Smerling recommends taking the holiday into your own hands.
"If the disappointment happens, celebrate on your own," she says. "Meet up with other moms, have a glass of wine, appreciate each other. Don't wait for your partner."
Or if you're not willing to sacrifice your fantasy Mother's Day scenario for a get-together with the ladies, Dr. Smerling suggests making your expectations very clear to your partner (who is not a mind-reader, after all).
"Instead of waiting for him or her to do what you had in mind, make it clear this is what you'd like: flowers, brunch, a walk in the park, a gift."
Most moms want to feel appreciated and acknowledged on Mother's Day, of course, but some more than others... especially when you're celebrating for the very first time. Maybe your journey to motherhood was a long and bumpy one, maybe your pregnancy has been extra challenging. Don't feel bad about wanting to be acknowledged. As Professor of Psychology Shawn M. Burn, Ph.D., wrote for Psychology Today, that's a completely normal and understandable impulse:
"Mothers’ expectations are high due to the centrality of the mother identity to our self-concept and the large swaths of our adulthood dominated by parenting responsibilities. Being our children’s mother is one of the main things that we are."
In other words, your expectations are what they are for a reason, "and if they're not met by someone else, meet them yourself," says Dr. Smerling.
And don't be surprised if Mother's Day ends up feeling more meaningful than you expected. Even if you rolled your eyes at Hallmark cards your whole life, you might find that after becoming a parent, "your cynicism falls by the wayside and you want to celebrate because now you're a mom," Dr. Smerling says.
Just don't forget to alert your friends and family about your change of heart... and consider planning a moms-only brunch ahead of time. Because nobody appreciates what you do as a mom quite like other moms!