I remember my first “almost” Mother’s Day, when I was newly pregnant with my first son. My husband brought me flowers and took me out to dinner after a long day of work. We talked a bit about how exciting my next Mother’s Day would be, and I imagined all the Mother’s Days to come. In my mind the day would be an endless parade of pampering and breakfasts in bed and accolades for my exceptional mothering skills. Needless to say, I built up some pretty big expectations about how Mother's Day would play out for me once I had kids and —surprise! — they were all so wrong. It turns out I was going to have to drastically lower my expectations on what Mother’s Day should be if I was ever going to enjoy it.
But it took me quite a few years to get to the point where I realized my expectations of Mother’s Day were the problem though. I approached my first few years of Mother’s Days with exuberant anticipation. I thought it'd be my day off. A chance to be "free" from my duties for the day. I figured Mother's Day, as a mom, meant endless pampering. I felt like finally the tables would turn for a day, and I would be the one being taken care of instead of vice versa. I was so, so wrong.
My one, then two, young children approached Mother’s Day with exactly the sort of indifference I should have expected from toddlers and infants. They continued to cry, continued to need me, remaining blissfully unaware that this day was supposed to be all about giving me some reprieve from the constant demands of motherhood. Dishes still piled up in the sink. Tantrums were still thrown. And I wanted to scream.
When I looked at the struggles I went through every day, when I thought about how damn hard motherhood is, was one day really so much to ask? Yes, it turns out, it was.
All I wanted was one day. One day to get a “break” from being a mom. I wanted my kids to behave better than normal. I wanted my husband to do what I do day in and day out for a change, and do it without me asking or reminding him to take on the tasks I do on a daily basis. I wanted the peace I never get because motherhood is so achingly constant and all-consuming. When I looked at the struggles I went through every day, when I thought about how damn hard motherhood is, was one day really so much to ask? Yes, it turns out, it was.
Every Mother’s Day after my first, I found myself disappointed, because the day never lived up to my high expectations. It's not like I wanted to be showered in flowers or treated to decadent meals; I just wanted a break. But truthfully, I never even came close. It seemed like my kids saved their worst behavior for Mother’s Day. I'd put so much stock in the day being a stress-free that it ended being anything but the relaxing, restorative day. The day would inevitably begin with an alarm clock of wailing and fighting and bickering, and I would cry, realizing my dream day would never come. I felt angry and somewhat resentful, of both my kids and my husband. I almost wished Mother’s Day didn’t exist.
So one year, I pretended it didn’t. I decided to stop celebrating Mother’s Day internally, and I mentally prepared myself for an extra difficult day with my kids — as if we were adjusting to daylight savings time or trying to readjust to a nap schedule after a weekend with the grandparents. If Mother’s Day was always so crappy, I might as well stop living under the allusion that things would magically change overnight for a 24-hour reprieve.
I wasn't operating under any false pretenses. This was life, just like it was for us every other day. So we went for a hike. We enjoyed each other’s company. And I remembered why I decided to be a mom in the first place.
The day started off much like I expected it to. There were a couple small meltdowns, but they were easily quieted when I was actively involved in helping my kids sort through their emotions. My husband made breakfast, and he was able to do the dishes because he wasn’t busy trying to keep the kids away from me so I could have some peace. Since I was ready to help out, the day went along smoothly. I wasn't operating under any false pretenses. This was life, just like it was for us every other day. So we went for a hike. We enjoyed each other’s company. And I remembered why I decided to be a mom in the first place.
The lowered expectations actually helped me to enjoy Mother's Day more. Instead of trying to take a day off from motherhood, I was fully immersed in it. Letting go of wanting a “break” helped me to see how much I really enjoyed being a mom when I wasn't concerned with what I was getting out of it. I realized that celebrating Mother’s Day didn’t need to mean celebrating me. I felt like celebrating motherhood by being self-centered was like celebrating national donut day by eating kale. For me, it missed the whole damn point.
Now, I look forward to Mother’s Day, not because I have some unrealistic expectation of perfection, but because I know in the midst of the chaos I can remember to appreciate that I am a mother. And the mess, the tantrums, the dirt, the unspeakable love? I'll take that, too.