Honoring mothers is a tradition that goes all the way back to ancient civilizations, and in the U.S., we've been celebrating Mother's Day since the post-Civil War era. But over the decades, the definition of "mother" has gradually expanded, and not everyone is on board with that. For example, is it appropriate for first-time pregnant moms to celebrate Mother's Day? Or should they wait until the baby arrives and they're officially on call as nourishers, nurturers, controllers of tantrums, and under-the-bed-monster-conquerers?
Not having first-hand experience myself — I found out I was expecting my first baby shortly after Mother's Day, so the whole question was moot — I turned to etiquette experts for advice. Their answer: a resounding yes! "It's never inappropriate to celebrate motherhood, and being a mom-to-be is certainly appropriate," declares national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Adds Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, "She's still a mother, even if she's not physically holding the baby in her arms."
But how to celebrate an expectant mom is another matter. "Etiquette is situational," Whitmore tells Romper. "A father giving the mother a gift because she's going to be the mother of their child is appropriate. But every family has their own gift-giving style, and it all depends on your family and your traditions."
Gottsman adds that close family members, such as sisters, mothers, and mothers-in-law, might opt to give the mom-to-be a card or small present. For other cases, like friends or coworkers, it's a judgment call. "[For gift-giving], there has to be some kind of relationship between the two of you," she tells Romper. "If you wouldn't normally give a gift to that person — for instance, a neighbor — I'd pass."
A word to spouses and partners, however: When in doubt, go with the gift. According to a survey conducted by a branch of Eric Mower & Associates, almost 60 percent of first-time expectant moms anticipated getting a Mother's Day present, presumably from the one who helped them become parents in the first place.
Another factor to keep in mind, say the experts, is whether the expectant mom is barely past the plus-sign-on-the-stick stage or in the any-day-now countdown. "If there's a large family celebration, it puts the couple in an awkward situation if they don't want to tell everyone yet," explains Gottsman. So if you're a friend or family member who's been sworn to secrecy, hold off on offering cards and congratulations until the couple makes the news public.
The same goes for first-time moms with difficult pregnancies, or who are going through adoption proceedings that aren't yet finalized. For them, Mother's Day may be bringing up mixed emotions. "You want to tread carefully," says Gottsman. "Be thoughtful without going over the top."
The background of the mom-to-be plays an important role, too. "A lot of cultures don't celebrate Mother's Day, but they celebrate mothers in other ways," explains Whitmore. In some religious and global cultures, it's considered bad luck to have baby showers or announce the pregnancy too soon, lest something happen to the child before birth.
Say you do want to give a little something to the expectant mom: What kind of present would be appropriate? "It's a day for mothers, so it doesn't have to be a baby gift," says Whitmore. "It could be a gift certificate for a restaurant or a bookstore. At this stage in her life, she could use a massage or a day of pampering." Gottsman agrees: "A mother or mother-in-law could give a card saying 'We're looking forward to meeting our grandchild,' along with a gift card for a manicure."
Remember, too, that Mother's Day won't be your only opportunity to honor the mom-to-be. "Pregnant women have celebrations of their own: the baby showers," says Gottsman. "But if you have a relationship with them, a maternal bond, you can honor them on Mother's Day because they're pregnant."