Mother’s Day May Suck But It’s Not Our Fault – YAY!

Once upon a time, I was 8 years old, and I wanted my mom’s Mother’s Day to be perfect, so I baked her a cake. By myself. As a surprise. With 3 cups of oil, instead of 1/3 cup, because they look similar and I didn’t know my fractions yet. My mom had to fix it, and she said it was wonderful and that mistakes happen and that she adored my effort, which ruined everything, of course, especially the surprise, so I spent the rest of the day with hot tears on my face, trying to decide whether I was angry or sad or full of despair. 

Once upon a time, I was in my 20’s, newly-ish married, and I wanted to be a mom but my uterus kept rejecting our efforts, and I spent Mother’s Days with hot tears on my face, trying to decide whether I was angry or sad or full of despair.

Once upon a time, I was a new mom, and I knew I’d finally arrived. Mother’s Day was MINE! But I kept thinking about the mama I used to be – a mom of the heart without a baby in hand – and I spent the day hiding the occasional hot tears on my face – tears for the me I used to be and for my friends who were still there – trying to decide whether I was angry or happy or sad or overjoyed. I didn’t know at the time that it was OK to be all of those at once.  

Once upon a time, I was a more experienced mom, and I didn’t know how to split my Mother’s Day between what I wanted, what my kids wanted, and the ways I wanted our moms and grandmothers to feel honored and valued. I was ashamed of wanting anything for me when I already had the children I’d longed for, but I was also fresh up on the frustration of trying to be All the Things and failing quite well at Most of Them, and what I really wanted so desperately was a break. I didn’t know who to be or what to feel or what to do, and I was, for a time, lost.

Here’s the deal, though. The thing I finally realized after years of Mother’s Days. And the thing that finally set me free to enjoy them.

Mother’s Day is never going to work.

Just… never. Like never, ever. Except for maybe for two or three people, because there’s always someone who ruins it for the rest of us. But for most of us? Nope. Not really. Not fully, anyway. Not in all the ways we want Mother’s Day to be a day of rest and celebration and filled to overflowing with easy joy and absent exhaustion and minus hard and without any grief. As much as we want it to, it just doesn’t work that way. It turns out there are Too Many Expectations, Too Much Pressure, and Too Many People to Try to Honor Well. And there are too many Friends Who Grieve the Good Mamas Who Are Gone, and the Ones Who Still Endure the Bad Ones Who Remain… and the Mamas Who’ve Lost Their Babies… and the Mamas Who’ve Handed Theirs to Another… and the Ones Who Want So Badly Be Mothers But Can’t… and more, and more, and more, into infinity. 

It’s OK, though, that Mother’s Day kind of bites. It is, ’cause – get this – Mother’s Day has pretty much been a failure from its beginnings, over 100 years ago, so it’s totally not our fault. I mean, we’re not doing this wrong. We didn’t screw it up. It’s just that Mother’s Day is a terrible idea; the same, really, as Human’s Day, if Human’s Day was a thing, because there’s WAY TOO MUCH to dump into it. Too much for one day to hold. Why, it takes a lifetime to hold all of the magic and all of the mess that is motherhood. All of the wonder and all of the woe. All of the gorgeous and all of the gunk. All of the living and all of the dying we do with every breath. So we should understand when it’s far, far too much to fit into a card with dainty flowers and watercolored butterflies and the silver glitter dust that rubs off on our hands and gets everywhere and is impossible to clean.

But here’s the thing we must remember; a Happy Mother’s Day is not the triumph of motherhood, nor the measure of a woman or her child. And being a mother is not the same as a life well lived. No. The triumph of motherhood and a life well lived is this: that we – all of us who are human, both women and men, with and without children – somehow, in spite of ourselves, learn to love and nurture one another. To sacrifice for each other and to provide safety within. To sit in the dark with each other and reach out and whisper, “I’m here,” and “You’re not alone.” And to wait for the dawn.

We are the lovers, the caretakers, the sacrificers, the chocolate-chip-cookie-makers; we’re the uplifters, the lap-holders, the tear-driers, the world-set-righters; we’re the peacemakers, the freak-sometimes-outters, the justice-bringers, the mercy-givers; we’re the might-makers, the sit-through-the-nighters, the day-breakers, and the light-bringers. 

And one small day can’t contain us.



More on Motherhood Here on the 5 Kids blog:

On Finding Out There’s Room for More than One Real Mom
On Being a Mother and a Time Traveler
The Evolution of My Cape
On Waving in the Dark and Finding the Illusive Village

Or click on the links in the lefthand column.


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24 responses to “Mother’s Day May Suck But It’s Not Our Fault – YAY!”

  1. We’re a two mom family and we don’t celebrate mothers day at all. On so many levels, it is a day of hardship and loss for many women. Our kids’ birthmoms both have to live through that entire day without their kids with them. A friend who experienced a stillbirth has to live through that day, with the ads and the cards and the incessant “happy”. But mostly, we waited 6 years to adopt our first child, and then another 2 years to adopt our second. We dreamed, for years, day in and day out, of what having a child would be. Whispered conversations in bed every single night for years of “when the baby comes, we’ll have to …” or “what if there are little feet tiptoeing down the hall next Christmas morning”, and so on. And we are there. We get to be moms. Every single day of our lives is mother’s day. We are more lucky than anyone deserves to be. So we don’t need a day to celebrate us, we are just so happy to have our beautiful babies.

  2. Indeed. My church actually talked about the conflicted nature of the first Mother’s Day in the context of exactly what you’re talking about. I actually ended up inviting a bunch of friends over to our house – none of which have kids except one couple – over to our house before I realized it was Mother’s Day. And you know who were the only folks who could show up? The couple with the kid, of course! But perhaps that was an appropriate way for folks with babies to celebrate Mother’s Day – to hang out with others with babies and talk about something else entirely!

  3. Beth,

    I don’t have Facebook but I felt this was important to share. Ashlee Wells Jackson is a photographer doing her 4th Trimester Bodies Project, photos of women’s post-pregnancy bodies, in an effort to revise standard perceptions of female beauty. A search will bring up info. The photos are amazing.

    Best wishes.

  4. Yesterday was a weird Mother’s Day for me. I’m 35 weeks pregnant–am I a mother? If so, then was I a mother last mother’s day as I anxiously awaited and dreaded my doctor’s phone call to confirm that I miscarried at 6 weeks? Was this my first mother’s day? My second? Or will my first be next year, when I (God willing) have a nearly-11-month-old to share it with?

    The anniversary of my miscarriage beginning (May 9th) passed without incident. I couldn’t grieve, because I knew I wouldn’t have the daughter inside of me now if that one had stayed, and I’ve had 35 weeks to fall in love with this one.

    But Mother’s Day was hard. Especially at church. I got a lot of “Happy first Mother’s Day!” comments, and I wanted to say that it wasn’t my first. It was my zeroth or my second, but it wasn’t my first.

    Thanks for the reminder that Mother’s Day is difficult for everyone in every stage.

  5. Perfect.

    And yesterday, after 36 less than spectacular Mothers’ Days, I had an AMAZING one. All 5 of my grown children called or texted me. My youngest’s soccer game (which they won) was down near the shore, so afterwards that’s where we headed. The weather was gorgeous, my son and I soared high on the swings at the beach, got our feet wet in the water and basically just enjoyed the perfect weather. When we got home, my youngest daughter had left a beautiful hydrangea plant and some delicious organic candy, along with a card that made me cry on my doorstep.
    Best of all, no breakfast in bed. I’m not kidding. Whoever thought that bringing mom breakfast in bed would be a good idea is out of their mind. And there hasn’t been a single mom who has ever choked one down that didn’t venture into the kitchen afterwards overwhelmed at the clean-up she had to do to pay for it. Like, who knew we even HAD that many pots & pans?
    Happy Mothers’ Day Everyday, Momrades!

  6. I don’t think the day is trying to contain any of us. Give up on the expectations but don’t give up that one day you might feel more positive and not think it sucks so bad. One year you might, perhaps by accident have a nice day. I thought there might be an epiphany after your second last paragraph but it ended, even though it started out with your expectation that it was ever going to be a triumph of motherhood….maybe next year or a few years after. Life is just life, sometimes its great sometimes its not. It’s just a thank mum for being my mum and if we take that to mean thanks even though we don’t know the half of what you do for us, what you have given up or what you have been through to be my mum, even when you nursed your own grieving and breaking hearts but still saw the need to clean our snotty nose or take us to the playground. One year you might be sitting somewhere quiet and the earthly thanks for your efforts will come to you. It might be subtle, no big loud parade or fireworks or show for you but don’t give up that one day you might be grateful for what is and less effected by what isn’t.

  7. Thank you Beth.

    This was the first year I really grieved that I have no littles in my life. I had friends with 3 wonderful little girls who I was allowed to “mother” with joy and affection as the doting aunt named “Nana”. But last June the friendship took a parting of ways and I next to never see my sweet girls. I miss them so much and I realize they do too because when we do see one another in church their hugs are ones where we seem to never want to let go.

    Today I sat in church and mourned that I am 39, single and my arms are empty of the babies I had so hoped and longed for. This year I ached for the 3 lil girls who were no longer in my life. And our God is so wonderful, for wouldn’t you know it the 2 littlest came and found me and hugged and hung on. It was such a blessing and did make me weep more but it made me realize I have had children in a way and I have taught them well. So does this make it easier to know that I may never be called Mom? No not really but it does make me appreciate the small moments when I do see those 3 wee beauties.

    I may still mourn but I know in my heart that God has a plan for me and I need to follow his guidance. I pray for peace and wisdom on this journey because sometimes the waiting is hard.

    I may not be a momma but I too wave in the dark to those who are Mom’s. <3

  8. It was my first Mother’s Day this year. After years of crying those same hot tears as, empty armed on Mother’s Day, I was finally allowed to call myself Mummy, and have my day. A day where I would be celebrated and cherished and loved on.

    It was a joke. I have hated every minute of it. My Husband put no effort in to making me feel appreciated. I got a card with a stupid comment about having a sex slave. Hilarious. We have an 11-week old. Enough Said.

    Yeah, cause that’s what I want to remember my first mother’s day by.
    No lovely thoughts written down. No gift. Nothing special – even though I gave him plenty of ideas.

    We drove around for an hour and then went home because everywhere was too busy for lunch, and he hadn’t thought to plan ahead and book anything. I had avocado on toast.

    The one redeeming factor was Felicity giggling – a new and rare occurrence.

    I feel so unappreciated and unimportant and unloved. Awesome memories. Thanks for that.

    I was heartsick. I shut the Husband out, and cried all afternoon. No exaggeration. I cried while I did the dishes. I cried while I did a load of laundry. I cried while I fed my little girl. This was supposed to be a special day. A day I’d been looking forward to for years. And it had been a colossal letdown.

    I felt unappreciated. Irrelevant. Insignificant. And not worth celebrating. Jeez. How heavy was that?

    I effectively ruined my own day, by letting my emotions and my Unbearable Feeling lie to me, and stopped me from enjoying time with my Husband who was not working, for once, and my little, precious Gift. What a dork I am.

    Thank you for this, Beth. This post was just what I needed to see in the aftermath of me. You, and your realness are such a blessing.

  9. The Mother’s Day celebrations I always attempted to create for my mom have never materialized for me. Not that this is a big deal – and you’re right, this day will never be adequate enough to express all the love and appreciation we have for our mothers; or that our children could have for us. The moment I became a first time mom “I” ceased to exist. For ever after, I was always going to me So-and-So’s Mom. For 27 years I have been so-and-so’s Mom x4. Don’t get me wrong – I think the magic of Mother’s Day lies in the “arrival” of each of my children into my life. After all – without them, I would not be a mother. But with the decision to become a mom, somehow I seemed to also agree to stop being Me. I didn’t know I’d done that right away – it became more obvious with each passing year of motherhood – because you’re right, Beth, we spend the rest of our days balancing what our children need with what we need. The good news is, with some assistance, I have been able to reclaim Me, and still be a mom. It took work, and it was not easy. But it is important. I tell my daughters that, when they become Moms, they must always try to carve out a little time in their lives to still be themselves – not the wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend – but the Self that God created, blessed and continues to hold in His arms. It is not selfish – it is sanity. We wear very big hats/capes/shoes and there is room for us in there. Loving and honoring who YOU are will only lead to a deeper love and appreciation for those whom God has given us to love.

  10. You have captured the nuances of Mother’s Day perfectly. Great writing. I was feeling disappointment yesterday with a certain aspect of my life. My husband tried to give me a pep talk. Because I too am an experienced mom, I knew that I just needed to feel that for the moment. I would quickly move on and genuinely feel the gratitude that I really do have. But I feel both; disappointment and gratitude. And sometimes, I just need to allow myself to feel the sadness. So I did. And that’s ok.

  11. Beth…..have you seen the cartoon that’s doing the cyber rounds?It’s a woman interviewing for the job of Mother,she’s saying “and I only get ONE days holidays per year”……to which her employer replies “yes,it’s called Mother’s Day…..but technically….you still have to work”…:-)

    I spent many Mother’s Day’s with the tears flowing,fearing that I would never have a baby of my own,then a miracle happened and I had my son…..I spent my first Mother’s Day with tears flowing because it was so hard and my baby never stopped crying and I hadn’t washed myself or anything else for days and he wouldn’t feed and the responsibility was overwhelming me and did I mention that he never stopped crying…..o yeah,he also never slept….and I thought to myself… first Mother’s Day was supposed to be perfect.As an inexperienced mum I didn’t realise that things don’t have to be perfect for things to be perfect and that even in the hardest moments,being a mother is just perfect. 🙂

  12. And in the time of Facebook, we get to see wht looks like perfection on everyone’s posts. But I think we all know those are just glimpses into the complexity of the day. Thanks for putting this into words.

  13. Thank you. This day is always a bit sad for me because I grieve the strained relationship I have with my mother, grieve that we’ve never had the closeness that I see with so many of my friends and their mothers. And feel guilty because at least I still have my mother.

    My husband asked me if I was ok with he and the boys being gone (to a race) on Mother’s Day and I said that was fine. It’s just a day, and having them gone has actually freed me from having any expectations for the day. (One boy did end up staying home due to a much-anticipated school trip on Friday…I don’t think he’s remembered it’s Mothers Day and I’m ok with that.)

    (Finally…I thought of your cape post this morning when the Google Doodle showed a mom and kids riding bikes…all with capes flying in the wind.)

  14. Thank you for this. 2 years ago, on Mother’s Day, I suffered a miscarriage. This year I am a momma to a 8 month old baby. I struggle with the bittersweetness of this day. I will always grieve the lost of our first baby and yet want to celebrate everything that comes along with with being the momma of my son. I need to give myself permission to do both and realize that doing one does not take away. Thank-you!

  15. You forgot the part where all of that plus that daughter you always wanted who made you a mom who sobs and cries and has a temper tantrum every Mother’s Day because SHE is not having a special day and life is unfair and why? How did I raise such a self absorbed child, I swear we’ve worked hard on the whole loving your neighbor thing, bug no.

    La la la!
    Just didn’t want you to miss out on that special seasoning option for the day 🙂

  16. Woke up early, grieving my Mom with a pain that still feels fresh after 6 years, and read this. Thank you, from all of us who are missing our Moms, thank you for all of us who did not and will not, become Moms despite the desire, just thank you.

  17. I love this. I’ve been slowly coming to this realization myself over the last few years, and I wrote some of my thoughts on the subject the other day. I’ve finally come to terms with the idea that tomorrow is really just about trying to make sure my kids have an ok day and my mom (and mom in law) have a good day and maybe I’ll get a break next week. Or maybe not, cause ya know, life.

  18. Beth. Oh Beth. Thank you. I grew up with Mother’s Day being very, very sad. My mom had lost her mom when she was only 24 (her mom was 48) and no matter how hard we tried, there were usually tears on that big day.
    Now that I’m a mom (three boys in three years– identical twins & a baby brother) I find myself on this strange teeter totter of balancing my desire to be honored with the necessity of still being “the mom.”
    Add to that a mother-in-law, aunts, sisters, my own mom and grandmothers, and I have a very full plate.

    Tomorrow will be like any other day. Except that I will wake up and open cards my boys painstakingly made for me last week during homeschool.
    Officially lowering the expectations.
    Thanks for the permission.

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