Mother’s Day: The Let Down

Thoughts on how to deal with a disappointing Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is over. And you’re left feeling…underwhelmed. Maybe you didn’t get a thoughtful card (or a card at all). Maybe the flowers weren’t what you had in mind (or there were no flowers). Maybe you’re resentful that you still had to be the primary parent on your “day off.” Or someone took over your whole day and made it about them.

You’re not alone. There are many moms who end up feeling disappointed at the end of Mother’s Day.

Let’s face it. There is no such thing as a “day off” when you’re a mom. But there is such a thing as feeling celebrated. Appreciation can go a long way. A heartfelt “thank you” or “I love you” is needed to boost a mother’s spirit every once in a while. We do what we do out of love, but acknowledgement is nice.

Now Mother’s Day is over, so what can we do about it? How can we get past the hurt and make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Mother's Day Disappointment

Identify Your Disappointment

Why didn’t Mother’s Day go well? Take some time to really put your finger on it. It will give you a direction on how to deal with it, get past it, and avoid feeling this way in the future.

Every mom/family/situation is unique. There are many contributing factors, but here are some common reasons moms often feel uncelebrated on Mother’s Day:

* Unspoken Expectations. What were your expectations? Make a list of them. Did you make them known? Did you say them out loud? Clear communication is key. Unless you come from a family of mind readers, you really do have to spell it out for them. If you want to be taken out to eat, you have to say it before the big day. Same thing if you want brunch at home. Do you appreciate foresight and obvious pre-planned effort? Say so. Tell them about a mother’s sixth sense that lets you know when they slapped something together last minute. Do you want to be gushed over? Request it. Being obvious doesn’t make them stupid, it makes you a clear communicator…and more likely to get what you want.

* Misconceptions. Once upon a time a dad said out loud to his wife: “You’re not my mother, why would I celebrate you on Mother’s Day?”

Yikes. Sorry, buddy. Wrong answer.

I physically cringed when I heard that. But it does show exactly where he is coming from: a place of not knowing. He genuinely doesn’t know any better. This could be his first time living with a mom who wasn’t his own. Talk openly about what you feel Mother’s Day is about and listen to his ideas. If they don’t line up, point out what about your requests is important to you and why.

Relationships are about growth and change. Communication plays a huge role in that. Speak up and state your preferences. It’s okay to want to feel celebrated as a mom. We do so much for our family, it’s absolutely okay to want that acknowledged on Mother’s Day.

* Pecking Order. Which mom comes first? Did it feel like your Mother’s Day plans took a back seat to someone else’s? Or perhaps you felt like you had no say because of “obligations?”

In my opinion, there is a sort of hierarchy to Mother’s Day:

1. You as a mom
2. Your own mom
3. Grandmas
4. Friends and other moms

Or as my husband puts it: the most important mom is the one you live with; celebrate that one first.

Of course this list doesn’t apply to every mom, family, or situation. And you might have very different ideas about who gets celebrated and how based on the depth of your relationships. That’s great, too. The point is to clearly communicate your beliefs with your partner and/or family.

If you feel like you were displaced on Mother’s Day, give some thought to whether you believe there is an order of obligation. It’s okay to want to feel celebrated. It’s okay to celebrate others. It’s also okay if those choices and celebrations look different.

A lot of moms get invited to celebrate in groups and often a matriarch will expect everyone to go with their plans. If someone else’s request gets in the way of your needs, wants, expectations, etc., it’s okay to acknowledge this. It’s a celebration, not a competition.

* Trapped in Tradition. Or perhaps you’re part of a larger family who has a tradition that isn’t lining up with your hopes of staying at home in pajamas all day. You have two options: choose to go with the plan or make your own. But you do have a choice—you do not have to go out of obligation or guilt.

If you choose to go along with the plan, you might need a bonus day to carry out your dream of a stay at home pajama day. If you choose to make your own plans, be okay with that decision. No regrets. No shame. You do you.

If you or your partner feel like they need to celebrate your own moms as well, you can also arrange a bonus Mother’s Day with them. Honoring moms doesn’t have to be reserved for one day of the year. Nor do you have to try and make every holiday exactly the same.

* Feeling Forgotten. Perhaps your loved ones didn’t plan anything. If this happened and you are a mother with young children still in the house doing the daily grind, I’m really sorry. It’s a lot of effort day in and day out. So much of our identity feels wrapped up in our mothering that it’s hard not to take it personally when we’re not acknowledged.

If you want to avoid this in the future, don’t keep your disappointment a secret. Talk about your hopes for Mother’s Day and why it’s important to you.

* Underappreciated. Or perhaps you just don’t feel appreciated any day of the week and the hype of Mother’s Day has brought that to a boiling point. That is a much larger issue than one holiday, but the idea is still the same. Acknowledge this feeling and talk about it. Open up to a friend, your partner, or a therapist.

Check in and see if people who are “supposed to” be celebrating you feel like they are celebrated. It’s unbecoming, but some people are very tit-for-tat: if they feel slighted, they are more apt to slight.

You’ve pinpointed your irritation with the day. You know you should probably talk about it. Now what?

The Point of Mother’s Day

The first Mother’s Day originated from a church service in May 1907 in West Virginia. These days it’s morphed into a brunch themed celebration that’s now the third largest holiday in the United States. Where it came from or what it looks like now doesn’t matter as much as:

What does Mother’s Day mean to YOU?

On some level, you probably want a break or to feel appreciated (or both!) Write down what Mother’s Day means to you. And communicate that with your family. Be specific.

Is it about gratitude? Are you just grateful to be a mother? Grateful for the mothers in your life? Or you want people to show you gratitude? Are you tired and need a nap? Is your schedule jam-packed and you just want one free day without obligation? Deep, superficial—it doesn’t matter. You have ideas and needs. Talk about them. And not just on Mother’s Day, every day.

Model Celebration

No need to be a Petty Betty about celebrations. Father’s Day is coming up. If you didn’t get the Mother’s Day extravaganza you were hoping for, it’s not really the time for paybacks. Instead, keep with the spirit of communication and celebration. Ask him what he wants. Model what you want to see him do for you.

Our families learn from our example more than anything. Model the behavior you want to see. Don’t keep it a secret.

Be Obvious. Really Obvious.

Say what you need. Share what you want.

If this Mother’s Day was a disappointment, think back. Did you say what you wanted? If you didn’t, chances are high it’s because you didn’t speak up or weren’t specific. Being super specific can feel frustrating at times, but the goal is clarity, so it’s okay to be overly obvious.

Offer a “Do Over Day”

If Mother’s Day was bad, offer your family an out. Be the first one to step up and try to make the situation better. (It’s a mom skill we have anyway…now is the perfect time to use it). Suggest a “Do Over Day.” It’s a repair attempt that you initiate, because no one in the family wants to stay mad or hurt over the Mother’s Day mess up. Help them plan it. Explain the whys. Be clear.

Consider this.

Try to look at the bigger picture. There could be a lot of other factors involved in the Mother’s Day flop: financial stress, timing, etc. If those who are celebrating you work or go to school, it’s often hard for people with busy schedules to make the mental space or take the time to remember a pre-determined holiday. They may be crunched for time if their daily habit is go to work or school and come straight home—where are the pockets of time for shopping? And so much of Mother’s Day involves fresh flowers and foods these days that “last minute” is sometimes the only minute.

Talk about it. Find out if there were other factors involved. Discuss your feelings and expectations. Be honest, not critical. No one likes to be criticized. Think guidance and long term growth over mad in the moment.

Focus on Gratitude

You’ve identified your disappoint, figured out what Mother’s Day means to you, you’ve got plans to talk about it…now take a break and shift your focus over to gratitude. Gratitude is life changing. It can make you feel happier on a bad day…and if you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely recovering from one of those days.

What are you grateful for? Good health? A roof over your head? Loved ones? Your children? Miracles? Opportunity? Friendship? Strength? A cool breeze on a hot day? Write it all down.

I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful you took the time to read this article. I’m grateful for all you do as a mother. I’m grateful for my mom friends who understand. I’m grateful for my own mother and all other mothers who go before me and share their wisdom. Mothering is not easy, but you’re doing it. We’re doing it.