What I Realized When I Didn't Get What I Wanted For Mother's Day

I Used To Feel Resentment After Mother’s Day—Not So Much Anymore

April 19, 2020 Updated April 27, 2020

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It was the morning of my fourth Mother’s Day and I was steeling myself for another year of disappointment.

Inwardly, I wanted to be the type of woman who was content with a thoughtful card, a stack of Bisquick pancakes, and a run-of-the-mill Sunday absent of expense or fanfare. That seemed like the appropriate posture for a mother: grateful, selfless, uncomplicated. I could picture the other mothers with tears in their eyes as they graciously accepted their macaroni necklaces and construction paper cards with M-O-M scrawled across the front. I saw them moving on with their morning: tucking clean laundry into drawers, tidying up kitchen counters, comfortable in the knowledge that a woman’s responsibilities don’t just magically disappear because it happens to be the second Sunday in May.

In my mind, I should’ve been that woman. But my heart felt differently about the whole affair.

My kids tiptoed across the carpeted floor while I stood at the mirror in my bathrobe, pretending not to hear their exaggerated whispers. They proudly presented me with a card on which my older son had signed his name—a new skill—and pot of purple geraniums to hang on the front porch. My husband grinned from behind them, leaning over their heads to give me a kiss and wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Their gift was thoughtful and the extra affection appreciated, but I felt that familiar disappointment snaking its way into my heart. Is this the end of Mother’s Day? I wondered. I thought I got the whole day, not just the first ten minutes. I took a deep breath and smiled, gathering the three of them into my arms.

The day proceeded pretty much as usual: church, lunch with my parents, a dinner that I prepared. By the time the kids were tucked into bed, I was a simmering pot of resentment, my sadness and anger threatening to spill over the sides at any moment. After a series of ranty texts to my girlfriends who echoed similar sentiments about their own days, I decided to do the mature thing and talk through it with my husband.

“I felt really overlooked and underappreciated today,” I told him, as the dam of tears I’d been holding back all day finally gave out. “I do so much for our family and I just wanted one day of feeling like I’m important.”

When Mother’s Day Doesn’t Measure Up
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He reached for my hand, threading his fingers through mine. “I’m really sorry. I was kind of waiting for you to tell me what you wanted to do but you never did. I thought you just wanted to hang at home and relax.”

As he spoke, I flashed to a moment earlier in the week when he’d asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day. It felt too selfish to articulate what I desired most—a day devoted solely to me—so I told him nothing, all the while hoping he’d know without me having to say it out loud. I spend the other 364 days of the year discerning and delivering on everyone else’s needs—don’t I deserve one day where someone else does the work of meeting mine?

After several hours of tearful reflection, I unearthed the painful truth behind my recurring Mother’s Day disappointments: rather than meeting my own needs on a regular basis, I’d pinned all my hopes for self-care onto one day out of the entire calendar year. And in not articulating what I really wanted, I had assigned my husband an impossible task that all but guaranteed failure. Even if he’d gotten me exactly what I wanted, I still would’ve been disappointed. One day of pampering doesn’t negate a lifetime of neglected self-care.

“I need to start getting my needs met more often,” I told my husband, surprising myself with this newfound clarity. “I’m doing too many things I don’t enjoy and not enough things that make me happy.”

“What do you need from me?” he asked with genuine sincerity.

“I need your support while I figure all this out. If I’m going to make more time for myself, I have to let some other things drop. I need you to pick up the slack or be okay with some things not getting done.”

He agreed, and together, we embarked on a year of learning the language of my self-care.

***

As of this writing, it’s still several weeks before Mother’s Day and know I won’t be spending it the way I originally envisioned. But I’m at peace with it, mostly. For once, Mother’s Day doesn’t feel like such a desperate affair.

This year, I’m freeing Mother’s Day from the weighty expectations I used to heap on it. It doesn’t have to meet all my needs in one fell swoop because I’m learning to disperse that care throughout the rest of the year. It’s not a chance to set up my husband and prove to both of us that he doesn’t know how to care for me the way I deserve. In learning to care for myself the rest of the year, I’ve taught him how to care for me, too. And in speaking my love language fluently, he’s helped me feel seen and appreciated on a regular basis instead of just one day a year.

For once, I’m actually looking forward to Mother’s Day.