This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Sarah
Mother’s Day is a week from today, and the Internet is here for it. Advertisers want you to buy gifts for every mom in your life; Pinterest has brunch recipes and kid craft ideas. Articles and memes celebrating moms will crowd your feed for the next several days, some of them funny, some poignant, many clichéd.
It’s my twelfth Mother’s Day as a mom, which sounds weird to my ears because I JUST celebrated eleven years of motherhood earlier this week. But the timing of my firstborn’s birth meant that I was barely off my c-section pain meds when Mother’s Day arrived just 12 days after she did. Our outing to brunch with my family was the farthest we’d ventured as parents and the first time we took our newborn anywhere in public.
(Look how tiny! She still has the chicken legs before the rolls kicked in!)
About that first Mother’s Day I mostly remember feeling uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in my clothes, having worn nothing but forgiving maternity yoga pants for weeks. Uncomfortable with the attention being paid to me (“LOOK EVERYONE! IT’S A BRAND NEW MOM ON HER FIRST MOTHER’S DAY!”). Uncomfortable with the emotions that were so foreign and close to the surface. Uncomfortable in public, with those clothes and those emotions and that baby.
(Also it can’t have been comfortable carrying around that diaper bag. I could pack my entire family for a weekend in that thing now.)
Discomfort and all, I survived that first Mother’s Day and the following year declared a do-over. I basked in it all–the brunch, the attention, the cards, the special feeling of belonging. When people said “Happy Mother’s Day”, I liked it. I had come into my own, survived one-year-and-eleven-days of parenting, and I felt like celebrating. I even wore a fancy hat.
One theme we return to again and again on the podcast (besides “It’s all gonna be OK”), it’s that well-meaning ideas can turn into unnecessary pressure on moms–especially when those well-meaning ideas are loaded with cultural expectations about what we’re supposed to look like, do, think, and feel. And that learning to see that pressure for what it is and accept what we actually look like, do, think, and feel in a given moment or a given season unlocks a kind of superpower in us, a force field that isn’t as easily penetrated by worry, guilt, and comparison.
Mother’s Day is loaded with these well-meaning cultural expectations and potential pressures, and no matter how sophisticated your force field, most of us are still susceptible to feeling like we’re supposed to react a certain way. And, as in all things, the Internet is happy to reinforce insecurities and perpetuate generalizations.
So if you’re going into this Mother’s Day feeling more like 2008-Sarah than 2009-Sarah, let this be your official permission slip to feel how you feel:
If you’re overwhelmed and would rather rest than celebrate, that’s okay.
If you’re grieving a loss and Mother’s Day hurts like hell, you don’t have to put on a smile for anybody.
If the greatest gift you can imagine is the gift of not organizing a brunch or getting together with extended family, we get it.
If the one thing you want most for Mother’s Day is a break from the people who call you mom, you’re not alone.
If you DO want presents and pampering this year, you have our permission to put on your fancy hat and own it. I certainly did back in 2009. But if you’d rather get caught up on emails and laundry next Sunday (because: MAY), that’s OK too. Our Mother’s Day wish for you is that with each passing year it gets a little easier to tune into that part of yourself that knows its own worth and knows what it wants.
Even if what it wants is to stay home.