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Mother’s Day fail? Lessons learned — and honest advice for avoiding disappointment next year

Mother's Day Card: Shark Attack

This is an actual (and awesome) Mother’s Day Card for sale in the White Cat Black Dog Etsy shop. Click this image to go there. Art credit: Emily-Bell

“I hate Mother’s Day.”

This, from a friend I ran into on the walk home from school. I appreciated her candor but couldn’t help feeling sad. What was supposed to be a lovely occasion for her turned into a day of miscommunication, forced cheerfulness, and clashing expectations.

She’s not alone. Several people I know felt disappointed by Mother’s Day, and I’ve experienced a few duds in past years myself. This year, however, was wonderful DESPITE our decision to “reschedule” Mother’s Day for a future weekend due to a previously-planned school event (why they planned it for Mother’s Day I have no idea).

I’ve come up with some reasons why our Mother’s Day works better now. Tough lessons learned from past disappointments, some of which forced me to acknowledge that my behavior (and attitude) were part of the problem.

1. Dial down the intensity.

In past years, I put Mother’s Day on such a pedestal that I was bound to be disappointed. I was going to be appreciated. I was going to be adored. My family would get me thoughtful gifts and would arrange for 24 hours of rest and/or attention.

What was lurking beneath the surface: I felt I was owed these things because I didn’t feel I was getting enough recognition/rest/appreciation the rest of the year. I unconsciously set up a series of pass/fail hoops for my family to jump through on Mother’s Day, and when one failed, the whole day went downhill. We all ended up disappointed and/or hurt.

I eventually recognized there were problems that needed ongoing attention, and that Mother’s Day wasn’t the moment to solve them. It just wasn’t fair to anyone, especially my kids. I declared Mother’s Day a guilt- and resentment-free zone, and have been loving it ever since.

And I took responsibility for more clearly communicating my needs during the rest of the year.

2. Share your hopes and preferences well in advance.

Communication really is the key, isn’t it? My family had no idea what I wanted because I gave them mixed signals. I wanted attention, but I also wanted time alone. I wanted specific activities, but I didn’t want to plan them.

Try this: set a reminder for the first week of April next year for a low-key chat with your family about Mother’s Day plans. Give them some idea about what you’d like and what might be fun. Let them know you trust them to come up with something wonderful. They will appreciate the guidance + openness, any tension will be broken, and you’re still far enough out that you won’t feel like you had to plan your own day.

3. Be flexible and express gratitude — even if the day doesn’t go as expected.

Once you’ve given your family an idea about what you’d like, it’s hands off in the best way. Let your family interpret the specifics. You can then enjoy your day, knowing that the love and caring behind the plans is what’s most important.

4. If all else fails, celebrate yourself.

If you find yourself facing a true Mother’s Day fail — your family forgot, or a work thing came up, or life just intervened — know that what you do and who you are is IMPORTANT. You deserve a day to rest and cherish yourself, and perhaps another special mother in your life. Put that day on the calendar in ink, and fill it with happiness…with your family, a friend, or alone. Book a babysitter if necessary. Acknowledge any sadness you may feel, and then let it float away. Celebrate yourself, and your family will, too.

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.

Do you love that “Shark Attack” Mother’s Day card as much as I do? Click here to buy it at Etsy. The artist, Emily-Bell, also makes this print available as a set of 20 party invitations.

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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