My husband and I kept a terrible tradition. It went like this: the week before Mother’s Day, I dropped subtle hints to him about wanting a massage, pedicure, fancy dinner, and diamonds. Always diamonds. It felt like Christmas, and my overworked husband and two toddlers became Santa. I was certain there would at least be mimosas in the morning, and wine tasting at night. No pressure. But the day would come, and something awful happened: I still had to be a mom. I was aghast. I still had to break up fights, and make meals the kids complained about, and pull socks onto feet, and kiss owies, and clean up spills. I still had to be a mother of small children on Mother’s Day. Even my husband couldn’t save me from this fact. What a crock.
We did this every year since we became parents – faithfully.
I was always dutifully surprised at my lack of celebration. Never mind that it put insane pressure on my husband to conjure miracles. Never mind that my unrealistic expectations ended up eating my lunch. It was the perfect, most justifiable reason to feel sorry for myself: I was a young mother on Mother’s Day. Where was my leisurely brunch? A few times we attempted a restaurant, only to leave early with a screaming toddler and a baby sitting in a dirty diaper. I resented my family, and I hated myself. Year after year, it was a five-star-yard-sale of a day.
Then, one year, my husband came up with this brilliant idea: since we obviously weren’t getting any paid vacation from parenting our children, why don’t we instead focus on honoring our mothers and grandmothers instead. They’re the ones who are done with the manual labor side of this motherhood business.
So we did: Mother’s Day came, we packed up our toddler and preschooler, and drove to Trader Joe’s to pick out flowers. We spent the afternoon driving all over town, delivering them to our family. At each stop we were met with delight: the girls were coo’ed over. The mothers and grandmothers were beaming with pleasure at the unannounced visit. And I was too busy and too focused on others to feel sorry for myself. Bingo!
Mother’s Day carries with it a sneaky assumption: I should get paid back for all the hard work I do as a mother. We mothers work like dogs every day and night. It’s a fact. But the logic behind this assumption is all wrong: there is no “payback” here. This assumption takes the service and love of motherhood and tweaks it into a contractual position: where payment is due upon services rendered. This is not the love God has for us, and this is not the love we have for our children.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Do we work hard? Yes. Do we give constantly and just need a second (just one second!) to ourselves in the bathroom? Yes. Would we love to get our dues and be placed on our rightful pedestal for just a moment? Sure. But the funny thing is, getting what we want will not be as lasting as a good deed done for someone else. Psychologists who treat depression patients often recommend they do volunteer work as part of their treatment. The change of focus outside of one’s sad state actually boosts the mood and fosters a sense of well-being, knowing that you’ve helped another person.
The Bible tells us that when we have unrealistic expectations, we will only end up humiliated. It’s best to assume a more humble posture, to take the last seat at the table. It doesn’t say you can count on getting the seat of honor. It just says, that if it does happen, it will go well with you. But if it doesn’t, no biggie. Because your heart is in the right place.
“Do not claim honor in the presence of the king,
And do not stand in the place of great men;
For it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,”
Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince,
Whom your eyes have seen.” Proverbs 25:6-7
Tend to your own business and the work you have been given. Don’t worry about recognition. It’s outside of your control anyhow.
So the trick to being happy on Mother’s Day when your kids are still small, is: expect to get nothing. Actually, scratch that. Just take the focus off yourself entirely. Set your heart on visiting and blessing other mothers. I know you have no time. Neither do I. But a small note in the mail, a phone call, or a visit, are the tricks to expand your heart and your perspective outside of your disappointment. Plus, you are teaching your children how to love and honor people as they watch you. Bonus!
On this day, we mothers are all sort-of waiting around to be honored. But if we set our minds to honoring others, we can look back that evening with a full heart, feeling more satisfied than if we were dripping with diamonds and woozy with mimosas.