7 Mar 2024

Mother's Day Dilemmas

The Mother’s Day carnival is approaching. The shops are laden with cards, restaurants are offering special lunches, florists are preparing for the annual onslaught.

Remember, the point of Mother’s Day is for children (of whatever age) to acknowledge and celebrate their own mother. If you are a mother, don’t assume that you now have a right to bask in a generalised celebration of motherhood. There is really no reason why your own parents, in-laws or indeed your husband or partner should be showering you with gifts or cards, although of course this is a matter of personal choice – the main point is that your own children take the lead in celebrating the role you play in their lives.

Cards and Gifts

As with all these events, the safest option is to acknowledge the day, at least by sending a card. You may have a mother who decries the whole commercial palaver and pours scorn on the ‘manufactured’ celebrations, but you can never be sure whether – in a private and sentimental moment – she regrets her children’s austere disregard for the special day.

If you are disposed to roll out the red carpet, think carefully about your mother’s character and taste. She may well love an elaborate meal in a fancy restaurant, but she might be someone who appreciates a quiet afternoon tea, home-made cakes and games with her grandchildren. Resist gifts that are blazoned with platitudes (“for the best mum in the world”), which just look lazy and hackneyed, and never buy your mother something that is practical and utilitarian, which will merely reinforce her feeling that she has been consigned to the traditional roles of cooking and caring. Escape the conveyor belt conformism of restaurants offering “Mother’s Day Menus” and consider taking her out for a special treat – a visit to an art gallery, stately home or garden, a ticket for the theatre or a concert.

Flowers are seen as a cliché, but very few mothers will turn their noses up at the gift of flowers. Try to incorporate her favourite flowers, scents and colours to create a truly personal gift and remember most mothers will appreciate a hand-tied, carefully assembled posy much more than an extravagant bouquet.

Encourage young children to make home-made cards for their mothers, which will be infinitely more touching than commercial products, and remember that this day is all about helping children to make a real effort to please their mothers – breakfast in bed is always a good place to start.

Family Complications

Attention all partners! If you have children, accept the fact that – as well as treating your own mother – you now have responsibility for your children’s Mother’s Day efforts. You may well have to work some behind-the-scenes magic to ensure that small children, recalcitrant teenagers, or forgetful and distracted adult offspring are marshalled for Mother’s Day. Gentle reminders beforehand, plus some stage management on the day itself will ensure that you choreograph a successful day, whether the choice is to indulge the lucky mother in some home pampering or take her out for lunch or any other treat.

If you are separated or divorced Mother’s Day provides a whole new set of conundrums. The hope is that shared custody arrangements are flexible enough to ensure that the children can enjoy the day with their mothers. But of course, this is not always the case so, if you are going to be deprived of the chance to see your own children on Mother’s Day, it is a good idea to steer away from regrets and resentment and concentrate on devising an “alternative” day.

Ex-partners may find themselves responsible for ensuring that their children are making adequate preparations for Mother’s Day (home-made cards, baking a cake etc). This can be difficult if you are nursing feelings of rage and resentment towards your ex-partner but, as always with this type of scenario, you must put your own feelings behind you and concentrate on your children. It is your job to facilitate and supervise and ensure that they have a memorable and satisfying day.

Never use the children as instruments in your own private warfare at this time of year. It is extremely manipulative to use your children to convey messages to your ex-partner, especially if their content is barbed. It is essential that you never make your children feel guilty about spending the day with their other parent, for example electing to visit their own mother instead of joining your new partner and their half siblings.

Stepmothers count too! Always encourage small children to acknowledge the role their stepmothers play in their lives. As you grow older, you will be conscious that remembering your stepmother as well as your own mother is kind and considerate. It is a simple way of making your stepmother feel appreciated; even if you are prioritising your own mother on the day itself, a card and a thoughtful gift for your stepmother will go a long way.

While, strictly speaking, your partner, husband or wife is responsible for acknowledging their own mother, it never does any harm to jump on the in-law bandwagon and participate in the celebrations, even if it just a matter of signing a card and organising a bouquet. Many mothers really do value their children in-law and do their utmost to make them a part of the family. Joining in their Mother’s Day celebration is an effective way of cementing family bonds.

Opting Out

Remember, this is not a celebration for everybody. Many people have lost their mothers, are nursing them through a terminal illness, are recently bereaved or are seriously estranged. As always, “universal” festivities, when the marketplace is flooded with saccharine reminders and gift suggestions, can be extremely painful for those who are unwilling, or unable, to participate.

Women who have longed for children and not been able to become mothers, for whatever reason, may also feel that this day has a special poignancy. It is only right to celebrate your own mother, but many women will also assume that at some point they too will be showered with Mother’s Day largesse and the realisation that this will not happen can be extremely painful.

If you are feeling vulnerable in the lead-up to Mother’s Day, take action: enlist the support of partners, friends or family, explain that you are seeking help or distraction. You could suggest going out for a long walk, sharing a spa day, enjoying a concert or a wine tasting – it might even become an alternative annual ritual. The main thing is to avoid crowded restaurants and pubs serving Mother’s Day “Specials”, which may well reinforce your feelings of loss.

If you are not personally affected by any of these issues, think about your friends and relations and their own particular dilemmas. Being aware that the day might pose difficulties, and being prepared to provide distraction when it is needed, is the best Mother’s Day gift of all.


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