It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted parents, especially mothers. As of January, about 10 million American moms were staying home with their school-age children and not actively employed, 1.4 million more than a year earlier.
So this Mother’s Day, what mothers don’t need is a well-intentioned (but work-intensive) activity, such as hosting a family gathering, cleaning up a destroyed kitchen after brunch or spending the day corralling kids like a normal weekday. They don’t need a “World’s Best Mom” mug or a flower bush they need to make time to plant before it dies.
We asked moms and parent advocates from a variety of fields how to make all mothers feel special, appreciated and cared for this Mother’s Day (it’s this Sunday!) after what we can all agree was a year from hell.
Give her a night away
Chelsea Skaggs, founder of Postpartum Together, which coaches women through their postpartum transition, asked her followers what they are really hoping for on Mother’s Day. The overwhelming answer? A day and night at a hotel to recharge.
“One night to sleep by myself — that’s mine, too. I encourage my moms to do that whenever possible, and Mother’s Day is a great time to do that,” she says. Skaggs herself has tried it, after overcoming some initial mom guilt. With two kids under age 4, she found herself asking, “What do I do with myself?” — then rediscovering the answers. “I could lay in this bed naked and watch TV. I took a bath and went to the hot tub. I wrote a lot. I also listened to music and danced on the beds feeling like I was 16 in the freedom of my teenage bedroom.”
Skaggs rejects the stereotypical picture of what Mother’s Day “should” be like. “It feels like we should be sitting staring at our kids all day.”
Thinking of planning this for the mom in your life? Skaggs recommends taking charge of the details for her. Book the hotel and remove any obstacles or obligations that might make her hesitant to go. Encourage her to reconnect with things she likes to do. Finally, for any moms still struggling with guilt, Skaggs suggests a self-advocating trick in which she starts with “Because I want…”. For example: “Because I want to be more present with my family, I could really use one night away to recharge for Mother’s Day.”
Show actual gratitude
“I find myself saying, ‘Do you know how much I do for you guys?’” says Avanti Bergquist, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center who has a 5- and 7-year-old. “Appreciating the things your mom does for you that get taken for granted … that goes a long way. ‘Geez, mom, yeah, we wouldn’t be able to do this without you.’ ”
Showing real gratitude in a meaningful way may mean partners getting involved days in advance to brainstorm specific strategies and activities, instead of hoping kids will know to do this on their own. For younger children, explicitly explaining the purpose of Mother’s Day can help them start to come up with authentic ideas on their own. Try helping children express specifics, such as anecdotes of times they were grateful for their moms, rather than the generic platitudes of Mother’s Day cards.
Help her zero in on her mental health needs
In addition to gratitude, Bergquist hopes the country, and individual families, will tune into the mental health of the mothers in their life this year, which she says was filled with “so much worry and no right answers.”
Her tips include helping the mother get more sleep, getting a journal or mindfulness app with short meditations (she recommends Calm) and supporting her need to see a therapist if that’s something she’s interested in.
Partners and children can approach this subject (gently and without judgment) by talking to the mom ahead of time to determine what types of mental health supports she’s possibly been considering, and what might help her in the short and long run. Maybe she’s been considering seeing a therapist but hasn’t had the time to research the right person, verify that it’s covered by insurance and schedule a babysitter during the sessions. Partners and older children can do a bit of research to find these things out for her.
“For everybody, during covid-19 or not, seeing a therapist is helpful. … If you are really at the end of your rope, that’s a great thing to do. It’s much more accepted in society to talk about now,” Bergquist says.
Check something off her to-do list
Mother’s Day ideas don’t have to involve elaborate spa days. It might be as simple as offering the mother time to take an uninterrupted nap while you check something off her to-do list.
“I’ve been there — my husband is like, ‘I’m going to send you to do this,’ but when I come back, I have a list of things that needed to happen. I wasn’t able to relax while taking ‘self-care’ time,” says Yolanda Owens, a mom to a 5- and 2-year old as well as co-founder of Black Lactation Circle, a support network for Black breastfeeding mothers, and founder and chief cultivator at Forage + Black, an apparel and consulting firm. Instead, she recommends partners and kids take care of those things, such as unloading the dishwasher or catching up on laundry. “The invisible work.”
Owens recommends simply asking the mother what’s on her to-do list that you can handle for her: “What can I do to free you up and reclaim your time?”
Plan a girls’ night for the extroverted mother
The pandemic had many asking, “Where did my village go?” In many places, the village is starting to reopen, giving moms the ability to socialize again with vaccinated friends or have a cocktail at an outside bar.
Melanie Shmois, a clinical social worker/therapist and life coach, works with mothers and has two girls of her own, 15 and 11. Among her clients, “mothers are in two camps — my more introverted moms want time alone,” especially because the pandemic has kept their children home with them for more than a year. But “extroverted moms are dying to go on little trips with their friends. They want to be out doing the things they used to do.”
To make this happen, work with other partners in the mother’s friend group to organize an outing to a covid-safe location, or even a day trip to a nearby town, beach or attraction.
Opt for presents that remind her she’s not “just” a mom
Sure, you could find yet another mug, and some moms just might want a birthstone ring to carry their children “with them” throughout the day. But this might be the year to help her reconnect with other interests, and to choose gifts that signal that you see her as a full human, not “just” a mother.
Emily Edlynn, a child psychologist, author of the Art and Science of Mom blog and mother of three, says she’s hearing from lots of moms who are feeling “depleted and burnt out.” She says even more than usual this year we’ve had to “be mother-first.”
She recommends gifts that help the mother reconnect with “who she is holistically, beyond a mother — what gives her energy, what fulfills her.” For example, as a writer, she’d love for her partner to set up a writing space and time for just two hours. “Coffee, a candle, a treat and leaving with the kids. That shows you value the other parts of the mom and that you are wanting to enrich that for her — her balance.”
The same can apply to experiences, with partners helping kids think through what the mother would want to do rather than what they want to do. “My daughter hates walks, but if she said, ‘I know you love that, so let’s do that,’ [that] would be all that it would take,” she says. With some guidance from the mother’s partner, children will be able to choose thoughtful presents and experiences that maybe, just for a day, ease the burden of the pandemic year.
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist focusing on health and wellness, parenting, education and lifestyle topics. Visit her website or her social media on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.