How To Not Eff Up Your Partner’s Mother’s Day

How To Not Eff Up Your Partner’s Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is Sunday. Does anyone need to put that on their calendar? If you have a mum in your life and you haven’t already placed an order for flowers/made a dinner reservation/procured a card, now is the time to do so! If you are fortunate enough to have more than one mum in your life (say, your mum, the mother of your children, and your mother-in-law) Mother’s Day can get overwhelming, fast.

Illustration by Elena Scotti/Lifehacker/GMG, Wikimedia Commons

And yet, it must be celebrated. I know, it’s a commercial, made-up holiday, co-opted by marketers to get you to buy things. But I’m of the opinion that we need more celebrations in our lives, not fewer, and — unless your partner is one of the few mothers on earth who really, truly does not care — I’m guessing she wants the day acknowledged in some shape or form.

I know this can be a little anxiety-provoking. I don’t love coming up with the perfect celebrations for birthdays or Father’s Day either — no one is immune from pressure to perform around gift-giving holidays. (In fact, one friend in a two-mum family declined to comment for this story, afraid her wife would see it and be reminded of past celebratory fails.)

To give you the best shot at hitting this out of the park, I spoke to a few experts.

Do not do nothing.

If you are anything like me, you may prefer avoidance to trying something and muffing it. But even the smallest effort — a bunch of supermarket flowers, a supermarket card — is wildly, dramatically better than doing nothing at all.

Acknowledge it immediately upon waking.

Set an alarm if you have to. Don’t let your partner get up with the kids and get them breakfast and wonder if you’ve forgotten entirely.

Ask. Or don’t ask. (You know your partner best.)

Mothers’ opinions are divided right down the middle here. Claire Zulkey, a writer and a mum of two in Evanston, Illinois, says, “I have come to realise how silly it is for a partner to sit back and expect someone to magically know your deepest wishes. I think my husband loves it when I’m like, ‘I want to stay in bed on Mother’s Day,’ or, ‘I want to go a baseball game on Mother’s Day,’ because then he is always happy to oblige, but doesn’t have to spend time trying to discern what I want deep down. He’ll do a little something that is his own surprise/treat, but I otherwise manifest my own good day.”

But other mums want to be surprised, and might even be annoyed at your asking. You know your partner best: Is she happiest with deciding what to do, or is she happiest being surprised by a fully thought-out and executed plan? Do that.

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Put your partner first.

If you’re lucky enough to have more than one mother in your life — your sweetheart, your MIL, your own mother, maybe assorted stepmothers or mentors or beloved aunts tossed in there — there will be a lot of mums who expect to celebrated, all in a single day. What are you supposed to do if these mums don’t want to celebrate together?

Answer: You prioritise the mum of your own kids. “Don’t make your partner compete for her Mother’s Day by spending it with her mother-in-law,” says Allison Slater Tate, a contributing writer at TODAY Parents. Sinead Smythe, a therapist in Alameda, California, and a master trainer for the Gottman Institute, says, “As a couples therapist, I would say that celebrating the mum of your own kids has got to be top priority, just in terms of what you’re creating in your own relationship and your own family.”

One workaround: Offer to celebrate Mother’s Day with your partner on a different day entirely. If she’s preparing a celebration for her own mum, she might be pleased to take her special day the Saturday before, or on the following weekend. Laura Venuto, a New York City psychotherapist specialising in postpartum mental-health issues, said in an email, “Many families have traditions that make it difficult for mums to take a break on Mother’s Day. All too often, there’s a mother preparing a celebration for her daughters and grandchildren or her mother and mother-in-law on a day that should be an opportunity for respite for all mothers.” If this is the situation in your family, your partner might appreciate 1) your taking over that celebration of the other mothers, and 2) offering her a rain check for her own special event.

Make Mother’s Day part of a bigger conversation.

Mismatched expectations around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays — all the holidays — are really mismatched expectations about values, family and celebrations. These kind of conflicts are best resolved, say Smythe, through “intentional conversations” about how each member of the couple feels valued and appreciated, how you demonstrate your affection for each other, and how you want to include (or not include) your other relatives in your immediate family’s celebrations. “Couples that tend to be successful — that are happy, that have high degrees of emotional connection — actually do have intentional conversations about traditions, holidays and rituals that are meaningful to them. They talk about why things are meaningful, and they’re working together to create a sense of shared meaning within the couple and for the family as well.”

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Often these conversations will reveal startlingly information: My own husband was surprised when I told him that I like when he shows his affection for me by cooking a meal (I’ve asked for short ribs and carrot cake for Mother’s Day). This is not high in his value system — he says he likes when I show him my affection by buying him a new Telecaster guitar.

Other mothers might feel valued by, well, being released from the household entirely for a period of time — several women in my mums group want to celebrate Mother’s Day with a couple of girlfriends. One woman I interviewed goes for chicken and waffles with her wife and son, and then they go for a hike as a family. Who knows? The point of the intentional conversations is to avoid the frantic rifling of picked-over cards at the supermarket at 8AM on Sunday morning, and to develop an affectionate and joyful culture of celebration in your family. And what goes around comes around. Pardon me while I price out Telecasters.


  • What a load of shit. The only purpose of these days is to flog more flowers and chocolates. If you need a special day to prove that you’re a good mother or father then you’re doing it wrong.

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