, Salem, MA

May 10, 2013

Having low expectations can make your Mother's Day

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — In theory, Mother’s Day is a day when children are supposed to celebrate and cater to their moms. In turn, mothers have visions of breakfast in bed, children actually picking up after themselves (a true miracle in the making), a day of pampering and no conflict. In other words, it’s either a day in heaven (if you’re religious) or on another planet (if you’re not).

Kids learn early on that Mother’s Day means they do whatever Mom wants. They’re told it’s the day when they’re supposed to show their mom how much they care. And I have no doubt that because almost all kids see their moms as the central positive force in their lives, they do want to make her happy.

But because kids are kids, even when the expected behavior is spelled out, underlined, studied and reinforced, children aren’t always able to express their love on demand. Even adults fail to demonstrate appreciation for others. Gratitude simply isn’t something we teach as part of our daily life curriculum. In fact, expressing thanks can be awkward, like talking with a mouth full of marbles.

This is where a mother’s sense of humor comes in handy. A child’s disastrous attempt to demonstrate his love can become the most memorable and hysterical moment of a mom’s family life. When breakfast in bed ends up on her head, for example, it’s best to roll with whatever comes her way. It’s the effort that counts.

After all, if children are thoughtful enough to try and pull off a “perfect” Mother’s Day, it will be with a cluelessness that’s precious. Sure, some moms may wonder why their kids can’t figure out how to put dishes away, even on Mother’s Day, when they can run circles around us downloading their favorite app. So moms need to remember that, for a child, thinking of his mom’s needs and taking care of his own are worlds apart. Kids care for their own happiness first, long before they consider someone else’s needs, even those of the mother they worship.

In fact, the “perfectly” orchestrated Mother’s Day reminds me of one of those elementary school take-home projects where the best come back looking like they should be in Good Housekeeping and everyone knows they “took a village” to make; parents, neighbors and relatives combined time, labor and money. For moms who imagine that kind of celebration, well, I hope it happens.

They should know, however, that a Martha Stewart-like event probably involves people other than their children, maybe some they don’t really like. They should also realize a day where presentation is paramount may be less about the mother/child relationship and more about appearance.

My advice? Mothers, please accept reality. If your children are typical (and most are), then don’t expect a Hallmark Mother’s Day; it may not be in the cards at all. Yet it’s also not helpful to play the denial game and say you’re not expecting anything. No matter what happens, you’ll still be disappointed when the script you’ve written in your head isn’t followed. Be honest with yourself upfront; it’s a lower drop to Earth.

What moms can hope for is less hassle when they ask to take some time for themselves. Whether a mom decides to spend Mother’s Day with family or at her child’s Little League game, going to a movie or shopping, having a massage or a manicure, whatever hip activity she chooses, her family will likely accept it. Once she’s communicated clearly and the family knows her desires, they’ll probably step up so she can take those hours off from the mommy role.

For instance, if a mom chooses to attend her son’s baseball game on Mother’s Day, others can take over her usual responsibilities for organizing logistics, gear, etc. Maybe family members encourage her to listen to music she likes or to sit wherever she wants to watch the game. It’s the little things that matter most on this day, and that means helping moms take a break from the deluge of choices and responsibilities they daily acquiesce to or oversee.

And finally, though a child is armed with good intentions, his appreciation for his mom cannot be staged or expressed on command May 12. Kids are at their best when permitted to be kids: spontaneous, loving and appreciative on their terms when they feel it most, not when adults — mothers especially — expect it. So the best Mother’s Day might be the least planned, the day where moms receive sincere expressions of love without expecting them at all.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to or, or follow her on Twitter @DrKateParenting. Look for her upcoming column, on tips for managing technology over the summer.