When I asked moms what they really want for Mother's Day, the answers were strikingly similar.
Most of us don't want flowers or candy — though those things are nice. We could pass up a Mother's Day meal out with our kids, since wrangling them into acceptable public behavior and cleaning up a drink they spilled across the table isn't exactly relaxing.
What moms told me they really want for Mother's Day doesn't involve buying anything or going anywhere. "What I really want is to be alone, totally alone for an entire waking day," one mom said. "And I don't want to feel guilty about it. Just for one day."
Another replied, "A day off. No cooking, cleaning, or breaking up fights. I want to be waited on, someone to bring me snacks and drinks, and take a nap. Then I want to read in the sun."
A third mom admitted, "I don't want to do anything. I want my kids and husband to literally do everything. I don't want to wake up with anyone, I don't want to wipe any butts, I don't want to make any meals. I just want to hug and kiss my babies but be a spectator that day and watch from the stands."
Answer after answer followed the same theme: We want time that is our own without anyone needing anything from us.
It's not that moms don't want to be moms on Mother's Day — we just want a break from the relentless, never-ending work of motherhood.
We all deeply love our children. We'd step in front of a train or wrestle a grizzly bear to protect them. We revel in the sound of their laughter and relish the sweet smell of their heads. We miss them when we're separated from them for too long.
But that doesn't mean we don't need a serious break in the worst way.
Motherhood is all-consuming. And it's not just the physical, logistical stuff (though that alone would be enough). It's the mental and emotional exhaustion that goes along with molding little humans into decent, not-too-screwed-up people for years on end. It's just so, so much, all the time.
Parenting involves a lot of emotional labor and that can be exhausting.
In Harper's Bazaar, Gemma Hartley wrote in depth about how women often bear the brunt of "emotional labor" in families. She opens with this story:
"For Mother's Day I asked for one thing: a house cleaning service. Bathrooms and floors specifically, windows if the extra expense was reasonable. The gift, for me, was not so much in the cleaning itself but the fact that for once I would not be in charge of the household office work. I would not have to make the calls, get multiple quotes, research and vet each service, arrange payment and schedule the appointment. The real gift I wanted was to be relieved of the emotional labor of a single task that had been nagging at the back of my mind. The clean house would simply be a bonus."
But Hartley's husband didn't understand all of that. He thought she just wanted a clean bathroom, so he deep cleaned the bathroom while she spent the day caring for their kids and the rest of the house remained un-deep-cleaned. While it's nice that he tried to do what he thought she wanted, he totally missed the mark.
It wasn't about just about having a clean bathroom or house. It was about wanting a break from the physical and emotional labor that so often falls on a mom's shoulders without anyone recognizing it.
Bottom line: The best gift you can give a mother with young kids is a slice of time that is hers alone — without any responsibilities, worry, or guilt.
We'd love for someone to clean our house and take our kids away to something fun for a few hours so we can actually enjoy our clean house before it gets destroyed again. We'd like some time to nap. Some silent time to read a book without interruption. Some time to shower without interruption.
It would be great to have some time to think, meditate, brush up on a hobby, slowly sip some coffee — without interruption. Just some free time to ourselves to spend as we please. (And if someone could come put our kids to bed for us, that would be even better.)
A fabulous Mother's Day doesn't have to cost a thing. Sometimes freedom away from worry and responsibility is the best gift a mom could possibly receive.
Image via Motherhood and More.