What Moms Mean When They Say They Don't Want Anything for Mother's Day


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Jun 03, 2023

What Moms Mean When They Say They Don't Want Anything for Mother's Day

by Karen Johnson If you ask a mom what she wants for Mother’s Day,

by Karen Johnson

If you ask a mom what she wants for Mother's Day, there's a good chance she’ll say, "I don't want anything." This doesn't go for every mom, obviously. Many hardworking women have a list ready to go when asked—and they don't hold back. Designer shoes, a weekend away, an Instant Pot. They deserve all the things! But if you reply with, "I don't want anything," or another mother in your life says those words, here's what she probably means.

She's tired. She's mentally exhausted. Her bones are tired, and her brain is tired. And it's not that she doesn't want anything. It's that answering your question is yet another thing she must decide, think about, and potentially participate in organizing, researching, or even purchasing, and she just can't. She has nothing left in the tank—even if that means losing out on a new gift.

Honestly, she probably would love a new purse, a pair of comfy leggings, or pair of sandals for Mother's Day. There is likely a long list of "things" she’d like, but for many moms, that means more work for her. She knows it means she must do the digging, find the link or the store to send her partner to, describe the exact item, and field follow-up questions if it's sold out. And after carrying the mental load 24 hours a day, sometimes it's just not worth it. Sometimes it's easier to say, "no thanks," and keep wearing the sad, worn-out leggings and sandals we have and keep carting around the fading, scratched-up purse that's been to every public bathroom within a 100-mile radius over the past year.

Or maybe she would love a night out with her girlfriends. Maybe even a weekend away with her partner. But again, logistics. The planning. The childcare. The hours of preparatory work—did you pump enough milk? Does the sitter know the bedtime routine? Oh, the little one came down with a fever. Probably can't even go anyway.

Because when you get to the tiredness that motherhood causes, you operate on basically one mindset: How much more work for me will ____ cause? This craft, this activity, this play date, this trip, this event, and yes, this Mother's Day gift.

Breakfast in bed for Mother's Day? Sweet, but please don't. No mom wants to clean up butter and syrup on her sheets. Or come down to orange juice and milk spilling down the cabinet and seeping under the fridge.

Mother's Day brunch with grandma? Not a gift for mom. Especially if she has babies and toddlers. Little humans at restaurants are hellions. And you know grandma is going to want a picture, which means mom will feel pressured to have her hair and makeup done and the toddler in a collared shirt (Oh, look, it's already covered in jelly. Super!) and the baby with a bow in her hair that she continuously rips off and chucks onto the floor.

World's Best Mom mug? Cute! Thanks. But you know what would make us feel appreciated if we were the world's best mom? Drinking coffee out of that mug in peace. Alone. That's the extra part that's often forgotten.

Listen, moms don't mean to sound like ungrateful you-know-whats. Will we covet those macaroni necklaces and "All About My Mom" lists written by tiny kindergarteners for Mother's Day who think we’re 82 and 9 feet tall? Absolutely. We will cherish them always as they remind us why we get up and do this gig every single day. Do we feel loved when we wake up to a beautiful bouquet on the kitchen table? Of course. Who doesn't love fresh flowers?

But partners, when you ask what we want, you’re probably not talking about macaroni necklaces. Those are a given, and we love them. You’re asking what we are hoping (or even expecting) you to buy, right? You’re wondering if we hope for and expect flowers, jewelry, a fancy meal, or a new pair of shoes. We know what you’re asking and why. You want to get it right.

And if we say, "Don't worry about it. I don't want anything for Mother's Day," it's not that we wouldn't appreciate the gesture of a beautiful bouquet or a surprise pair of earrings or dinner out at our favorite restaurant.

We don't want to do any of the heavy lifting to make it happen. (Or any of the lifting, honestly.)

I can't speak for all mothers, but for most of the moms I know, if you asked them what they really want for Mother's Day, they would say: We want some quiet alone time that we didn't have to organize. If we must spend two hours packing activity bags or calling five sitters, or searching the house for the three-year-old's shoes so you can take them to the park, that's not a gift for mom.

We want to walk upstairs, shut the door, and be alone in the quiet. Or get in our car and drive out of the driveway, knowing everyone at home is cared for. But we want to do so without sweating from the hours of prep required before we could go.

We want to feel appreciated and seen. Mothers work harder than anyone, yet we have no performance review. There's no raise. There's no "after-work happy hour" to celebrate the end of a long week. Or a retirement party to honor all we’ve given of ourselves to this job.

There is just the grind, day after day, of fighting with small people to get their shoes on, eat a vegetable, and go to sleep. Small people who still cannot zip their own coats or do their own car seat buckles but wholeheartedly believe they can and will fight us until they are blue in the face about it. Small people who will get to the potty in time for five straight days, giving us the glimmer of hope that we can take a breath and run errands or grab coffee with a friend without catastrophe and then stand in the cart at Target with pee running down their leg.

When we say, "I don't want anything," that's not true. We know what we want is probably unlikely or would create another task for us.

Because here's what we do want: For you, our partner, to handle it. All of it. The prep. The childcare. The cleanup. The research. The shopping. The thinking. The planning. Whatever it is, the biggest part of the gift is that it didn't add one more thing to our plates.

That's the gift.

Say, "You’re an amazing mom working tirelessly for this family. We see it, and we appreciate it. Now here's a hotel room to yourself for the night. And takeout from your favorite restaurant. And chocolate for dessert. I got everything at home. I handled everything. And I will handle everything until you’re ready to come home."

Can't swing a hotel? Send her upstairs! Or take the kids to grandma's house, the movies, or their friends’ houses and let them binge Bluey on the iPad. Whatever. Just go.

Most importantly, don't wait for a mom to ask for all that because you know she never will. But honestly, that's probably what she wants.

That's certainly what I’ve wanted many times, especially during those grueling baby and toddler years when I was drowning in spit-up and diapers. A dream gift was a night to myself without anyone needing me. A true, legitimate "break."

Hearing my husband say, "Take your book, your wine, your Netflix, whatever you want, and go upstairs. I got bedtime," or "I’m taking the kids out for the whole day because you deserve a break and time to yourself."

That's the stuff right there.

So, there it is. Plan it. Make it happen for Mother's Day. And know that when she says she doesn't want anything, she does want something—to feel appreciated. And a Netflix binge-sesh with her favorite snacks is a great start.

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