A Mother’s Day Retrospective

Last Sunday I woke up late and was greeted with coffee and homemade muffins and three eager children wishing me Happy Mother’s Day.  Before 9AM I had homemade gifts thrust at me and a one-year-old trying her best to mimic the three words her older sisters had coached her to say.  I spent the morning in pajamas working on a crossword.  I spent the afternoon strolling through a park with my entire extended family, including my own mother.  My husband cooked an incredible supper that evening, sea scallops in tarragon butter with asparagus and mushrooms, greens, good bread and a fabulous pavlova for dessert.  It was by all measures a perfect day.

Some Mother's Day goodness

Some Mother’s Day goodness

Flashback 9 years ago, I was a new mother.  I was tired and emotionally drained.  My husband and I lived in a city away from our families.  I expected that my husband would mark Mother’s Day for me, although I was not sure how.   Mother’s day had consisted of nothing more than phone calls placed to our own mothers for years.  It was a day to remember and be thankful for our mothers but not much more.  So, I wasn’t sure what the day would look like for me, a new mother.  How would we mark this day?  I felt like I deserved a big event to mark the momentous change into motherhood but I also had a sense that I had not fully graduated into the real realm of mothers yet and that perhaps it was overkill to mark the day so early into my parenting.  I was still practicing.

The day arrived as any other and I felt slightly let down by the lack of fanfair on the part of my husband.  He asked a couple of times through the day what I would like to do because it was Mother’s Day and he knew well enough that he should acquiesce to my wishes.  But the truth is that he also didn’t know exactly how to mark this new event in our life and he was looking for guidance that I could not provide.  That night after supper he presented me with a gift.  I was pleased.  I opened the large package and as I pulled back the paper my heart fell.  I am sure my face must have made clear my disappointment.  A vacuum.  Seriously?!  I had off-handedly mentioned that I wanted this vacuum but I never dreamed that comment would materialize into my first mother’s day gift.  I don’t remember if I even tried to be gracious but he knew he had made a poor choice.

The vacuum which now is in the storage room... in the basement... unused.

The vacuum which now is in the storage room… in the basement… unused.

I wish I could tell you that things were better the next year.  But in fact they were worse.  Mother’s Day arrived and my husband did nothing.  Not a card, not a word about the occasion.  Nothing.

All of this was made more disappointing because of the good man that my husband is.  He is not the kind of person to forget events.  He is generous and thoughtful and kind.  So, the absence of thought and care in the first couple of years felt hurtful and intentional.

Those first Mother’s days were frustrating for me but they were hard on my husband too.  We were navigating the new roles that had been thrust upon us with the arrival of our daughters.  What that would mean for our relationship was unclear.  We, of course, were drawing from our upbringings but we also needed to establish our own couple-hood; our own definition of what family would look like.  Somewhere along the way we eased into a comfortable tradition for Mother’s Day but it took several years.

BEZ recently blogged about how motherhood has changed her and she mentioned the shifting roles of her and her husband.  So often we read about and talk about how challenging becoming a mother can be.  But rarely do you hear about the pressure that these major life changes place on marriages.   The truth is that a few awkward Mother’s Days were minor compared with the overwhelming challenge of completely redefining who my husband and I were as a couple.  We were a mother and a father and we were tired and we were no longer the most important people in each other’s lives.  I’m so grateful that we tackled parenthood as a team and that we are unquestionably committed to staying married because when I look back at those first years of parenthood I can see how tenuous our relationship was.   It is almost a decade later and I can honestly say that it was worth the effort.  We are not the idealized vision I may have had before having kids but I wouldn’t change who we are as a couple or family.

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8 thoughts on “A Mother’s Day Retrospective

  1. My first Mother’s Day was strange. Felt false. And I chose not to mark it or expect anything to avoid disappointment. It was a wise choice. D is too young to be appreciative and his father, frankly, well, he was never one for holidays. We are in the midst of exactly what you describe. Maybe next year, Mother’s Day will have some meaning. Right now I felt more Like the kid being left out on the school yard. But I am so glad your family, rightly, vetted you because you deserve every scallop, card, and vacuum.

    Sent from my iPad

    • It is probably no surprise to you that I was thinking of you a great deal as I wrote this. I hope J get’s on board with the whole holiday thing because one thing I have learned over the years is that the chilldren only get as excited as they have been coached to be. And really, isn’t it part of our jobs as parents to model and teach our children about celebrating and marking events and holidays.

  2. Happy Mother’s Day! (Belated). Everyone always talks about how their relationship with their husband/partner changes so much after having kids. I can understand how it must be bewildering to have this new thing plopped in the middle of both your lives that changes you forever in so many ways. And I can see too, when the babies are little, it must seem weird for a husband to celebrate Mother’s Day because you’re not his mother, and as BEZ said, the kids are still too little, and as you have said, the title of “Mom” fits a bit uncomfortably still.

    I’m glad you made it through! And that you are celebrated for the amazing mom you are.

    And a toast to all moms and dads for doing probably the most difficult job in the entire world.

    • I wonder how it is for you BH? Being newly married you are also dealing with changing identities in your relationship. I know that my husband and I had a bit of a learning curve trying to figure out who we were as a married couple. The first years were not always easy. Perhaps that had more to do with our age. When I last saw you I was struck by how grounded you and your husband seemed. I’m sure that your centeredness is working to make these transitions easier for you.

      • Thanks FP! I do think it is different getting married at this age, for me at least. I think we worked out all our baggage in the time before we got married – at least, the initial baggage. 🙂 So this year has been really nice. Somehow, because the decision to get married had been made, it feels like we can really settle in together.

  3. Pingback: Almost There, or The Pain of Bardo | Mother Sugar

  4. FP, this is all so refreshingly honest. As I commented in Mit Schlag’s post as well, I find that I don’t quite speak the right language to talk to mothers about the complexities of parenthood, as I am not a parent myself. Something you wrote here, though, struck a very sensitive chord with me: “we were no longer the most important people in each other’s lives.” This is something I’ve observed, as so many of our friends have had babies, as they’ve added new lives into their relationship and, as you say, moved from being a couple to being a family. Perhaps this is alarming to me because now, four years into our marriage and nine years into our relationship, I finally feel like my husband and I have hit our stride, have made it through the woods of those first couple years of marriage (or at least gotten to know the woods a bit better, found lovely places in the woods), and the thought of upending that hard-won balance is scary. More specifically, the thought of not being each other’s number one most important person feels disorienting and strange. I’m glad to hear that you have come through that transition with such grace, and I so appreciate you sharing it all with us here.

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