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You can’t just take Mother’s Day off when you’re a mom

The other day I was chatting with some child-free friends about what plans I had for the upcoming Mother’s Day. “You should go to a spa!” said one. “Or we could do lunch and shopping?” suggested the other, hopefully. I briefly allowed myself to fantasize what it would be like to spend a day in the mall without having to stop to explain that no, I don’t have any quarters on me, and no, sorry, but we won’t be riding the Batmobile today. But while I love them for wanting to help me celebrate, their idea of a day of full freedom from child rearing my two preschoolers would never happen.

Mother’s Day is a wonderful sentiment, but it’s not a day off from parenting.

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Sure, commercials and advertising try to press upon us the idea that moms deserve nothing else but to be spoiled on Mother’s Day (preferably with a piece of heart-shaped jewelry, if Kay has any say in the matter, or a box full of chocolates ripe for the sharing, if your kids get any input). But until the kids are old enough to make you breakfast in bed without the fear that they’ll burn the house down in the process, Mother’s Day is a lot like any other day.

The fact that it’s a Sunday means your partner might be around to help share the parenting load, and once the kids are old enough to understand special occasions, you may get an extra hug or two, perhaps a homemade card or craft carefully overseen by a thoughtful teacher. If your partner is particularly awesome, there may even be flowers to fawn over. But there are still diapers to change, bottles or boobs to be fed from and impassioned arguments over the green car that aren’t going to referee themselves.

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Of course, there are some moms that make a point of using Mother’s Day as a day of self-indulgence, a day where they get to put their needs first for a change and let someone else worry about keeping the kids alive and happy. To those ladies, I say you are an inspiration to us all, and please have a mimosa and uninterrupted nap in my honor.

But if you’re a mom who doesn’t have easy access to child care, who has kids whose needs make it harder for you to get away, a mom who gets anxious when away from her kids to the point where she spends more time checking in than enjoying the break (raises hand) or a mom whose spouse would be less than thrilled if you declared you were leaving them and the kids behind, then spending Mother’s Day sans kids simply isn’t realistic.

Hold on.

Before you bust out a teeny, tiny violin in honor of my whining, let’s be honest. We wouldn’t let dads off the hook so easily either.

In fact, there’s a bit of a double standard between moms and dads when it comes to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Although we’ve come a long way since the 1950s, when men were seen primarily as breadwinners rather than as active parents, when it comes to holidays in our honor, dads still get the short end of the stick.

Moms may feel underappreciated if they don’t get a day to themselves on Mother’s Day, but being expected to stay home with your family on the day that’s in your honor is something dads know all too well. Father’s Day is still all about watching Dad unwrap this year’s tie and perhaps getting the family together for a barbecue or a trip to the zoo. If dads suddenly banded together and declared that this Father’s Day they wanted to celebrate with a day to themselves on the golf course, moms would react so coldly that Elsa’s frozen ice palace would be a tropical paradise compared to your own home.

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The good news is that it doesn’t take much to make a mom get the warm fuzzies, especially when it comes to our kids. Even if it is largely an invention of Hallmark, anytime moms can get acknowledged for the hard work that goes into raising a baby into decent human being, we darn well deserve it. I will gladly wear a construction paper tiara while making peanut butter and jelly to order, and I will happily use the excuse to put my feet up instead of engaging in the typical Sunday afternoon whirlwind of trying to clean the house for the week ahead.

Grand gestures and gift certificates to the nail salon are great and all, but most of us don’t need or even want a full day away to celebrate ourselves. Having even a single moment when you feel truly appreciated by your children is enough to keep most of us happy until next year’s Mother’s Day rolls around. But hey, if you want to shower us with attention and presents, we’re not going to stop you.

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