Mother's Day: The Hallmark holiday from hell

May 3, 2011 at 11:21 a.m. ET

Hallmark may have anointed Mother's Day as the high holy day for mothers... but for moms like me, it's the holiday from hell.

unhappy family portrait

According to, a holiday is a noun meaning "a period of cessation from work or one of recreation; vacation." Pardon me while I let out an unladylike guffaw.

Mother's Day holiday is an oxymoron

For those of you who stayed awake during physics class, the Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. Similarly, the same goes for moms and the never-ending stuff that has to be done. I like to see this physics law as scientific proof of the old adage that a mother's work is never done.

Ironically, all the traditional rituals that families inflict on their mothers on this supposed holiday can backfire badly by creating more obligations -– which end up creating more stress and work for mom (with love and best intentions, of course). Here's why:

Mother's Day brunch

On this most unholy day, buffet brunches resemble a feeding frenzy around a shark cage. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother's Day is the most crowded day of the year to eat out. Dining out with small children is stressful enough under normal circumstances. Crowds, other screaming, bored and hungry kids in addition to my own and interminable waits for service is not my idea of a Mother's Day treat. Call me uptight, but imminent hypoglycemia and chaos doesn't equal quality family time. Of course, we could always eat at home but then that means the dreaded (cue ominous music here)…

Breakfast in bed

The idea of breakfast in bed sounds so decadent, but in my experience, nothing good ever came from eating breakfast in bed unless I was ordering room service at a five-star hotel. Being hospitalized and Mother's Day are the only times I've ever been served breakfast in bed and both were excruciating experiences I've tried to repress.

Read more Parental Discretion here!

The inevitable bad food: the burnt waffles and murky coffee are just a tiny part of the problem. The sight of my little boy balancing a rickety tray of burned waffles and murky coffee sloshing would be heart-melting, if it weren't so heart-stopping. Trying to balance the overloaded tray of food on my lap and prop myself up with pillows has always been a logistics challenge. But then I also have to keep my over-excited son, who is ridiculously pleased with himself, from overturning the entire tray when he insists on jumping into bed with me.

By the time I manage to get out of bed with barely concealed relief, and change the sheets and bedspread, there's the kitchen carnage to contend with. Of course, everyone insists I "relax" while they take care of the cleanup. But all I can do is grit my teeth and pretend to "relax" as the pots and pans are put in the wrong places with food particles still stuck to the sides and puddles of water pool across the floor.

The presents

In the weeks leading up to the big day, classrooms across America transform into mini Mother's Day sweatshops, churning out compulsory crafts like macaroni necklaces, stinky bath salts and picture frames.

Although I definitely prefer an obligatory craft project made in school to the traditional gift of flowers, candy or bad perfume, ultimately it's yet another objet d'art to add to my already overflowing Rubbermaid bins full of crafts and art projects I don't have room for.

I treasure anything that my kids make with their chubby little fingers, but I definitely appreciate a spontaneous sketch whipped up with crayons a little more than a school assignment.

Your own mother and/or mother-in-law

As long as both my mother and mother-in-law are alive and live just a few miles from me, this will never be a true day of rest. Even though they tag-team me every week, I still have to make a fuss over my own mother and mother-in-law by buying them presents and spending some time with them as well. Since time is an issue, this often means combining the celebrations and having a big, inter-generational brunch (see above). Or if Mom wants special time to herself, prolonging the agony and having separate celebrations.

Unfortunately, even though I am technically a mother, it doesn't occur to either of them to acknowledge this in any way and reciprocate by saying, "Honey, let me take the kids off your hands for a few hours so you can rest." Although they are both incredibly spry and active, magically enough, they become conveniently infirm and geriatric whenever the option of taking care of their grandchildren on the weekends comes up.

>> How to deal with your mother-in-law

I love and respect both my mother and mother-in-law, but let's just say that catering to their needs for recognition just adds to my obligations – again, not my idea of a holiday.

Unrealistic expectations

No matter how perfect and wonderful and amazing a day you plan for your mother, it doesn't make up for the other 364 days of neglect in the year. So many Mother's Day acknowledgments – the cards, the perfunctory phone calls and gifts are motivated by guilt. In practice, Mother's Day is often a day of atonement, not celebration. And for overburdened moms like me, a day to be endured -- not enjoyed.

In addition, I think the emphasis on Mother's Day perpetuates a myth about some perfect day that only drives everybody a little crazy to live up to the hype and inevitable pressure. It's a lose-lose situation.

I feel fortunate that I have the luxury to dislike Mother's Day. I know that I've won life's lottery in being a lucky mom to two affectionate boys and wife to a demonstrative and attentive husband. So most of the time, I feel adored and appreciated all year 'round and don't feel dependent on this anti-holiday to make up for a mom-recognition deficit.

Motherhood can be a most thankless job, but nonetheless, I am thankful for it.

And I'll be even more thankful if my family observes a Mother's Day moratorium this year.

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