For most moms, Mother’s Day is a particularly special day of the year when it’s all about them. Flowers, breakfasts in bed, and homemade cards are often the expected norm. For many moms, it’s literally the only day of the year that they get full-on permission to take a break with no guilt. Why is this?

Mother’s Day Memories

My own mom, who raised me during the 70’s and 80’s made sure the needs of her children always came before hers. She was (and still is) a fabulous, loving, generous mother. Consequently I grew up like many other girls at that time, internalizing that this is what “good moms” did; putting the kids above themselves. Self-care was not in the vocabulary of most mothers in the era before cell phones and the internet.

On Mothers Day when I was little, my dad, (a police officer who often worked night shifts), would come home with, flowers, cards and breakfast from McDonalds. My mom and I laugh about this now, because she absolutely hated McDonalds breakfasts. My brother and I were absolutely thrilled as this was outside of the norm in our house and the treat felt more like it was for us than for mom. She says she wouldn’t have had it any other way. After all seeing us happy made her happy.

Adjust Your Expectations

Some moms put their self-care expectations on this one day of the year when everyone in their family is supposed to drop everything and hop to it. So many moms I talk to- in my counseling office and in my friendships- have told me stories of crushing disappointment. Stories of not being treated as “Queen for a day”, not getting the breakfast in bed or the flowers, or even a card from their kiddo with a little handprint on it that they’ll keep until long after their child is grown.

I too, must admit there have been a handful of Mothers Days in my 17 years of motherhood, that have been a little less than stellar.

A Mother’s Day Emergency

Take Mother’s Day 2003. My daughter Rebekah was 3 and a half and decided to put a nickel in her mouth to see if she could swallow it. Literally. That’s what she told me. She wanted to see if she could reenact the scene in Finding Nemo when the pelican tries to swallow Marlin and coughs him back up.

She’s a thespian to this day.

After a trip to the ER just to make sure it went down and would be coming out the other end in a few hours, we discovered it was actually still lodged in her throat. The x-ray looked almost cartoonish, like something out of Bugs Bunny. There was her throat and spine, with a perfect little circle just sitting there like a bird perched on a wire. The coin was sitting upright so she could still breathe and talk normally. They ended up removing it without incident by using a catheter with a balloon on the end and pulling it out.

Afterwards, Bekah was no worse for the wear. At almost four, she declared that day she wanted to be a “Nickel Doctor” and get coins out of kids’ throats. It’s a funny memory that we tell every Mothers Day. At the time though, it was quite frightening.

Life doesn’t care if it’s Mothers Day, your birthday or just an ordinary Tuesday.

Life happens. Especially when you have children.

I realized after that trip to the nickel doctor, that this was life with kids. We had already been adjusting to my son’s autism diagnosis for two years at that point, and I just wanted a break: something I never seemed to get as a stay-at-home mom during that time. I had this unspoken expectation that everyone else was going to meet my needs. An expectation that because I had a son with autism I would then be somehow immune to the other trials in life like cancer, disease, death, and even nickel doctors.

A few months later Bekah was diagnosed with epilepsy and needed glasses for her crossed eyes. She was also born with a heart condition that required catheterization at 3 months old.

Life just happens.

I know many of you can relate with stories that are even more challenging.

I share these stories to remind you that your self-care is no one’s responsibility but YOURS. No amount of whining, expecting, hinting around or martyrdom is going to get you, as a mom, any closer to the true break you need. Those tricks might get you the desired result from a guilt-ridden husband, but over time it’s damaging to your relationship.

As a friend of mine always says,

“It’s time to get off the cross; we need the wood.”

Letting Go of Motherhood Martyrdom

When I finally decided to let go of my motherhood martyrdom, life got exponentially better. I started doing more of what I wanted to do. And this made me a better person and a better mom. I even spent several mother’s days ALL BY MYSELF, free from responsibility and care-taking, because that’s what I wanted.

It’s ok to want that. Really.

Moms, it’s time to start taking care of you every day, not just one day a year. Tell others what you need. Think about what you WANT to do, not just what you HAVE to do.

Life has too many “have-to’s”.

When we take responsibility for our own happiness, that Sunday in May becomes even more special, because our loved ones can take their time and energy to honor us out of love, not duty or guilt. Keep your expectations realistic and start caring for yourself daily.

I’d bet more than a nickel, your perspective will change for the better.