This morning, when my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I didn’t have the energy to give him a good answer. It was 6:30 a.m., and I was awake, unloading the dishwasher, making the coffee and fixing breakfast for our son. Three hours later, I cleaned the house, went grocery shopping, put it all away and prepped for dinner before making everyone lunch (my husband included, as he had decided to work from home that day). I then trawled the internet for used patio furniture, drew dinosaurs with my son, tamed at least two tantrums and read our son three books before putting him down for a nap. Now, while our son sleeps, I’ve started and will have finished this article by the time his nanny hands him back to me for dinner, bath and bedtime.
Forget jewelry and bath bombs for Mother’s Day. All I want is a day off. To be fair to my husband, he probably helps more than most. Still, the work he does around the house is considered help, whereas it’s my job.
According to journalist Gemma Hartley, author of “Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward,” I’m in no way unique — and I needn’t feel guilty. As often as it is joyous and satisfying, motherhood can be overwhelming and exhausting, and so the idea of a Mother’s Day — that one day a year when you get a card and a “thank you” — can feel false.
What most moms really want, Hartley says, goes beyond bunches of flowers or Sunday brunch.
“I think what moms want most is to be relieved of the mental load,” Hartley says.
“Mental load” is Hartley’s term for our “keeping track of everything that needs to be done and delegating it out or doing it ourselves while also managing the emotions of those around us.”
For Mother’s Day — and every day — Hartley says, “[Moms] want to have their partners do the work they normally do without having to be asked to do it and without praise.”
I asked other moms what they wanted for Mother’s Day, and Hartley was right: Never mind that “#1 Mom” mug. The moms I spoke to named actionable steps their friends and family could take to make their life easier — on this and every day.
1. Clean up your own mess!
According to one new study published in Sex Roles, women are still doing more housework than their male partners, irrespective of age, income or who works in or out of the home. This Mother’s Day, why not address this inequity?
Veronica Bojerski, a mom from Broadview Heights, Ohio, hires a housekeeping service one to two times a month. “I find it a necessity,” she says.
Portland, Oregon, mom Elissa Wald used to dread the job of decluttering, which had traditionally fallen on her shoulders. Then, she and her family started decluttering the house as a team. “It gets done fast and I don’t feel oppressed,” Wald says.
Insisting that your family help, Hartley says, “not only lessons the load on you but shows your children it’s not just mom’s job to do that work.”
2. Cook more meals!
In my home, I meal plan, prep and cook nearly every single meal, not to mention my toddler’s countless daily snacks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is typical: Women spend twice as much time as men preparing food. What a gift it would be to eat a home-cooked meal I didn’t prepare!
Rachel Kahan, of New York City, says that when both her kids were born, she and her husband hired a private chef to come cook meals for them for a month while she recovered. “It was less fancy than it sounds,” she says. “We bought all the ingredients, she showed up once a week, cooked for a few hours and then put all the stuff in the fridge or freezer, and we ate it all week.”
Can’t afford a private chef? A prepared meal delivery service like Territory Foods and Freshly can come out to under $15 per meal, while DIY cooking kits like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh work out to about $20 a meal — both less than the cost of some takeout.
“Everyone thinks we have a magical mom sense,” Hartley says. “We’re better because we’re doing it more often. Cooking, housekeeping, caring for the children — these are learnable skills.”
3. Let us sleep!
Ask any new parent — there is no greater gift than a good night’s sleep.
Shana Westlake, a mom from Rockville, Maryland, says her husband takes full advantage of the fact that their kids are pretty self-sufficient in the morning and can entertain each other.
“Whereas once I’m up to get them breakfast or referee, I’m up,” Westlake says. “If he could get up before me and leave the room so they don’t bother me, I might be able to actually sleep later!”
Grace Alexander from Atlanta, Georgia would also just like some shut-eye.
“The minute I stumble through getting dressed for bed, fixing my pillows, using the toilet and braiding my hair, everyone converges on my bedroom to say good night — and give me a rundown of their entire day,” she says. “Please. Let me sleep. Please.”
It doesn’t matter who works inside or outside the home, Hartley says — both partners are working.
“No one should be getting more or less sleep,” Hartley says.
4. Be courteous!
The gift that keeps on giving? A little common courtesy. Place your glass in the sink — or, even better, the dishwasher. Put your shoes where they belong without me having to say something. Throw away your wrappers. Sweep up crumbs.
Rebecca Alwine, a mom from Grovetown, Georgia, has just one request for Mother’s Day: Respect her time.
“Whether that means putting your laundry in the hamper or letting me pee in peace or looking for your shoes before waking me up to do it,” Alwine says.
Megan Zander, a twin mom from Branford, Connecticut, would also love her family to take responsibility for themselves when they can. From getting themselves snacks without bugging mom to putting their shoes and bookbags where they go, it’s the “little things,” says Zander, “but it adds up time-wise. Not cleaning up after them helps me feel more appreciated.”
“People presume unpaid work is not worth as much as paid labor,” says Hartley. “But all of this unpaid labor actually does have a high market value. It’s worth a lot.”
No kidding: According to the latest data from Salary.com, if a stay-at-home mom was charging for all the various jobs that she does, she’d be earning around $178,201 a year.
5. Give us alone time!
According to one incredibly depressing study, moms get just 32 minutes of solo time a day. That’s just enough time to … well, nothing.
For Katrina Altersitz Wells, a mom from Mount Royal, New Jersey, the ideal Mother’s Day gift would be “a gift card for unlimited yoga — and an agreement that I can get to at least three classes per week.”
Libertyville, Illinois-based mom Risa N. McDonell would also love a little more alone time. “I’d love a weekend alone somewhere lovely,” she says. “Go beachcombing without anyone getting bored just as I’m getting in a rhythm, go see a play or opera that no one else wants to see, sleep in and then watch chick flicks on pay-per-view while having room service breakfast.”
Can’t send mom away? Round up the kids and give her an hour by herself in the house.
“This is something my husband does regularly,” Hartley says. “People need time alone to decompress, especially moms who stay at home and are ‘on’ all the time.”
The bottom line
We think of Mother’s Day as that one special day where mom can express her needs, but as Hartley says, “We moms should be able to express our needs all the time — and our partners should step up and learn what needs to be done and stop waiting for direction!”
In other words, don’t ask mom what she wants for Mother’s Day — make it your job (instead of ours) to figure it out!