Holly Richardson: Mother’s Day gifts for the burned out mom

(The Associated Press) Two Mother's Day cards from American Greetings, the first, left, from 1938, and the other a contemporary card from this year, show the difference in the how our societal view of motherhood has changed over the years, in Brooklyn, Ohio Monday, May 1, 2006.

Sunday is Mother’s Day and, this year, so many moms are exhausted from doing “all the things.” All. The. Things.

So what can you give a burned out mom for Mother’s Day? I have some ideas.

First of all, be proactive in training yourself to see the “invisible work” moms are engaged in everyday. It’s that behind-the-scenes orchestration that keeps life moving smoothly. Invisible work includes the constant mental juggling of making sure the household has enough toilet paper, that doctor visits are scheduled and kept and everyone’s emotional needs are tended to.

It’s not that partners and kids don’t pitch in and help when asked. They usually do. It’s that the work is invisible to everyone but mom.

If you make mom breakfast and/or dinner this weekend, also do all of the dishes, and clean the kitchen. Ponder all the times the kitchen counters are wiped off and the dishes magically get cleaned without your work. Have some honest discussions about equalizing the workload. And then make it happen.

Next, give mom some alone time, make it regular and don’t take no for an answer. So many moms are socialized to believe that they never need time to themselves, that their lives are always about other people. That’s simply not true. Moms matter, too. Make a plan, get it on the calendar with regularity and then hold that time sacred.

Help establish and hold boundaries so moms do not have to do “all the things.” Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas recently argued that women were already working a “double shift” of employment and then home responsibilities, but now the pandemic is creating what they call the “double double shift” and it is pushing women to the breaking point.

I would note, as a stay-at-home mom for 30 years, that even without outside employment, women are being pushed — and pushing themselves — to the breaking point. Mom’s “work” does not start at 8 and end at 5. Here’s the truth: the work is never done. There is always something more that could be done, maybe even should be done.

One of the things that COVID-19 has uncovered is how hard it is to not let all of our various roles blur together into one big glob of a day that blends into a blob of a week. Having boundaries — some sort of demarcation — between roles, between the start of the day and the end of the “work” day is more important than ever.

Now I have some things to say to moms who are feeling a little crispy around the edges.

Mama, you need to take care of yourself. Set boundaries. Ask for what you want and what you need. (The people who love us are not mind readers, dang it.) Let others help you. That means being OK with the chore being done differently than you might do it. You don’t need to micromanage all the things. If your spouse or your kids don’t load the dishwasher like you do, but the dishes still get clean, let it go.

Practice deep self-care every day. Too often, we think self-care is a smoothie, or a pedicure or a Netflix binge — something that offers temporary relief, kind of like eating a doughnut might satisfy us for a moment. Deep self-care is the kind that nourishes heart and soul, that gives us emotional resilience and depth and lasts much longer than a doughnut or a smoothie. It includes things like journaling, practicing gratitude, holding on to the knowledge that better days are ahead, nurturing our own spirituality and a practice of mindfulness and meditation.

Finally, look for ways to fill your life with joy. I fully believe this life is to be enjoyed, not merely endured.

Happy Mother’s Day, moms. You’ve got this.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.