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Great expectations: creating traditions to enjoy Mother’s Day image

Great expectations: creating traditions to enjoy Mother’s Day

… and avoid disappointment!

Mother’s Day can be a complicated day, with a mix of joy and challenges. There is so much we can celebrate and praise God for in giving us the gift of mothers and mother figures who have loved and cared for us over the years. But for many, Mother’s Day can also be a difficult date of the year. It is a day of complex emotions and memories as  people wrestle with the loss of their own mothers, the loss of children, struggles with fertility or singleness, absence and broken relationships. 

This article, however, sprung from a conversation with a friend who could have claimed some of the reasons above for why Mother’s Day is hard for her. And yet, it wasn’t those things she pointed to. Instead, it was the indelible pain left by years of disappointment expressed by her own mother on Mother’s Day when my friend was growing up. I’m sure many of us can relate to this experience—and many of us are probably guilty of the same thing with our families. We claim that we don’t want a fuss to be made, we don’t want gifts or to be spoiled—and then that feeling of devastation crashes in when we don’t get exactly what we asked for or when things don’t go quite as we had hoped. Sometimes that feeling bubbles over in our actions and speech to our families. This can leave them feeling like they just don’t measure up to our expectations.

This conversation has led me to reflect as a mother: What are my expectations for this day? How can I ensure that it is a day that is enjoyable not only for me but for my whole family? How can I avoid disappointment and hurting my children by my words or responses on Mother’s Day?

The importance of ritual

The Raising Children Network talks about the importance of family rituals and traditions because these special things we do regularly communicate ‘This is who we are and what we value’. They help children to develop a sense of security, identity and belonging. There is comfort and predictability in rituals and traditions. We can develop Mother’s Day traditions that contribute to our family culture in this way.

Generally, traditions and rituals centre on the people we gather with (and when and where this happens), the activities we do, the foods we eat and the things we give or say to each other.

Kent and Barbara Hughes, in their book Disciplines of a Godly Family, recount the simple family tradition they started on Mother’s Day of serving strawberry shortcake in bed for Barbara. It was a tradition that evolved as the children grew from small children into adults. The Hugheses helpfully point out that for Christian families ‘God’s word dramatically recommends that all believing families cultivate both spiritual memory and spiritual traditions to commemorate and celebrate God’s goodness’. For Christian families, rituals and traditions create both a sense of belonging and an opportunity to remember what God has done for us.

The Hugheses point us to the Old Testament and particularly Joshua 4 where God commands the people of Israel to set up stones of remembrance to ensure that they would remember what he had done for them. Importantly, the stones are also to be a remembrance for their children.  Humans can use these physical reminders and actions to point one another to greater, eternal truths. Christians can even use secular days of commemoration, such as Mother’s Day, as our modern equivalent of stones of remembrance. 

The Bible tells us to honour our parents (Ephesians 6:2). Mother’s Day is an excellent chance to put that command into practice and to help us to celebrate God’s goodness in giving us mothers and mother figures. Therefore, it can be important that we remember and mark the occasion. For mums, it can also be helpful to develop rituals and traditions in a way that manages our own expectations and hopefully avoids the sting of disappointment.

5 tips for creating traditions

These are some things you might consider as you go about setting up traditions for your family on Mother’s Day.

Be honest and communicate

Mums, this can be the hard one for us. Try to have an honest conversation with your husband and kids about what you expect for Mother’s Day. Outline what is important to you. Maybe you love receiving gifts. Perhaps a clean house would bring you more joy than anything else. Or maybe you just want a break from any food-related duties. If you love words of affection and affirmation, ask for hand-written cards. Figure out what would make you feel loved and appreciated and communicate this to your family. Then let them step up and create a tradition that they own and look forward to each year! Dads, this is where you step in and coordinate the children!

Be realistic

This could mean making sure your expectations are actually achievable. Don’t set a bar that is so high it cannot be reached by your family. Traditions can be simple; they don’t have to be grand and extravagant. For example, we often go for a bushwalk or to a park on Mother’s Day as an enjoyable way to spend time together. It is also a wonderful way to build memories. We still talk about the year we huddled in the play equipment fort when a huge downpour hit!

Show grace

Remember that things won’t always go smoothly and that sometimes we need to show grace to our family when things go amiss. Accept that sometimes the toast will be cold and burnt— but the intention was still there! Bring your disappointments to God and not your children; ask him to soften your heart and help you show grace to them, like he does with us.

Consider the broader family context

Work out in advance how Mother’s Day fits with your extended family. Remember that your traditions will also need to change and adjust as your children move into adulthood and have families of their own. As the Raising Children Network helpfully explains: ‘As your children get older or when your family circumstances change, some family rituals might need to change … Letting go when things don’t work anymore will keep you and your family closer than if you force a family tradition because you really love it’.

As well as thinking about our extended family, it’s also good to consider the broader church context—are there people you could include in your traditions who may be lonely or on the margins on Mother’s Day?

Finally, remember to use the day as a reminder to be grateful and thankful to our God for his goodness!
Fiona Dewhurst attends church in the Sutherland Shire with her husband and three sons. She is currently working as a high school SRE teacher and as an administration/communications worker for Our Place Christian Communities. She is most happy drinking tea, reading a book, running riot with her boys or cooking up a storm.


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