Like many moms, I have certain Mother’s Day requests: time with my girls. Time to myself. Something delicious (Starbucks is dandy, thanks). No cooking required. A few nice words. Nick, Ella, and Annie are really good about making sure these things happen; every year, I appreciate their consideration.
In addition to the above, I also ask for something a little unusual: computer time. More specifically, computer time to spend on Facebook, writing messages to every mother on my friends list. This may seem like an odd Mother’s Day request, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day.
Over the years, people have commented on this annual rite of passage. Most are cordial or appreciative. A few are skeptical (“You spend all that time online when you could be outside or reading or laughing with your kids? Isn’t that the opposite of what Mother’s Day is supposed to be about?”). More than a few comment that the messages are “so thoughtful” or something along those lines.
While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not comfortable with the praise ’cause here’s the truth: I didn’t start this tradition from a thoughtful place. I started it because I felt obligated.
I have a group of mom friends who I “met” through an online message board when I was pregnant with Ella; we all had babies due in December 2004. Eventually, we moved our communications to Facebook, where we continue to “see” one another today (we have also met in real life, but those are crazy stories for another day…). When I first joined Facebook, I was tickled to discover several of my former message board mama friends. Being able to easily keep up with them again was a terrific treat. Hence, in 2009 – my first Facebook Mother’s Day – I decided that I wanted to reach out to these lovely and inspirational gals.
Mother’s Day seemed perfect. After all, in addition to being pretty excellent friends, the very reason that these ladies and I had met one another was through our shared motherhood. Our friendship was made even stronger because we all had children the same age; we’d gone through leaky boobs, sleepless nights, potty training, and the first day of kindergarten – together. As much as anyone on the planet, these women shaped me into the mother I am today through their advice, their friendship, and through how they parented their own children. I wanted to tell them that they were doing a fabulous job as moms and, although it’s sappy and clichéd, I wanted to tell them on Mother’s Day.
That was all: tell a small group of friends I thought they were great. Easy peasy, over and done. When I sat down and began to type, however, I found myself scrolling through my entire list of friends, many of whom are also mothers. Some I didn’t know very well, but with others, I’d see their names and think, “She makes those crazy bento lunches!” or “She’s always at her son’s football games!” or “When her daughter was sick last year, she did a helluva job holding it together.”
So I thought, I guess I’ll write to those moms, too. And I did. And at first, I felt pretty good, writing messages to the friends whose mother-ing I knew well enough to talk about. But here’s the thing: all of the messages were written on my friends’ walls, which meant that any of their friends could see them… Meaning that the rest of my Facebook mom friends – the ones I didn’t know very well, the ones who don’t post often – could see them, too… Meaning that it would be pretty obvious that I’d picked and chosen to whom I was writing.
So then I thought, Well damn. The whole point of this was to say nice things, not to make anyone feel left out or crappy. I guess I’d better write to every mom on my friends list. Or, in other words, I felt… obligated… to write to everyone.
So I did.
And it was… incredible.
I know that whenever anyone reaches out to me and says something nice, it feels good, so I definitely hoped that my doing so would make people feel good. It did. But there was so much more than that.
Most of the time, I received an acknowledgement – maybe a “thank you.” While that wasn’t why I was writing – I wasn’t looking for recognition at all; I just wanted to make people smile – it was lovely nevertheless.
But then there were friends who were just floored. Some had had a rough Mother’s Day. Others were in a difficult place. Still others had been feeling gross about themselves for whatever reason. The vast majority of the time, I had no idea that any of this was going on; it’s not as much fun to talk about bad stuff as it is to post selfies, you know? When these ladies heard from someone randomly telling them that they were damn fine moms, it caught them off guard – in the best way. They said they felt they could go on. They said they felt good about themselves for the first time in ages.
I’d had no idea; I was stunned.
And then there was the most unexpectedly exciting thing of all: the joining in. I don’t remember why I posted on Friends’ walls instead of sending private messages, but I was immediately glad I did because other friends started adding on. Sometimes, they’d simply “like” my post. Others, they’d write comments telling the friend why she was, indeed, a kickass mother. Either way, these women suddenly had dozens of friends confirming their awesomeness.
It was stupendous.
Women do a really good job of tearing one another down, either overtly (“How can you feed your kids Teddy Grahams? They’re basically toxic” or “You allow PG-13 movies? How… interesting…”) or more quietly (“No, Raphael’s not doing soccer; we refuse to schedule any after school activities because we believe in letting kids be kids”). We whisper behind one another’s backs about everything from eye wrinkles to how often we allow our kids to buy school lunch.
This is nothing new – the whole “Mommy Wars” thing and all. It’s not just moms either, of course; women, in general, can be pretty damned nasty to one another. Yes, we are good friends; we can call on our pals when we need advice or support. We compliment one another on our outfits or our haircuts. We thank people for their help. But in my experience, it’s pretty rare for a woman to say to another woman, “You’re fantastic. You inspire me. Here’s why.”
I include myself in this statement. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true: I don’t often tell my friends that they’re wonderful just for the hell of it. Being so vocal feels… strange. Uncomfortable. Plus, when I’m telling someone that I love how patient they are with their children, the unspoken sentiment (in my own head) is that I’m not as patient. There’s a comparison (again, in my own head) that, frankly, doesn’t always feel so good.
Basically, I avoid saying nice things to other people because it makes me feel bad about myself. Which is pretty neat and not at all embarrassing.
Somehow, on that Mother’s Day in 2009, I was able to break out of my selfish, self-protective bubble, and the response was beyond anything I could have imagined. Turns out, when you say kind things to people (and really mean what you’re saying), people appreciate it. Go figure.
Writing Facebook messages to my mama friends has become a treasured tradition; there is no obligation about it. I wish them a Happy Mother’s Day and, when I know them well enough (otherwise it sounds forced or canned), tell them why I think they’re magnificent moms. Yeah, it takes hours and during that time, I’m not outside or hanging out with my daughters or reading magazines, but the happiness that connecting with these women brings – considering why they’re making a difference, why their kids are lucky to have them, how they inspire me – is incalculable.
It’s pretty hard not to feel awesome while you’re pondering someone else’s awesomeness.
So, if you’re looking for something to do this Mother’s Day, I’d encourage you to tell some moms that you think they’re doing a bang-up job. You don’t have to go through your entire Facebook friends list or your entire neighborhood or even your entire family tree; just pick a mom or two or ten and tell them that they’re fabulous. Be genuine. Mean what you say. Then sit back and revel in the delicious feeling that accompanies celebrating other moms.
I mean, that’s what Mother’s Day is about, is it not?
Although I’m sure as heck not going to turn down any Starbucks or handmade cards or You just sit here and we’ll do the dishes. Life is all about balance, after all. My mother says so.
You can bet, come Sunday, I’ll be telling my own mama why she rocks.