mother's dayIf this weekend is Mother’s Day where you live, this blog post is an invitation for you to pause for a moment to consider how you will be spending this day.  (If you’re not in the US, I invite you to read on anyway.  You can either pull this post out again on your own country’s Mother’s Day, or you can use the principles I’m sharing on any day of celebration.)  What Mother’s Day plans do you have?

I’m not asking what you probably think I’m asking here, though.  Yes, you may have scheduled an activity with or without your children.  In my family, I have a Mother’s Day tradition of getting a Chicken Salad Salad and an Oreo Cookie milkshake from Potbelly’s (which was the last meal I ate before becoming a mom!) and then going for a hike with my husband and my two boys in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC.  It’s a beautiful and meaningful tradition for me.  And I hope you have something joyful and lovely planned.  Or perhaps planned for you.

But again, that’s not what I’m asking.

What I’m inquiring of you is where your head is planning to be on Mother’s Day.  “Huh?” you are probably thinking.  “Attached to my body, I hope!” you might reply.

No, not literally.  What I’m asking is: where do you predict your thoughts will go?  What meaning does “Mother’s Day” have for you?  Can you predict what stories you will be telling yourself tomorrow?  What will those stories lead you to feel?  And will those stories serve you?

The Power of Reflecting, in Advance, on Where Your Thoughts Will Go

To explain why I’m asking, I need to rewind a few weeks, to my most recent birthday.  It was Saturday, April 29, and I woke up newly 44 years old, in Vancouver with my husband.  He and I were on a “work date” for a week at a conference.  (Stay tuned for some career + conference-going advice in next week’s blog post.)  We had extended our trip by a day, so that we could explore Vancouver on my birthday before heading home to our kiddos.

I woke up feeling happy, grateful, and content.  More importantly, I was able to return to that state of joy and gratitude again and again, all day long.

“Well, it was your birthday, and you were on vacation,” you may be thinking.  “Of course, you were happy and content.”  To which I would respond, “not true.”

Earlier that week, I had spent some time reflecting on what I “typically” think about and how I “usually” feel on my birthday.  In these musings, I predicted a number of things from my decades of birthday experience.

First, I suspected that I would think about getting older, and how I was getting ever-closer to that time when I won’t be able to do all the things I enjoy doing.  That thought, of course, always filled me with fear.  Dread.  And anxiety.  Second, I figured I would indeed feel joy and love when I heard birthday greetings from people I loved.  Third, I remembered that I often feel a deep sadness on my birthday, when I remember that my birth mother abandoned me when she did not approve of my choice of life partner.  And finally, I predicted that I would tell myself the story that I should be feeling nothing but joy.  Then I’d feel angry at myself for not being happy all day.

Gosh that’s a lot of birthday thoughts, piled up year after year.  And guess what: I had them no matter what I was doing.  How I was celebrating.  Or where in the globe I was turning that year older.  As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.”

mother's day

What Changed for Me This Year?

What was different this year?  In advance of my birthday, I committed to two things.  First, I committed in advance to honoring the life of a friend whom Jason and I lost a few months ago.  He passed away in his mid-40’s, and I wanted to honor my birthday as a true gift in this life.  To do this, I committed to the practice of thinking about our friend Matt, and returning to joy whenever I found my thoughts going somewhere dark.  Every time I noticed myself feeling a wave of sadness or frustration on my birthday, I returned to that thought that turning 44 was something amazing to be treasured.

Second, I committed to honoring and having compassion for whatever thought or feeling happened to come up for me on my birthday.  “It’s okay, sweetie,” I practiced saying to myself.  “It’s normal that you’d feel some sadness today.  That sadness doesn’t diminish the love you have for your adopted parents, your husband, your children, your other family members, or anyone else.  I got you.”

These two commitments changed everything about how I experienced my birthday.  I entered the day with appropriate expectations about what I might be thinking and feeling.  I gave myself grace for however I felt.  And at the end of the day, while high over the skies of Canada on a redeye flight, I didn’t feel angry at myself for “ruining” my birthday feeling miserable.

So, Where Will Your Head Be on Mother’s Day?

Having just returned from a conference in Las Vegas, I’m happy to gamble here.  I’m willing to place bets that you can, if you try, predict with some accuracy where your thoughts will go this Mother’s Day.  What stories do you usually tell yourself around this holiday?  Are there things from your past that will inevitably bring up joy, sorrow, longing, anger, frustration, or any of another 100 different feelings for you?  Are there things about your life right now, or about the state of the world – and how our world treats mothers – that will be triggers?  Have you set expectations for how others will behave that may, perhaps, not be met?

Give yourself the opportunity to spend just a few minutes reflecting on these questions.  Journal about them a bit, maybe, if that’s a practice you enjoy.

Then, decide how you’d like to feel during this day of celebration.  No, “happy all day” doesn’t count as a realistic intention.  Rather, consider encouraging yourself to create some commitments of your own.

Perhaps it’s a promise to yourself that you will remember over and over, throughout the day, just one simple way that you are an amazing mom.  Or, perhaps it’s a commitment to take a deep breath and step outside for a minute, whenever tough feelings are coming up for you.  And maybe it’s also a promise to seek joy in the little things.  Like the adorable curl on your toddler’s head, or the sound of a bat hitting a ball at a Little League game.

Later this week, I’d love to hear from you about how you spent Mother’s Day.  Not what you did, but where you went in your head and your thoughts.  May you find, and return again and again, to a place of beauty and gratitude on this day that’s meant to recognize you.  You got this, today and always.


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