Small Things You Can Do for Moms Year-Round (Not Just On Mother's Day)
The other night, I called a friend who gave birth to a baby girl last week and I asked her how she was feeling. For 30 or so minutes, she lamented about her struggles with breastfeeding, detailing how she—in the throes of sleep deprivation—mistook her husband in a robe for a stranger at 3 a.m. She told me she misses us: her friends. She told me that the sink is full of dishes, but that she doesn't care because she's tired. (Related: What a Day In the Life As a New Mom ~Really~ Looks Like)
At the end of the phone call, I asked how the baby was doing. She paused. The baby is great, she said—healthy and back up to birth weight. Before we hung up, she also told me this: that it was really nice to be able to talk to someone about what she's been going through.
As a new mom myself (and founder of the new online motherhood platform Dear Sunday), I know that sentiment well. After all, 'how are you doing?' is not a question moms get asked nearly as often as they should.
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"In our culture, once the baby comes, mom becomes an afterthought," says Paige Bellenbaum, L.M.S.W., chief external relations officer for The Motherhood Center of New York. "Everyone wants to know about the baby and how happy you must be that the baby is here—rarely do we ask mom how she is doing."
Of course, this trend can apply to all moms, no matter the age of their children. Moms with kids of all ages—whether they're up with a newborn in the middle of the night or comforting a homesick child at college—do (largely unrecognized) work sun-up to sun-down all year long.
The good news: Sometimes, it's the small stuff that makes a big difference. This Mother's Day (and, again, any day really), consider these suggestions from maternal health experts to show appreciation for any mother in your life.
Offer to Help
What most moms—especially new moms—want and need is help, says Birdie Gunyon Meyer, R.N., M.A., director of certification at Postpartum Support International. Here's the caveat: It's often hard to ask for help as a mom (mom guilt! lack of support! that nagging I-can-do-it better mentality!), so don't wait for her to fill you in on what she needs. Instead, offer to watch her kids so she can have a few hours (or a night!) off; bring food to a new family or make dinner (or, in the time of coronavirus, order from a grocery delivery service on her behalf); offer to come over and get up with a new baby at night; let a mom in your life sleep in; clean.
And the same goes for supporting moms with older children, too: Help her out by meeting her at a park and hanging with her kids so she can get a break (self-care, FTW) or try your hand at math homework over FaceTime. While you might not realize it, these small efforts can make a huge difference in a mother's day. (Related: Ashley Graham Shared Life Lessons About Body Image and Gratitude That She Learned from Her Mom)
For moms who aren't near their kids or grandkids, photos are a great way to stay connected, says Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., M.P.H., director of the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders and a principal investigator in the Mom Genes Fight PPD research study on post-partum depression. If you both have iPhones, start a shared album with your mom or consider a digital picture frame, like the Brookstone PhotoShare Large Smart Frame (Buy It, $100, buybuybaby.com). You'll be able to email new photos straight to the frame so new photos show up. A plus: Anyone with the email address can send photos to it (so you can get your siblings on board too). The surprise element—new photos pop up whenever someone submits 'em—is fun, plus this helps her stay up-to-date on your family's adventures and happenings, adding context to your catchups, whether they're on the phone or over Zoom. (Also, if a mom's greatest work is raising living, breathing humans beings, photos demonstrating their happiness and success is kinda like a bunch of little trophies, no?)
Schedule One-on-One Time with Her
Set up something fun but low-key to do with a mom in your life—a short hike or a coffee date—and truly listen to what she has to say, suggests Robyn Alagona Cutler, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health. "Moms—maybe more than anyone—need to have a forum to talk about how they are feeling and to have the person asking, really hear them and see them, without judgment," she says. "A few moments of shared care, concern, love, and vulnerability is the most profound gift you can give a mama."
Today, and historically, women tend to take on the brunt of the emotional and household work for their families—and this is especially true for mothers, who often take on even more roles, like that of a teacher during the coronavirus pandemic, she explains. Plus, especially for moms with young kids, getting out of the house can be hard—and doing so with a good friend who you can be open and honest with is an important part of mental health. (Afterall, science says that friendships are key to lasting health and happiness.)
Think About What She'd Enjoy
You've likely heard of The 5 Love Languages book, which outlines the importance of showing your partner love the way they like to receive it (not the way you like to receive it). But the same practice holds important for non-romantic relationships too. "Think about what her 'likes' are and cater your ideas toward how she prefers to receive affection from others," suggests Abbie Hausermann, LICSW, a Boston-based therapist specializing in pregnancy and postpartum emotional wellness and women's mental health. "This could be a meaningful gift, a thoughtful card, planning quality time together, a gift card for some alone time, or cooking her a favorite meal. Make mom feel loved by taking time to meet her needs and giving her a well-deserved break."
Not sure of her love language? Often, by default, people show love the way they like to receive it. Does she tend to plan a lot of surprises? Is she always lending a helping hand? These can be clues into the kind of efforts she personally values. (Up next: The Best Mother's Day Gifts That You'll Want to Steal for Yourself)