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Here’s What Your Wife Secretly Wants for Mother’s Day

Forget flowers or breakfast in bed — this is what she’s really craving

Fashionable stylish female hands doing manicure.

Every year on the second Sunday of May, my father would emerge, like a Kodiak bear from its wretched den, into our kitchen to make breakfast. His annual Mother’s Day obtrusion into the domestic arts would set off smoke alarms and leave me and my brother rattled by a singular mystery: Why won’t even the dog eat those egg-in-a-hole thingies?

My mom pretended to be game, but I know better now that I’m in my 50s and have a wife and kid of my own. Every poll I’ve seen shows that the number 1 thing mothers want for Mother’s Day isn’t flour all over the floor or a lukewarm mimosa made from $7 Trader Joe’s bubbly. 

It’s time off — from parenting, from being a wife, from worry, from all of it.

“Help, support, autonomy, childcare — that’s what mothers need,” Brigid Schulte told me. She’s the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, which reports that American moms get a mere 36 minutes of so-called free time a day — roughly the span my dad would spend pooping in the bathroom before settling in for American Bandstand.

As miserable as your typical pandemic day of dadding was over the last couple years, it was crappier for mothers overall: Moms were far likelier than fathers to report they were juggling childcare responsibilities with work while stuck at home, according to a Pew survey.

So, how can you pamper mom and make her feel like she’s genuinely off the clock without just saying “I’m taking the kids to the park for a bit”? Here are some thoughts on leaving her alone in style.

Give her permission — not a performance

“As much as I love cold runny eggs and burnt toast prepared by a 7-year-old or a long wait at a flashy, overpriced brunch place, neither are my ticket to delirious happiness,” says Lara Bazelon, author of the new book Ambitious Like a Mother: Why Prioritizing Your Career Is Good for Your Kids. 

She makes the point that alone time is a true craving for busy mothers, but they shouldn’t have to ask for it. “Before you make big fancy plans that put pressure on a mother to act grateful, why not give her an out for a few hours, guilt free?” 

A gift certificate for a mani-pedi or a reservation for lunch with a girlfriend she hasn’t seen in a while — those are ways to “do something for her that’s not all about you.”

Carry her load

A survey last year found that 93 percent of moms say they’re burned out. Karen Kleiman, author of Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, laughed when I asked for ideas on letting moms go free-range on Mother’s Day. 

“Think about the worst parts of the jobs moms do, and take them over,” she says. “Do laundry, hire a cleaner, do the grocery shopping for the week, cook for the week, organize the junk drawer.” 

The gift there, she says, is providing an opportunity to refresh, “even if that simply means she’s sitting in the backyard listening to a podcast while you fold clothes.”

Make it a habit

A made-up holiday to celebrate one’s maw is kinda cheap, if you think about it. Kleiman believes we can do better. “If one day off from motherhood feels restorative, imagine how ongoing support and regular breaks would feel for most moms,” she says. 

Maybe you’re doing that already, but it’s worth the reminder. Why not indulge her by cocreating a me-time bucket list of all the things she would do if she only had the time: Taking a vacation with her college roommate. Watching Bridgerton without someone wailing, “Mommy!” 

Oh, and maybe not worrying too much about how she’s going to match your sublime generosity a few weeks from now on Father’s Day.