All I Want for Mother’s Day Is a Clean Kitchen (and I’m Not Alone, Right?)

published May 10, 2023
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Mother and daughter embracing in kitchen
Credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images

When I was a child, I once tried to give my mom coupons for Mother’s Day. I delivered my stack of promises to fold laundry, make breakfast, and clean the kitchen with satisfaction — but my tired mom accepted them with only feigned enthusiasm. I noticed and was full of youthful indignation, resentful that she wasn’t over the moon. 

Now, I get it. Spending the coupons would be another task to add to her long list of invisible, unpaid domestic labor. She would have to store them somewhere, decide when to spend them, and deal with my tween moodiness and lackluster effort when I inevitably didn’t want to clean the kitchen. The help wasn’t worth the emotional labor it would take to cash in. 

My marriage is infinitely more equitable than my mother’s was, and I’m not nearly as tired, but what I want on Mother’s Day is the same: No more jobs. 

They mean well, my children. They make waffles, they bake cakes, they plate pasta. They tell me to relax in the hammock. And I try — I genuinely do. But as the dishes pile in the sink and the cake batter dries on the wall, my eye starts to twitch. 

If you’re like me, you know the struggle of a messy Mother’s Day. Everyone is being so kind, spending literally hours on my happiness, and I don’t want to micromanage it. But I also want someone to notice the eggshell that almost made it into the compost bin. 

It’s not that my partner will leave the mess to me at the end of the day (he was practicing Fair Play before it was trendy) — it’s that I cannot relax when so many jobs are in my line of sight. It’s the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. 

I asked my friends if this was my own unique neurosis or if they, too, suffer from Mother’s Day kitchen dread. Turns out, I’m not alone. “I know I’ll be scraping dried food off dishes the next day if I don’t just take care of it myself,” one friend lamented. Another said she didn’t want to fight with her partner about chores on Mother’s Day, so she just delayed the fight until the day after. One mom’s solution was to ask for a professional cleaning service for Mother’s Day every year — scheduled for the Monday after.

My neurologist friend, a mother of four, says when she walks into kitchen chaos after her children’s bedtime, she mentally assigns a precise time value to each task, almost like a video game. At the end of a long day, it feels like a boss fight. When I asked her about Mother’s Day, she said all she wants is to walk out of the kids’ rooms, pour tea, and sit. That doesn’t strike me as a huge ask. 

I found one mom who could tolerate the mess with equanimity. My mother-in-law, whose home is always tidy, surprised me by saying she remembers the cards and carnations, but has no memory of silent rage at an overflowing trash can. I aspire to her zen-like peace, but I’m not there yet. 

After 13 years of motherhood, though, I found a temporary fix: We leave. Last year, we went camping. This year, we’re having a picnic at a farm. Maybe someday I’ll learn to relax amidst chaos, but for now, this works. And every second of these out-and-about Mother’s Days, my kitchen is clean. No coupons required. 

What about you? What helps you relax and enjoy your special day?