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An illustration of a mother and young daughter at a seaside restaurant looking contentAn illustration of a mother and young daughter at a seaside restaurant looking content

It's Personal

Mother's Day As A Single Mom

On her first Mother's Day after her mom passed away, Anna Davies was ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother herself, she felt much the same. Here, the writer and single mother reflects on what the day has come to mean to her and the simpler, "just because" moments that really matter.

Written By
Anna Davies
Illustration
Asako Masunouchi

I wasn’t prepared for the Mother’s Day texts the spring after my mom had passed away. I was 28 and not yet a parent. Still, one by one friends reached out to check in on me.

I knew that they had good intentions, but each one left me feeling more alone. When my mom was alive, Mother’s Day hadn’t been a big deal. We didn’t have extended family nearby and she had always shrugged off the holiday as silly. And with every message, I felt myself missing two things: Both the real version of her, and the idealized one, where we “should” have made the most of Mother’s Days that had passed us by while she was alive.

A few years later, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day as a mother and felt just as confused. My daughter, Lucy, had been born less than two weeks prior. I was a single parent raising my daughter by myself. My own dad was across the country, getting married to a woman I had only met a few times. One of my closest friends created a Mother’s Day brunch for me and Lucy, complete with mimosas. It was unexpected and touching, but felt almost too grand a gesture for a role I had just barely begun to inhabit. On our walk home, as people said “Happy Mother’s Day,” to us, I felt like a fraud. Mother’s Day felt like a holiday for other moms. Not for me.

Six years later, I’m still a solo parent, and I’m still sensitive to women who have complicated feelings on Mother’s Day. I send my own texts to women who have lost their mothers, all too aware that a text does nothing to fill the void. I also send flowers to the woman my dad married, who ended up becoming a close confidant that I am delighted to know. But I also know that the traditional tropes of Mother’s Day — flowers, brunch, cards — aren’t the only markers of a successful celebration.

My favorite Mother’s Day was a few years ago, right before my daughter Lucy turned two. We were on a vacation in Ireland and spent the morning at a cafe sipping coffee, and then took the train to Howth, a seaside town about an hour outside of Dublin. We walked on the sand, ate ice-cream and stopped for pizza before we headed back to our hotel.

At the fast-casual pizza restaurant, I was surprised when the waiter placed a flute of sparkling wine in front of me.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” he said. The family next to me smiled at us, and as I glanced around the restaurant, I noticed that there were similar flutes of champagne at other tables. Lucy was oblivious, babbling away to the baby at the other table. And when that baby’s mom smiled, shrugged, and said “Happy Mother’s Day!” to me, I realized that Mother’s Day in the UK and Ireland was celebrated several weeks earlier than the United States.

But it had been the perfect Mother’s Day, and one I was eager to recreate once we got back to our New Jersey home.It was just the two of us, enjoying every moment as it came.  There had been no external pressures that a holiday can bring. The fact that it had been Mother’s Day had just been a happy surprise.

Since then, I’ve tried to capture similar moments in our everyday life. They don’t necessarily need to take the whole day or fit perfectly into a calendar. Instead, I’ve found these “Mother’s Day moments” pop up organically. They’re the weekly nature hikes we did last summer as a way to break up the annoyance of a grocery store run, which meant waiting in line at least half an hour before being allowed to enter. They’re the quick coffees and croissants we get because the only way to ensure parking prior to gymnastics class is to leave home an hour early. They are “just because” bath bombs, trying a new recipe on a weekend, or prioritizing a weekly Zoom call with friends. They are the moments of connection, indulgence, and self-care that aren’t dictated by some arbitrary checklist.

To me, the concept of Mother’s Day that I want Lucy to take away isn’t that there’s one day a year where you should “treat” your mom. I want her to see that parents have their own desires, needs, and wants and that they have the agency to get those things themselves. I want her to see that celebrations can be anytime, and that you don’t need to wait for someone else to decide you need flowers, a cake, or a “you’re doing a great job.”

That said, I wish that my own mother hadn’t shrugged off Mother’s Day. It is important. But what makes it important isn’t marking the day, it’s owning the fact that connecting — to your mom, to your kids, to the women who raised and shaped and molded you, regardless of blood ties — is crucial. It’s taking the time to embrace the message of I matter, finding ways to honor yourself, and allowing others to do the same.