Why Do Moms Feel Like They Have To Be So "Extra" All the Time?

Mar 07, 2022

We think you’re either going to love this episode or hate it. Yep, it might be a little polarizing. Because today we’re talking about moms who go OVER THE TOP for special occasions. But hear us out: we’re not talking about the *big* ones like Christmas or Halloween (which clearly merit serious festive measures, am I right?). 

We’re talking about extreme birthday party themes, Valentine's day, St. Patrick's Day, The Hundredth Day of School, overachieving Tooth Fairies, Saint Nicholas Day, Daughter's day, Son's day, 4th of July, half-birthday celebrations . . . you get the idea. Don’t even get us started on “spirit week” at school: twin day, pajama day, crazy hair day, sports day--how are we supposed to stay on top of all this stuff, and where exactly did all this shit come from? 

When are moms supposed to find the time and energy--it’s no wonder we're stressed out and we're resentful of all the things we have to do. Who said that we have to do all this? Was it Pinterest? Is it Instagram? Do you know how we got here?! Because we sure don’t, and we’re a little bewildered, to be honest.

Some Moms Enjoy All the Extra Stuff, But What Happens When You Don’t? 

We are not hating on the moms who feel genuine joy from making super elaborate birthday parties or Valentine's day scavenger hunts, or dressing their kids up on the hundredth day of school in little gray wigs with canes and glasses. If that is your creative jam, then let it shine. Our guess is that, for people who truly enjoy making all this stuff magical, this feels like an actual creative outlet for them. 

For some of us who are juggling other creative pursuits, making a leprechaun house complete with mischief-making late night leprechaun visits feels like one. More. Thing. To do. Of course, that resentment is usually followed by its evil stepsister, guilt: because we know the clock is ticking and we only have so many years to write in loopy, sparkly Tooth Fairy writing or come up with kooky styles for crazy hair day. But the problem is, in the moment, we’re not feeling it. Because it feels forced, contrived, and like work. And it makes us feel like a failure. 

For moms who consider themselves to be creatives (whatever that looks like or means to you!), we thrive when given the time and space to create, but this kind of constant, high-pressure “creativity” can shut us down and pull us away from things we actually want to be pouring our time and energy into. In an earlier episode, when we talked about how we didn’t like playing with our kids (wow, we really sound like asshole moms at this point, yikes!), we mentioned how hard it can be to switch gears. As in, you’ve been cleaning, picking kids up and dropping them off, running errands and making to-do lists, and now you’re supposed to rapidly downshift into a spontaneous, fun mom who has endless ideas for clever spirit week outfits and Valentine’s projects? That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Bottom line: you might be a mom who works 80 hours a week and literally has NO TIME for these antics. And you also might be a mom who technically does have the time, but you just don’t enjoy it. Either way, you have permission to opt out of being extra! Really, you do! 

Can We Find Joy In Our Kids’ Joy Without Making Ourselves Insane? 

This motherhood joy thing isn’t an all or nothing situation. We each have traditions or celebrations that really do have special meaning for us, things that are worth the effort. And yet, even those occasions that are “worth it” can be a struggle to get there. 

Stacey shared, “Birthday parties are an exception for me, because I do enjoy going all out for them. But what I enjoy is the final reaction. I realized now that in the moment, I'm never enjoying it. I don't enjoy putting it all up. I don't enjoy staying up until midnight making it perfect, but I really enjoy getting her up out of bed and taking her downstairs to show her what it is. But then also more often than not, it's not the reaction I'm looking for.” Sound familiar? 

For Steph, it’s the annual Easter egg hunt. She’s never, ever in the mood to stay up late after a day of momming to stuff things into plastic eggs and then bundle up to hide them all over the backyard. But is it worth it the next day? Absolutely. And is it OK that we derive joy from our kids’ joy? ABSOLUTELY. I mean, that’s one of the perks of this gig, right? But it’s also okay when we don’t feel like having those big joy-filled moments every other week all year long. Because as Stacey said, “When we make everything special, it ends up that really nothing feels special.” And also? We are truly not going to have any energy or zest left for the things we really care about. 

What Happens If Your Kids Really Want All the “Extra”? 

Well, then, put those little bastards to work! (I kid. Sort of.) But really, if your kids are highly motivated by being spirit week over-achievers or Valentine’s Box decorating rockstars, hand the responsibility over to them. (I mean, once they’re potty trained and stuff.) We ask the question,” If we really don’t want to go over the top on all the things, where does that leave our kids?”

Stace and Steph currently have very different perspectives on all these special occasions. With a two- and four-year-old, Stacey said,

“I feel like when they're younger, we project a lot of this on them thinking they want all these things or thinking this is what they expect, but at my kid's age, they don't know to expect it unless you give it to them.”

And Steph, with her ten- and fifteen-year-old girls, shared, “But once they go to their first Smurf birthday party, once they get a gift bag from their first student council rep, once the kid sitting next to them at lunch tells them his tooth fairy brought him a $20, the jig is up, then their eyes are open to, “Well, so-and-so had a lunchbox full of candy after Halloween, why can’t I?”

The competitive factor is hard to ignore when your kids get to be a certain age, both for them and for us. Because it’s hard to be the “pin the tail on the donkey” mom after going to the coolest Smurf Village birthday party ever. So maybe one solution is to let them take charge of making things special, sort of like how Steph’s oldest child genuinely enjoys creating elaborate birthday party activities for her younger sister. If you don’t have the bandwidth to come up with a super cool outfit for Rainbow Day but your kid has her heart set on it, put her to work! 

You’ve heard us sing the praises of Montessori on this podcast, and here’s one more application: empower them to be independent and take charge of the special. It’s good for them, and good for you! 

And here’s another thought: 

Let Them Be Bored. And You Should Try It, Too!

A big question from this week’s episode: “Can we talk about why it is that we feel like everything needs to be so special and everything needs to be celebrated?”

Stacey said, “Our hunch is that it's social media, especially Pinterest and Instagram, but again, who has time for that? And should we be making time for that?”

Steph’s take is:

“I think for kids and adults, there's a difficulty in finding joy in the mundane. There's a difficulty with appreciating that today is not a special day, but you can still find joy in it. You can still be at peace with it.”

Then we mentioned the “B” word: boredom, and Stacey hit us with this cringe-worthy reality: “I think the problem is that we as adults don't know how to be bored anymore either. How can we teach our kids to be bored when we have taught ourselves not to be because of changes in culture and society?” (Cough, iPhones, anyone?)

We think most parents know that it’s a positive thing to give kids space to just sit and be. We’ve all read reputable articles about the importance of kids being bored. We know it. But in this instant gratification, path of least resistance culture, it’s easier said than done. I mean, think of the last time we handed over an iPad just to get through . . . insert dinner/appointment/phone call/really anything. 

But although we know that boredom is a good thing, when we're constantly making all of these things special, we're not wiring them to tolerate, much less celebrate, the ordinary. So maybe we need to start getting comfortable with our kids’ boredom AND our own. And when all the moms around us have worked themselves into a frenzy over, whatever it is this time, we can give ourselves permission to be, yes, another uncomfortable word: lazy

Be Unapologetic About Your Family Values

The thing about celebrating everything is, once you set the bar high, you have to go higher from there. It’s hard to go back. So make some choices early on about what you are and aren’t willing to go over the top about: maybe Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Halloween are a HELL, YES, but St. Patrick’s Day is more of a meh, order yourself  a green T-shirt off Amazon sort of situation. 

We know it’s hard not to get sucked into the current of extra moms going all out over everything. But truly, you don’t have to. Is it hard to explain to our kids why some of their classmates celebrate the 12 days of Valentines and you don’t? (We just made that up.) Maybe. But no harder than confronting the fact that their next door neighbor has a TV in their room and they don’t, or their best friend’s mom puts candy bars in their lunch and you don’t, or . . . the list goes on. 

Every year, Steph looks forward to her "1980’s summer," full of backyard splashing, sleeping in, lazing about, and unscheduled exploration. At first, it was born out of necessity, as she realized she missed the boat on signing up for camps, events, and all the summer things (you know, in February, as you do). But then she realized that being over-scheduled and artificially enriched wasn’t really her family’s jam. She and her daughters really value unstructured time and an opportunity to unwind. So instead of being embarrassed about her 1980’s summer, she grew proud of it. 

But here’s the thing: we can’t be proud of our family values or embrace who we are as mothers unless we truly believe we are OK. We have to believe that we have unique gifts and strengths, and that not being a “creative holiday mom” does not make us defective. 

Remind yourself that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. These are all expectations that have been put out there by society that you do not have to follow. If it’s not enhancing your life in some way, then it's not worth doing. 

Mother Plusser Takeaways: 

  1. It’s OK if you don’t have time to be “extra” on all the things, and it’s also OK if you just don’t want to. 
  2. Share the special-stuff load and give your kids some responsibility and ownership.
  3. Let your kids be bored, and try on boredom yourself, too!
  4. Be unapologetic about your family values. It’s OK if you’re not like every other mom: you are fantastic just the way you are.  

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