Newport Manners + Etiquette: Mother’s Day Etiquette

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


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Whether she's your mother by marriage or birth, her special day this weekend can bring out the worst in you both. Etiquette comes to the rescue.

Mother's Day Etiquette is about giving mom what she wants.You! Understandably, Mother's Day dilemmas have been on the minds of most us this week at Newport Manners and Didi Lorillard addresses anxious concerns. 

Giving mom the time of day

Dear Didi,

As the mother of 8, I don't like Mother's Day. It's not that I'm ungrateful. I love my kids, their spouses, partners, my grandkids, step-grandkids and their pets, but I dread the aftermath of Mother's Day. How do I tell my family, "Please, don't give me stuff, just to bring me something"? Spotting a tea caddy at the Christmas Tree Shop like I already own, doesn't mean I need another. Likewise, I have two African violets, but I don't want to have to water three or four. Don't misunderstand me, the last thing I want to do is to hurt anyone's feelings, but the problem is finding space for these gifts. Help! There's so much waste in the world!  Mother of 8, East Greenwich

Dear Mother of 8,

Well, you could start by alerting family members that your letter is coming up on GoLocalProv May 8th. When they read it and say, "Gee, mom?" You answer, "I'm trying to get rid of stuff. Stuff doesn't matter to me, what matters is that you call, come by, email me, or text me to meet you for lunch. Forget about handing me an item in a wrapped box on Mother's Day that I have to pretend to like and then find a place to display it."

On the other hand, it is up to you to teach your kids to give you what you want by giving them what they want. Before any present-giving occasion, whether it's their birthday or a baby shower, ask them what they want. Find out where they are registered or have a 'wish list.'

Encourage your kids to give you their time. Or to bring you cut flowers that you can throw out after a week. Or salted caramels covered with chocolate, that's O.K. because they'll be gone by the end of the day. Tell them you would rather meet for lunch. In return share memories of their childhood, because moms are the memory keepers and memories should be shared --- not stored.  ~Didi

Mom never likes what I give her

Dear Didi,

Nothing I give my mother is ever good enough. As hard as my husband and I try to please her, we never get it right. I've tried gift certificates to spas and concert tickets. No matter what I buy, neither of us end up feeling good about Mother's Day. What's the solution?  A.G., Boston

Dear A.G.,

Make memories. Your mother would rather spend time with you one-on-one and have a face-to-face conversation. Try a different strategy. Instead of giving her a spa day alone, go with her and have a massage or mani-pedi side-by-side so you can chat in person. Next time you go to Copley Place, ask her along and make an afternoon of it at the mall. Or if art is more her style, take her to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art or RISD to see current exhibitions and have tea. ~Didi 

Getting siblings to pitch-in for Mother's Day

Dear Didi,

How do I encourage my siblings to pitch in for Mother's Day dinner at her house? I'm the only one who takes holidays and birthdays seriously. I feel as though I'm always the one over-compensating making up the slack for their lack of interest.  J.C., Milton, MA

Dear J.C.,

What I've been hearing from readers is that what mom really wants is not a wrapped present from a box store, but time spent with her family that doesn't entail her having to be the hostess. Find a fun place to take her for lunch with your siblings and divide the bill equally. An hour and a half lunch on a sunny day in May is not too much to give up for mom.  ~Didi

Dreading Mother's Day

Dear Didi,

My family and I are all secretly dreading another Mother's Day. Each of us brings a dish to my parents' house and at first it seems like a Norman Rockwell moment at the dinner table. But after a couple of beers or glasses of wine, we've regressed to the way we were as adolescents and start arguing. Every year I pray we get through dinner without someone saying to our mother, "Well, you always liked David best." What do we do, it's my Mother's Day, too?  Anonymous, Providence

Dear Anonymous,

Get moms out of the house. That includes you being a mom, too. Change the pattern. The one day of the year, besides your and her birthday, that you both shouldn't be worrying about dinner is Mother's Day. Even if you have to switch it to lunch, find a family-friendly restaurant and make a reservation. In lieu of presents, divide the check equally between the siblings. When seating yourselves, mix it up so parents aren't next to their child, unless they're in a highchair.  

In a public space, you'll be less likely to squabble. Memories of sons encouraged to take seconds and daughters asked to clear and do dishes will be quietly dispelled. You'll all be on equal footing (seating). Moreover, in a restaurant, especially at lunch, the adults will be less likely to have downed too many drinks and more apt to be minding their Ps and Qs. Best of all, the moms won't have to cook and clean up!  ~Didi

We like hearing from you at and if we use your question, we're happy to post it anonymously. Didi researches contemporary etiquette and all matters of manners for her book, "Newport Etiquette," and her monthly column for "Newport This Week." Or you can ask a question on Didi Lorillard's Facebook page or Twitter. Earlier weekly GoLocalProv columns are listed below and can also be accessed through search. 


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