No, We Will Not be Spoiling Mom on Mother’s Day — Stop Asking


No, We Will Not be Spoiling Mom on Mother’s Day — Stop Asking

Another mother’s day came and went, number 9 without Kara. This is always a weird time for us, when the kids were younger most people in our community knew our story. When we moved away and as time progresses, fewer and fewer people know our story. This leads to some awkward interactions with people who are trying to be well-meaning. I feel like I have told more people in the last week that their mother is dead than I have in the last two years. At Walmart the lady watching over the self-check out stations asked Emma if she was spoiling mom for mother’s day.  Both of us were hoping she would just go away. After a silent pause and an awkward look from Emma the lady asked again, then asked why she wasn’t spoiling mom in rapid fire succession. At this point I stepped in and quietly said, “Mom is dead.” Ended that conversation pretty quick.

Luke had a similar experience but I saw this one coming. I meant to stop it before it started but missed it by a few seconds. After Luke’s coach told him to take care of mom on Mother’s day I quickly whispered in his ear, “Mom is dead.” Without batting an eye he switched gears and told Luke to take care of dad on Sunday. Kudos to him for switching gears so quickly.

All holidays are an awkward time for us because so much of it focuses on family, but Mother’s day is especially bad since it focuses on Mom -- who no longer exists. In school the teachers know enough of the back story so they always had an alternative when they class was making mother’s day cards. My kids weren’t singled out or put into awkward places that brought up bad memories and a reminder that they don’t have a mother.

A 2013 Pew Research Study found that 5% of US children under age 18 do not live with either parent, in most cases they are living with the grandparents(1). 34% of children are living with a single parent(1). A UCI Study estimated that 2.6 million kids have a parent in Jail(2), that is 3.5% of the 73 million children under 18. A government report shows approximately 1% of children are maltreated, many by a parent(3).  Over 400,000 children are in foster care(4) – 0.5%.  In 2010 more than 1.25 million children(5) (1.7%) received death benefits from Social Security.

  • 5% don’t live with either parent

  • 5% have a parent in Jail

  • 1% are maltreated

  • 5% are in foster care

  • 1.7 % have at least one dead parent

Many of these numbers will overlap, for instance, if a child lost both parents they will fall under the 1.7% dead parent category and the 5% who don’t live with either parent. With all of these numbers it is reasonable to assume that almost 10% of children in the U.S. will have no contact with one of their parents. That is one out of 10 kids. If half lost a mother and half lost a father (for you scientists and statisticians I know I am making some assumptions) that means that every 20 times you tell a random kid to take care of Mom on mother’s day or take care of Dad on Father’s day, you will be telling someone to do the impossible. Quietly putting your foot in your mouth, bringing up bad memories, and reminding the child that life is unfair.

With my life I have learned not to make assumptions about family dynamics. When someone refers to “my wife” or “their mom” when it is actually my sister or a female friend, things can get awkward very quick. Most of the time I ignore it because it is unlikely I will ever see the person again.

If you work in retail, deal with the public, or have access to large volumes of strangers, please stop asking if my kids are spoiling their mom for mother’s day. For every 20 times you ask this question one of the kids won’t have a mother and they most likely won’t say anything. I understand how much our society pushes these holidays and so I understand when you ask my children, but when they don’t answer, please don’t ask them again. Imagine me asking you over and over, in a public place, about your most painful memory.

Not everyone has a mother.

Not everyone has a father.

Please stop assuming everyone has a nuclear family.  When they don’t answer, don’t ask again.







(Reprinted from Matt's website, Widowed Parent.)

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Thanks Lillie, in our family it is definitely harder on the kids then me. They don't have the emotional spectrum that adults have and they don't know how to make people stop asking. They don't want to make anyone uncomfortable but they also want it to stop. I will just flat out tell people if they don't stop. I hurt for the kids when it happens and I can see they hurt too.


I bet the Wal-Mart employee (like retail workers everywhere) does it because she's under pressure from management to appear friendly, while encouraging, even pressuring, customers to spend more. It's a form of \"upselling\", and a crummy tactic to use on a child.


I am not a mom but badly wanted to be. Although I love celebrating my mom and supporting the other moms in my life, others' well-intended but thoughtless comments_mysql do bring up that old pain at least annually.


What a great post, Matt, because it reminds us that we don't know so we shouldn't assume. \r\n\r\nI'm so taken by your simple explanation of the situation -- it's the truth, it's to the point and it's the exact shift the conversation needs. \r\n\r\nThank you so much for making me think before I speak.