Why is it so much easier to buy gifts for friends and significant others than your own parents or guardians? It's simple. You buy friends maybe one of two gifts a year and have plenty of ideas between texting all day, hanging out, and scrolling through each other's social media.
It's different with your parents.
You've been giving them gifts for years now and as you get older, well the Mother's day celebration of dry toast and a cup of water was cute when you were five but isn't cutting it anymore.
Then, I realized I was thinking about giving gifts in the wrong way. I thought buying my mom a lot of gifts or something expensive would be a tangible way of showing her I love her however the Bed Bath and Beyond lotions and jackets eventually become forgotten. The one gift I gave her every year without knowing was exactly what she wanted- spending time together.
Every year my mom asks my brother and I to play a board game on Christmas. Hike Mt. Monadnock on Mother's Day. Cook dinner together on Thanksgiving. It took me 21 years but I've cracked the code. My mom just wants to spend time with her kids.
You may be thinking, I was just quarantined in the house with my parents for months and I know all I need to know, and more. But this is different. Planning an activity for you and your parents is an expression of effort and attention. Some moms wait nine months for their child to be born however, my mom went through years of applications and vetting to adopt my brother and I so I would hope she would really want us and to spend time with us (sorry, adoptee jokes). The point is, chances are your parents love being around you and it means a lot to return that level of affection.
My suggestion for you is to treat it like a date, an 8-step non-romantic date. Imagine the manners and effort you would want someone to plan a date for you.
1. Make a Plan (in advance)
Whether you're a planner or someone who prefers to be spontaneous, people can tell the difference between something last minute versus something thoughtfully planned. So, make a plan to do something together. Perhaps ice skating, walking in a park with a lights show, taking them to a restaurant, going to the zoo, hiking, or packing a picnic and finishing the day with a homemade dessert or playing a board game. One of my favorites is showing my mom my favorite places in Providence, RI, the city I go to college in. I once took her to a local farmer's market I go to weekly and she told every vendor we bought something from, "This is my daughter. It's my first time here, she's showing me around. She LOVES your products". After, I told her she did this, and she was embarrassed until I told her I loved how enthusiastic she was over what I shared with her.
2. Get Dressed Up
Effort counts people! Dress to impress and pull out the clothes you would have worn before COVID because this is both you and your parents excuse to dress up. I also like to offer to pick my mom's outfit, because, well, I've helped her buy a lot of her current clothes and she always asks for suggestions.
3. Take a Picture
Parents love capturing photos. I don't know what it is about family events and outings but middle aged parents turn into selfie obsessed teenage girls. So if you want to avoid a blurry caught off guard selfie being posted on your mom's facebook, ask to take a family photo where you go or outside your house before leaving. That way, if you ask first they won't feel as bad about forcing you to take a photo.
4. Stay Off Your Phone
Spending time together also means, yes, putting your phone away. There is no easier way to make the people you're with feel neglected than constantly checking and answering your phone. Make the commitment to them. Trust me, there is nothing more invaluable than your time.
5. Ask Them Questions
It seems silly, right? You and your parents talk all the time. But about what? Most likely conversations eventually circle back to talking about future jobs, grades, family problems, etc. So take a break by asking questions about their favorite music group growing up, a reality TV show they hate, or a place they want to vacation. Our parents lives didn't always revolve around us, and there's always something new to learn about them.
6. Offer to Pay
Your parents don't expect you to pay every time you go out to eat, which is why we always take them to the expensive restaurants when they visit us at college, yes? It's "in their parent DNA" to pay and support us, which is why when the child pays, whether it be ice cream or dinner, it's a thoughtful gesture. If you have siblings, ask them to split the check with you! A more cost efficient idea is if they pay for the food, you offer to pay for the appetizers/dessert and their drinks. Again, it doesn't have to be anything extravagant, but they will appreciate you offering because it acknowledges that you know they do a lot for you.
7. Make Them a Gift
I don't know about you but I'm a surviving-on-barely-enough-money college student who struggles to save money when food and booze are involved. So make them something. Homemade doesn't mean tacky and cheap! (okay maybe cheap, but effort counts for something). For my mom's X0th birthday (she'd hate for me to reveal her age on the internet), I made a photo album of her life and she cried in the restaurant. It still sits at her bedside and is not forgotten like a purse or scarf. Other ideas are to cook for them, bake their favorite dessert, or make them a piece of art.
8. Words of Affirmation
The most important, yet often overlooked step. Tell them you enjoyed spending the day with them. They shouldn't feel like it's a chore or like they were keeping you from hanging out with your friends or playing video games. I love ending a day spent with my mom, whether it's for her birthday or any day in general really, by saying, "I had a great day with you. Let's do this again soon."
Your parents love you and as I grow older, I regret how I didn't celebrate my mom enough before. So, give them your time. Really, it's that simple.