As a mother and a person who sees the inside of people’s homes on a regular basis, I can tell you what makes a great Mother’s day gift—and it isn’t what most marketing materials suggest. It is not stuff. It’s recognition, appreciation, support and sharing the load. A great gift gives some time back to mothers so they don’t have to spend every available minute keeping their home running smoothly and their family members on track. This Mother’s Day, rethink the gift.

Motherhood, for all the joy it brings, adds an exhausting list of tasks to every woman’s day.

For whatever reason, activities that relate to the home, its content, and the life within it, seem to fall very solidly on the shoulders of women. Just consider who handles the lion’s share of meal prep, grocery shopping, bill payment, organizing social events, budgeting, decorating and gardening in your home. Add children: their care and feeding, sorting out childcare and activities, scheduling medical and dental appointments, organizing birthday parties, ensuring the children have clothes to wear and outgrown clothes are managed… and so much more.

This is becoming known as ‘the motherload.’ Even in households with very helpful partners, it is invariably driven and managed by the mom. The mental load alone is a lot!

So how do you gift recognition, appreciation and support?

How can you take over part of the motherload this Mother’s Day? Skip Amazon and try these instead:

  1. Regularly recognize and give appreciation for the daily or weekly tasks that tend to go unnoticed but help keep the house and everyone in it on track. Here are some to watch for: (1) recycling and disposing of random litter that accumulates on tables and counters; (2) putting away toys, games and books left lying around; (3) picking up glasses, plates and food-related items that are deposited throughout the house; (4) removing all the items in the fridge that have expired/wilted; (5) emptying the garbage, organics and recycling when they are full. When you notice something like this done, thank her for doing it, every time. Even if she does it by asking you to do it, thank her for always making sure it happens. It might feel strange to do it so often at first, but it takes time to make a new habit.
  2. Offer to take on at least one of these tasks on a regular basis, and ask for guidance. I don’t just mean for Mother’s Day, but take over the task for good. Maybe while showing appreciation for a daily task, ask whether this is one you can adopt, and whether there are ways to do it most efficiently or in keeping with the other systems in the home. You may think it’s easier than I make it sound, but, consider the home like a complex machine. To run well, there may be specific ways of doing things. If this task is something that you haven’t contributed to the running and managing of your family’s home before, you’ll find it much easier to get some instructions to better understand how to complete it so that it synchs well with the inner workings of this machine. For example, putting the garbage out might be more than getting it to the curb: it can be a balance of timing late enough to avoid racoons, early enough to make the truck and in a precise place where you and all your neighbours can get around it.
  3. Take on a major task and then complete it. For most homes a good place to start is taking an active hand in decluttering. We could all live with less. The accumulation of stuff in our homes is stressful, it also leads to arguments and lost time. Unfortunately, I see that women who want to simplify find making time to declutter or knowing where to start difficult. It’s not surprising given all the other tasks that seem to settle in their laps as part and parcel of being a woman and mother. Yes, you should have her review the donate, recycle or trash pile before actually getting it out of the house. But, be a hero and take this one on—and get help to do it. Not only will this be a real Mother’s Day gift, but it will lead to other benefits as well. With professional help a happy outcome is guaranteed.
  4. Bonus Tip: discuss new ideas before implementing. Once you start to notice and appreciate the regular things she does or even take over small tasks you will inevitably have thoughts on how things may be done differently – better, more efficiently or just to work with your schedule. It’s a good idea to talk it through before you change anything to keep the machine running smoothly. The mom in your life has been bearing the motherload for a while and knows all the fine nuances. You will probably discover through discussion that your ‘even better way of doing it’ idea combined with her inside knowledge leads to the joint discovery of ‘the very best way of doing things’.

It’s not that the mother in your household doesn’t love taking care of the whole family.

However, the sheer volume of things to think about, figure out and execute is exhausting. So this Mother’s Day, rethink the gift. She doesn’t need more stuff, more clutter. She needs help simplifying the home, genuine and frequent recognition and appreciation, plus a helpful hand. It may seem hard for her to let some of the tasks go (especially when so many others connect to it), so talking through what and how she really wants help is a key step. Maybe these starter steps for simplifying the home will spark some ideas.