05/01/2013 11:32 am ET Updated May 08, 2017

Making Mother's Day Marvelous Instead of Miserable

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Mother's Day seems like such a simple concept: a special day when we show appreciation for our mothers and all they've done for their children all year long. But however simple it's supposed to be, it really isn't, is it? All these different mothers come in to play: the husband's mother, the wife's mother, the wife who is also a mother, and maybe even some stepmothers, too. How do you celebrate with every mother in your life and still have a special day yourself?

When I've talked to women in all the different categories of mothers, I've heard quite a range of perspectives. Certainly, one of the most challenging of all these relationships is the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamic. Some mothers-in-law feel hurt and left out because their sons ignore them (making Mother's Day about their own wives and children), and some daughters-in-law resent having to spend time with their mothers-in-law because they feel it takes away from "their" special day with their mothers and/or their own kids.

What's happening is that mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are each getting caught up in their own perspectives. "It's my day!" each thinks to herself. "Why do I have to spend it with her?" This type of "me! me!" thinking almost guarantees a "lose-lose" situation -- not only for the mothers-in-law and the daughters-in-law, but most definitely for the sons/husbands, as well.

Years ago, it was much simpler. Back then, society as a whole focused more on the roles we played and less on how we, as individuals, felt. No one really allowed himself or herself to think outside of society's "box." Today, we believe it's not only OK to allow ourselves to get our needs met, but that we should get them met -- which just makes the whole thing much more challenging.

It can be difficult enough to perform this balancing act when you have wonderful relationships with the various mothers in your life, but when you don't, chances are someone is going to feel left out or cheated in some way -- your mother, your mother-in-law, maybe even you! But no matter why the holiday may be stressful for you, know that you can indeed take certain steps to change it from being miserable to being marvelous. Here they are:

Take an emotional step back. All moms need to take an emotional step back and realize this is a complicated holiday for everyone -- for all kinds of reasons. Taking difficult situations personally will not endear you to anyone nor will it help you get what you want. Even if you're a fabulous mother, keep in mind that Mother's Day is not just about you.

Figure out what you want. Spend some time well in advance of Mother's Day thinking about what the holiday really means to you and how you really want to be acknowledged and recognized for being a mother. Then consider whether this has to occur on Mother's Day itself. Ask yourself, is it about getting the acknowledgement, or is it about "the day"? Especially if you have adult children, celebrating on the day before or on the day after that Sunday may allow your time with them to be more focused on you.

Talk to your spouse or adult child in advance. Talk to your adult children -- or if you have children at home, talk to your spouse -- about Mother's Day before it comes. Explore the options for this day and decide well in advance both what specifically you want to do and how your family will handle celebrating all the different mothers in your lives. Reach an agreement and tell all the respective mothers involved how you would like to celebrate Mother's Day with them. That way, even if everyone isn't overjoyed with the plan, no one will be unpleasantly surprised.

Be generous of spirit. Are mothers perfect? No. Do some mothers do a better job than others? Definitely. But remember that in spite of these facts, a mother is still a mother. Keep in mind that all the mothers in your life are still doing (or have done) the best they can, based on more factors than it is possible to list here. So dial down any resentment you may harbor and be willing to acknowledge them on this day in some way, even if you don't see these women as model mothers.

Do something for yourself. Yes, this is the day that all children are supposed to acknowledge and celebrate their mothers, but who says you can't celebrate your own status as a mother? Especially if you won't be with your own children on Mother's Day, think of something you would like to do for yourself to acknowledge all that you are -- mother, spouse, friend, sister, daughter, and so on. Give yourself permission to indulge yourself a bit, no matter what else happens or doesn't happen on that day!

Taking one or more of these steps will give you a wonderful opportunity to shift the all-too-frequent tensions associated with Mother's Day (such as stress, guilt, hurt, and obligation, to name just a few) into something that can feel good to you and everyone else in your family. After all, isn't that part of what the day is about in the first place -- being able to really celebrate some of the most important relationships in your life? If you keep that in mind, this Mother's Day is bound to be your happiest yet!