I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m always a little relieved when Mother’s Day is over. Despite the media and advertising hype the holiday gets, Mother’s Day isn’t a mimosas-and-brunch kind of day for everyone. Mother’s Day is complicated for many of us. It has been complicated for me.

I am fortunate to have an amazing mom, but I am well-aware that many people have less-than-ideal relationships with their mothers. Yes, there are people who have lovely mothers, are lovely mothers, and have lovely Mother’s Days. But there are many who do not. Many people are grieving the loss of their mother. Many people are mourning the fact that they are not mothers. Many are missing a mother who lives too far away, or they are disappointed that they didn’t have the mother they needed and deserved. Motherhood is complex.

Related: A letter to my babies on our first Mother’s Day

Even on those Mother’s Days that are quite lovely, it can be hard for me not to remember the pain of past Mother’s Days. It is hard not to remember my first Mother’s Day when, due to postpartum depression, all I wanted to do was pretend I wasn’t a mother, which in turn made me feel such deep shame that I wanted curl up in the fetal position and sob for hours. Instead I hosted a BBQ for extended family.

It is hard not to remember the Mother’s Day when I fell asleep on the couch in front of our guests, my body still raging with pregnancy hormones even though a few days later I would have a D&C because I had miscarried. Again. 

It is hard not to remember the Mother’s Day when I was living in the limbo that is fertility treatments.

Motherhood is complex, and sometimes Mother’s Day has been really hard. 

However you feel on Mother’s Day, it’s okay.

It’s hard for lots of people for lots of different reasons. Maybe you’ve lost a parent, or lost a child. Maybe you’ve suffered pregnancy loss or are struggling with infertility. Maybe you are having a hard time settling into the role of “mother.” Maybe you’re estranged from your own mother. Maybe you never knew her. Maybe you’re dealing with illness or health challenges. Maybe your relationship is going through a rough patch. Or maybe you’re just burned out on all things mother-ish right now. 

Those shiny, Insta-pretty pictures of Mother’s Day aren’t what motherhood is to me. And maybe they aren’t what motherhood is to you either.

Whatever the reason, I see you. Even though I may not know the particular kind of grief you are feeling, I do understand complicated feelings about Mother’s Day. I won’t offer some well-intentioned but hollow words of encouragement. I won’t tell you that “everything happens for a reason,” because… well, sometimes bad things happen for no reason. But so do good things, for that matter. I won’t write about the ever-expanding mama heart or the stages of grief or the pain of letting go. I won’t tell you how to feel on Mother’s Day—or any day for that matter. 

Instead, I will tell you this: However you feel about Mother’s Day, however you feel on Mother’s Day, it’s okay. Mother’s Day is just that—a day. It is not motherhood. 

Those shiny, Insta-pretty pictures of Mother’s Day aren’t what motherhood is to me. And maybe they aren’t what motherhood is to you either.

This is my Mother’s Day message: Mother’s Day is just that—a day. It is not motherhood. 

I’m fairly certain that when my boys look back on their childhood, they will not remember a mother in fancy clothes at brunch. They will remember an often tired-looking mom in joggers or yoga pants. They will remember the movies we’ve watched together and how I cover my eyes and shriek “Oh no!” at every mildly scary scene. They will remember that I hide candy in the freezer. They will remember that I was always nagging them to clean up their bedroom. They will remember that the last thing I call out as they leave the car is “Be kind!” They will remember the road trips and the times when they were scared to tell me something because they thought they would get in trouble but were instead told, “Thank you for telling me.” They will remember a mom who tried hard, sometimes came up short, made plenty of mistakes, and apologized when she did. This is what motherhood looks like to them. At least, I hope so. It’s what motherhood looks like to me.

Related: New campaign celebrates beauty of postpartum bodies for Mother’s Day 

I won’t remember the gifts or cards or holiday outings. But I will remember the Friday night dance parties in the kitchen. I will remember the time they spelled out “Welcome Home” in the front windows after I returned from a work trip. I will remember looking at my kids and feeling this wild sense of wonder and awe that I have the privilege of raising these incredible human beings. And even though my husband has been on carpool duty for the past year or so, I will always remember all of those rides to and from school. This is motherhood to me.

Motherhood looks different for everyone. If you’re excited for Mother’s Day and the day is rainbows and glitter for you, that’s wonderful. I am so happy for you. If the day is sleeping late and being left alone, enjoy the heck out of that “me time,” friend. And if Mother’s Day is complicated for you, and you need to take a break to cry in the bathroom, those feelings matter too. You matter. Sometimes Mother’s Day is complicated—just like motherhood. 

But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

A version of this post was published April 26, 2022. It has been updated.