Breakfast in bed is more polarizing than you thought.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated May 24, 2017
© Getty Images/Hero Images

Whether assembling breakfast in bed or cooking an extravagant dinner, our thoughtful gestures on Mother’s Day can sometimes lead to more disasters, disappointments and coffee stains on pillows than mothers typically admit.

My mother, who wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to exercise, has made it clear to my sister and me for decades what she will and won’t tolerate on the holiday.

“Having breakfast in bed on Mother's Day would be absolute torture for me, as it would require me to stay in bed wide awake for four to five hours, legs twitching, starving, dying for caffeine, thinking about all the things I could be doing,” she told me recently.

One mom tells me how glad she is that her two small children and husband have never tried to pull this.

“It may sound callous, but I would so much rather have a beautiful, delicious breakfast in a restaurant where experts cook my meal (and I'm not responsible for clean-up) than have to smile my way through dry toast and whatever is left of a glass of orange juice after it spilled all over the tray,” she says.

Another mother corroborates this view, saying, “My kids know that under no circumstances will I eat any meal in bed. Remember that Sesame Street episode where Ernie leaves behind cookie crumbs in Bert's bed? No thanks!”

While other moms may appreciate the occasional in-bed croissant, many have other qualms with the “special” treatment they receive. One mom I spoke with says that the accumulation of dishes when her family prepares a home-cooked meal overshadows the meal itself.

“I am happy to eat anything set before me, but I bitterly resent having to clean up any associated me,” she says. “Usually my husband cooks an elaborate brunch and offers to clean up, but I feel guilty that he has made this big extravaganza, so I end up doing the dishes and not feeling happy about it.”

Naturally, her favorite Mother’s Day food memory involved zero post-feast labor.

“One year my daughter made a lovely afternoon tea for me in the backyard,” she says. “It was very relaxing, and there was no clean up, at least not done by me. I remember that day very happily.”

The worst Mother’s Day treatment, of course, is none at all.

On the 2013 Reddit thread “What do you actually want for Mother’s Day,” one woman commiserated over her 21- and 23-year-old children’s abysmal track records.

“I ask for the same thing every year—don’t argue, clean the house without being asked and make me breakfast,” she writes. “Still waiting to get that gift.”

Another mom on the thread found that the key to Mother’s Day fulfillment was to lower expectations: “I collect the cards my daughter has given me over the years. I want another card, and to be left alone for a few hours to brew and drink beer. If anyone is in Eastern Massachusetts, Stone Zoo is free for moms on Mother's Day. I'll be the drunk one flipping off the monkeys.”

Preferences, of course, vary from mother to mother. While breakfast in bed is my mother’s nightmare, another woman I spoke with relished the extra time in bed while her children made breakfast, proving that no two moms are the same.

“The breakfast in bed thing was always fun for me and never stressful,” she says. “It’s always amusing as it seems to curiously take a lot of time, but then you're waiting in bed, which is never a bad thing.”