Have these key discussions about money, workload, and more with your brothers and sisters.
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Coordinating plans for celebrating the mother figure in your life is an often-complicated task that's different in every family: childhood dynamics, parent-child relationships, personalities, and incomes can all influence seemingly simple decisions about flowers, brunch, and gifts. "Mother's Day involves so much," says family and sibling therapist Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. "It's your relationship with your mother, how you feel about gifts, how you feel about holidays. Are you doing this for you or are you doing this for your mother? All of this needs to be taken into consideration." Things become even more complicated in light of the pandemic. To make the process easier, be sure that you and your siblings are on the same planning page by agreeing on the answers to these five questions if you're planning a small, preferably outdoor gathering with Mom this year.

Who should start the planning?

By the time you and your siblings are adults, one of you has likely already become the default initiator for vacation, holiday, and party coordination—in most families, it's the oldest (or the oldest female)—but that shouldn't prevent anyone else from taking the lead. "While initiating generally falls to the eldest, it is not obligatory," says Jodi RR Smith, the president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Instead, it should fall to the sibling who is best at planning events. Sometimes it will fall to the sibling who lives closest to mom. Play to your strengths, not your birth order!" This year, coordination should fall to a sibling who takes COVID-19 seriously—and will prioritize the safety of Mom above all else. Ultimately, gathering with all of your adult siblings (and, likely, their kids) comes with a risk; per CDC guidelines, mixing with separate households should be approached with caution, even if Mom is fully vaccinated.

Whose schedule takes priority?

Only one person's schedule really matters here, and that's Mom's. Otherwise, choosing a date and time for your family's celebration, whether it happens in person or virtually, means coordinating long-distance siblings, extended family, busy work schedules, and adult siblings who are mothers themselves—including some family members who may not be able to attend due to the pandemic. "Unless you have the most compliant family ever, there will be some negotiations needed," says Smith. "You've got to go with the Star Trek rule: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Except, of course, when the few is mom." It's polite to try to accommodate as many of your siblings as possible, but know that it won't always work out. "Life gets busy and complicated—especially as adults, having everyone present for every occasion simply may not be a possibility," says Smith. "Just remember to take personality and behavioral history into consideration. If you have a sibling who is always cancelling at the last minute and you arrange it to fit his schedule and he still cancels, you are going to be very annoyed."

mother at dinning table with adult kids
Credit: pixelfit / Getty Images

How can you get everyone to help?

Being the first to broach the subject on the group chat doesn't mean you have to decide on every detail yourself. Start by asking if any of your siblings would prefer to take the lead on the plans and for their ideas on gifts, food, and timing. "The ideal is that it becomes collaborative," says Lewis. Getting a larger group of brothers and sisters to weigh in might take several rounds of texts or calls, culminating in specific requests for siblings who don't respond or say they are too busy to pick up a gift or mail the card, but it shouldn't mean you're left doing everything on your own. "At that point, the sibling who has taken the lead could say, 'Here's the phone number, can you order the flowers?'" suggests Lewis. "Make an offer of an assignment that would not require very much effort." But whether you're suggesting specific tasks or coordinating volunteer contributions, remember who each of your siblings is. "Understand the family dynamics as you plan—for example, the one sibling who promises to bring a salad and then will show up with a pie," says Smith. "If you are the planner, make or purchase a salad so you are not disappointed when your sibling fails to appropriately follow through."

How should you split up the costs?

Don't wait until the last minute to start talking about how much each of your siblings can spend; ask for an idea of what everyone feels comfortable contributing in your opening email, suggests Lewis. "If you have a list of things to do," she says, "they can choose one that fits them financially." Keep in mind that each sibling's ability to chip in may change from year to year, so the amount that worked last year may be too much—or too little—this year. "If every sibling has the same exact financial status, then they can contribute equally," says Smith. "Otherwise, the socialist model works well over time. For example, there is a sibling in college and then medical school and then an internship. They may not have any extra cash during this time, but once they start working as a doctor, they may outpace the other siblings. Or a well-to-do sibling may be unemployed or in the middle of a messy divorce."

Unless one of the siblings specifically requests to be excluded, you should put everyone's name on the card, whether they give $5 or $50. "Keep in mind, if you are lucky, your mother will be around for a long time," says Smith. "One sibling may be able to give more financially, but another sibling may be the one doing the cleaning and shopping for mom as she ages, and another may be in charge of bills and medical appointments. Be generous and take the long view of your family relationship."

What if a sibling doesn't want to join?

Covering the extra costs for a younger brother who can't give as much money or tweaking your schedule to let a sister with a demanding schedule join the party are relatively simple ways to keep Mother's Day a family affair, but some siblings may not feel comfortable celebrating Mom—and it's critical for the rest of the family to respect that. "Different siblings have different relationships with their parents," says Lewis. "It's unfair to assume that just because you have a good relationship—or, you have a bad relationship but they're still your parent—your siblings are going to all feel the same way. The bottom line is respecting that each sibling may be in a different relationship with the parent, without letting the relationship with the parent interfere with your relationship with your sibling."

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