The Etiquette of Honoring Both Your Mom and Mother-in-Law on Mother's Day

Discover whether or not it is appropriate to celebrate both matriarchs together.

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Even after most couples have worked out a schedule for alternating Thanksgiving dinners and Independence Day picnics with their extended families, Mother's Day remains a complex issue. Trying to celebrate the mother figures in your and your partner's lives—while also carving out time for yourself (or your children's mother)—requires delicate planning. But while the coordination may feel complicated, the etiquette is simple, says lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann. The most important factor to consider when planning your Mother's Day celebration is what the guest of honor truly wants. Below, Swann walks us through all of your most pressing questions.

Can my partner and I celebrate both our moms at the same event?

If the mothers you're celebrating live nearby—and get along with each other—then coordinating one brunch, either at home or in a restaurant, is completely acceptable. "If both your mom and mother-in-law reside in the same town, it really is a wonderful gesture to celebrate them both at the same time," says Swann. "Etiquette would dictate that there's no problem with combining the celebration and doing something special with both of them." But that's assuming, of course, that the mothers on your guest list want to be honored together. "As we know, some moms can be a little territorial, and sometimes they prefer not to share the spotlight with somebody else," says Swann. "If that's the case, then my recommendation is to go more along the traditional route and celebrate each mom on their own."

Should I invite all the moms we're related to, including our aunts, sisters, cousins, and in-laws?

If the guests of honor give the okay for an extended-family event that honors every generation of mothers on both sides of the family, it's perfectly appropriate to plan one. But if they'd prefer to keep it more intimate, etiquette points toward following their wishes. Ultimately, you're not required to include any mother other than your own and your partner's mother, if you're celebrating the two together. To plan for a smaller guest list, Swann uses what she calls "the onion method." "The core of the onion is the part closest to you, and then you move outward in rings," she says. The priority considerations for Mother's Day are your own mother and, if you have children, their mother, followed by any widowed mothers in your family, including grandmothers and aunts—but etiquette doesn't require you to include everyone. "Allow the rest of your family to take care of their own," says Swann. "If you have a sister-in-law, then her children and spouse should be the ones to care for her."

If our moms don't want to celebrate together, do I really need to plan two brunches? Can we alternate each year?

If your moms live so far apart that seeing them both on the same day isn't physically possible, then you can present a plan for celebrating them on different days. Try brunch with one on Saturday followed by dinner with the other on Sunday, or plan a spa day with your mother the week after you spend Mother's Day with your partner's mother. But if it's just a matter of convenience, then you should put out the effort to see both partners' mothers on the actual day. "Mother's Day is a day to honor our moms and we should do our best—if that's a special day for her, then we should honor her on that day," says Swann. "This is the one day out of the year where you might be somewhat inconvenienced, and so, for the giver, you have to remember that it's really not about you." This might mean hosting one mother for an earlier breakfast and meeting the other for lunch, or even scheduling two morning meals back-to-back. "Honor your moms while they are here, and, if you have to inconvenience yourself, do so," says Swann. "Just pace yourself when you're eating!"

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