Driving in the car a few weeks ago, a commercial for a local Mother’s Day brunch came on the radio.

I don’t know exactly how this happened, but whatever I did, it’s working and I like it.

After a decade of experimenting with different ways to celebrate Mother’s Day, I guess I’ve landed on a winning combination for celebrating that my whole family enjoys. For me, this generally means picking low-key, low-stress activities or gifts that are easy on the family budget, but still offer a little respite to this tired mom.

Time is a priceless gift for new moms

Back when my kids were babies, Mother’s Day presented me with a golden opportunity to leverage some precious time off from hands-on parenting.

Forget flowers or store-bought trinkets: the best gift my husband could give me those first few years was time alone between feedings to escape the relentless exhaustion and regain my sanity – even if all I did was sip a hot, overpriced coffee alone in my car in an empty parking lot.

As the kids got older and began showing an awareness of Mother’s Day, I often felt an internal tug-of-war between that indulgent coffee date escape and some deep guilt about not spending the very day dedicated to motherhood with the only three people who call me Mom. In general, guilt won over.

As a compromise, we started a bit of a tradition of a Mother’s Day picnic for a few years, sometimes driving an hour or more to lazily explore nearby towns and provincial parks. This is a perfect solution to ensuring you don’t have to actually cook anything, or worse, try in vain to keep the kids well-behaved at a restaurant. Instead, you can let them run relatively wild and free, while lounging on a blanket and exerting as little parenting effort as possible. It’s time-off of the usual busy routine; a simple and low-cost holiday everyone enjoys.

Mother’s Day pampering doesn’t have to break the bank

These days, with three school-aged kids between the ages of five and 10, I might be experiencing some kind of parental sweet spot. My kids are still young enough to want to spend all their free time with me, but also now capable of planning and executing their own idea of a Mother’s Day celebration.

They really love to do the pampering up right, including making and serving me coffee and breakfast in bed (enlisting Dad’s help, where necessary), making sure I have a magazine or a book to read (even if it’s one of theirs), and setting up an at-home spa service for pedicures and facials (raiding all my most expensive nail polish and skincare products of course).

Yes, embracing this type of at-home pampering can be messy, and breakfast cooked by little ones can sometimes feature some pretty weird flavour combinations. The kids also always end up in bed with me, sampling their culinary efforts off my plate and squeezing in tight to look at the pages of my magazine alongside me.

But, it’s incredibly sweet and quite lovely to be the recipient of such enthusiastic efforts. And if I’m lucky, I might even find a gift card to my favourite coffee shop tucked under my plate that I can use later in the day.

Gifts from the heart will always win Mom over

Of course, one of my favourite things about Mother’s Day now is opening some truly original cards and gifts – ones the kids have secretly made me at school (but that they’re usually too excited about to keep secret before the big day). From smudged handprints and paper flowers to barely-legible poems, I’ve got a growing collection of heartfelt mementos of the simple joys of these perfectly imperfect days.

Truth be told, I think I love this current version of Mother’s Day the best – the messy breakfasts and the in-house spa, the “surprise” handmade gifts, and my kids’ total willingness to express such earnest displays of affection.

And if my daughter’s reaction to that Mother’s Day commercial is any indication, my kids love the traditions we’ve created as much as I do. Knowing we’ve taught them how to celebrate and honour friends and family in ways that are low in cost, but high on impact feels like a parenting win I’ll enjoy for decades to come.