Possibly the best piece of advice I ever received, as a mother, came from the humane and insightful Marguerite Kelly. I met the author of "The Mother's Almanac" when my first two children were small, and I turned up at her Capitol Hill house with a tape recorder to do a magazine interview.

I arrived thinking that I'd get something useful for my readers. I left having pocketed a piece of sagacity that has informed my life ever since and, for reasons that will become clear, has also transformed my experience of Mother's Day.

Mrs. Kelly's advice to young parents went like this: Look lovingly at your children and lower your expectations of them. Lower your expectations a second time. Then, when you really think that your expectations are as low as they can get, lower them one more time.

Then, she said, you will see who they really are and you will love them all the more because you see them clearly and not through the thicket of your own ideas about them, your own hopes for who they are, or your own ambitions for who they ought to be.

The technique is brilliant, simple and it works wonders in family life. I later learned that Mrs. Kelly advises applying the same balm to other areas of domestic tenderness, from marriage to grandparenting.

The lower a person's expectations, the more he or she is able to appreciate and enjoy what actually is rather than measuring the distance between it and what might be. Furthermore, the object of those expectations is released from having to follow someone else's invisible script. Everyone wins!

And that, dear reader, brings me to Mother's Day, with its vats of guilt, cauldrons of disappointment and 55-gallon-drums full of dashed expectations.

Mother's Day ought to be an interlude of family happiness, with sweet hand-made cards, a posy of spring blossoms, and perhaps a child-assembled breakfast in bed. It ought to involve jewelry boxes, and a lavish brunch on a patio fragrant with flowering vines. It ought to arrive with the ring of a doorbell, and a deliveryman carrying a huge bouquet. It ought to involve a card, a sonnet, a limerick or at least a haiku.

Ok, how about a simple phone call, or is that too much to ask?

Mother's Day is nothing if not an event wreathed in "oughts." So hyped has it become, that I don't suppose there's a mother anywhere in the country who has not at one time or another had to swallow feelings of self-pity because her family's celebration has not matched her hopes.

A few weeks after I interviewed Marguerite Kelly, I was sitting on a blanket in a Georgetown park with my toddlers, feeling sorry for myself.

It was Mother's Day. My children were too young to have prepared anything for me, and my husband was at work. I'd packed the picnic myself.

"But it's Mother's Day!" I had protested.

"So? You're not my mother," my husband had said, the brute.

There I sat in the sunshine, washed with sadness, when I suddenly remembered the interview. It made me laugh. I was letting my expectations ruin this lovely day - how silly was that? The weather was glorious, the children were happy and I was blessed to be where I was.

Happy Mother's Day, dear readers, and may your expectations be low!

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.