The Invisible Mom
Do you feel unappreciated as a mom? You're not alone.
Being a mom is perhaps the most all-inclusive and demanding job in the history of “man”kind. It’s impossible to capture what running a family with school-age children entails these days, but here’s a very, very, very short list of Mom’s job…
-Life management: schooling, homework, tutoring, forms, academic, athletic and social schedules, playdates, activities, camps, birthdays, health care, appointments, child and family travel, holidays, vacations, weekend planning, scheduling, grocery shopping (remembering everyone’s faves) cooking, cleaning, laundry, house repair, date night planning (if still applicable).
-Provide primary connection and emotional glue for all members of family: knowing names and details of who’s who in the children’s lives, who’s being mean and nice, the latest crush, who got the lead in the play, when the next math quiz happens, who needs a tube of glitter for tomorrow’s science project, and all the other infinite events that go on in everyone’s day to day life.
-Serve as that person who makes everyone (else) feel appreciated, seen and known.
Oh, and did I forget, in addition to everything just mentioned (and the infinite things not mentioned), moms usually work full or part time jobs outside the universe that is the home (where children believe moms begin and end).
And finally, in their “free” time, most moms are picking up stuff, putting out fires, answering cries for help, and responding to the unending stream of needs that is the essence of modern mom-hood—all set to the soundtrack of “can you…would you…will you…”.
What’s most remarkable about the mom job, however, is, ironically, not the enormity of it. What’s most remarkable is the fact that (from my research) most moms feel unappreciated. Moms from all walks of life describe feeling unacknowledged and unseen for what they do and are for their families. Being a mom these days (and maybe always) seems to be a job that’s taken for granted, thankless for the most part. It also appears to be unique in that it comes with the expectation that appreciation is not and should not be needed or wanted by the one doing the job. And in fact, to want or need appreciation as a mom would be self-serving, inappropriate, and even shameful.
As a psychotherapist, I talk to women all day about their internal experience, the private experience they don’t usually share with others. Again and again, I hear moms express the deep longing for appreciation, the wish for some acknowledgment from their kids and partner, that they might notice what mom does to make everyone else’s life go well and just plain happen. As a mom myself, I am remarkably aware of how little appreciation is offered for the amount of effort that being a mom requires, how infrequently gratitude is expressed for all the important details we attend to. I am also aware that it can feel shameful to admit that I might want my family to occasionally notice and express unprompted appreciation for what I do for each of them individually and also for the family as a whole. It feels self-indulgent because as moms we’re supposed to be selfless, and certainly not need anything as childish and greedy as appreciation, or at least not want it any day besides mother’s day.
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To appreciate something is to value it, be grateful for it, and recognize/acknowledge its importance. As human beings, we all long to be appreciated, to have our goodness seen, our positive intentions and efforts recognized. We want to be known and valued for what we do that’s helpful. To want and need appreciation is a primal human longing.
At the same time, kids should get to experience a time in their life when they are fully taken care of without having to be aware of or grateful for anything or anyone, when they’re allowed to be oblivious to the fact that someone is providing for them. There needs to be a totally self-centered period in a child’s life. And, there needs to be a time when the perfunctory, learned but not yet felt “thank you” is enough for appreciation. It’s not a child’s responsibility to be grateful to her parents for doing their job as parents. And yet, there also comes a time in a child’s life when it is important that she recognize that her parents exist as human beings, that they have feelings, are deserving of appreciation, and are working hard on their children’s behalf. This recognition is an important step in the healthy development from childhood into young adulthood. Encouraging kids (when they’re ready) to feel empathy and gratitude for parents, not because they have to but because they just do, will ultimately help our children live connected and meaningful lives.
Recently, after a day of doing my job and using every spare minute between clients to arrange travel and other fun activities for my teenage daughter’s summer, and also getting my younger daughter’s medical and thousand other forms sent the different camps she’s in this summer, I disappointingly misspoke, asking my teenager how her French quiz went. Well, apparently, in my exhaustion and bureaucratic stupor, I got the subject of the quiz wrong and received an icy and supremely agitated, “The quiz was in math.” That was it, conversation over. I had to laugh, there wasn’t anything else to do. Not enough, it’s the nature of being a mom.
It’s strange really, our society views things as black or white, either or. We don’t well tolerate black and white, either and or. As a mom, my children are the most important part of my life. They bring an ineffable joy and there is no thing or experience for which I could ever be so grateful. Every day, I am astonished that I get to be a mom to these two girls I cherish. I chose to be a mom and love being a mom--and--I dislike many of the tasks that being a mom involves as they are unpleasant and darn hard. It’s an and not a but that separates these two truths. Because we want to be consciously appreciated for the incredible work we do, both the work we love and the work we don’t, does not contradict the fact that we choose to be moms and love being moms. It’s all included…both and.
This past mother’s day, I was happily surprised by my husband and kids with a lovely lunch at the restaurant they enjoy. I deeply appreciated this gesture--and--I also long for a “thank you” when I return from a 7 pm parent teacher conference on a cold February evening, or after a long day with patients when I walk in to find three people, (2 small, 1 big) awaiting their dinner, or really any other random moment of standard mom-hood. Is it okay to want both, the lunch and the thank you? Yes.
We live in a society where, at a subtle level, women are still taught that they’re not supposed to want or need anything for themselves, and for certain not appreciation or recognition. It’s bizarre really, wanting to be seen for our efforts is shameful for women and yet it’s inherent in every human being. Wanting to be thanked and noticed for what we offer is a wholesome wanting, and one that when met, encourages us to keep on doing the good we’re doing.
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While it’s odd, it does seem that the simple act of stopping what we’re doing and offering someone a straight, heartfelt “thank you” or “I appreciate you” can, for some, feel too vulnerable, exposed, unnecessary, or even silly. And yet, these simple moments of genuine appreciation are profoundly meaningful for the recipient, and also for the giver. The moments when appreciation is shared are the moments of connection that fill our emotional well.
When you feel unappreciated or notice the longing to be thanked, try these steps:
1. Reject any self-shaming thoughts. Remind yourself that wanting and needing to be appreciated and recognized is normal and healthy, and you deserve it.
2. Reach out to another mom. She’ll get it. Laugh about the fact that your kid hasn’t asked you how you are for years and yet is very good at asking for the credit card. It’s a fairly universal first world experience for moms. Get some support and chuckles from those who can fully identify.
3. Ask for what you want. Let your partner know, unapologetically, that it feels good to be seen for all that you do and are, and what you offer the family. When he does show appreciation without your asking, express your appreciation for his appreciation. Appreciation begets appreciation. If your kids are old enough, nine or ten and above is usually a good starting place, let them know that even mommies have feelings and sometimes need to be given a gold star in the form of a thank you. It’s not about guilting or shaming them but rather, letting them in on the secret that mommies need things too. It will help them down the road to be more empathic and grateful.
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4. Offer appreciation. Appreciation is a form of love and our longing for appreciation is in part a longing for a very particular kind of love. When you offer appreciation to someone or name it out loud, you’re not only modeling it for your family, but also giving yourself a small dose of the love you need. It may feel counter-intuitive to give appreciation in the moments when you’re the one needing it (another giving not receiving) and yet, offering it can be a close cousin to receiving it, as it evokes the same feelings of love and warmth that you crave.
5. Appreciate yourself. Put your hand on your own heart and consciously recognize all that you do and are. Remind yourself how good a mom you are and how much you love your children. Feel the love out of which all this wonderful effort is born. Don’t skip the step that is honoring yourself because at the end of the day, only you really know how much you do and how incredible and profound what you are providing actually is. So, take a moment to acknowledge your own importance.
How strange, magical, and deserving of appreciation is life; just as I was finishing this piece, my 7-year-old daughter came into my office with this, “Hey mom, thanks for making me a playdate today and not making go to after school.” Of course I cried, as I usually do when touched, and then I told her how much I appreciated her saying this, and how I hoped that one day she too would be as lucky as me and get to be a mom…because it’s the best job that ever existed.
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