Dear Dr. Irene,
As hard as I may try, I always find myself feeling disappointed on Mother’s Day. I give so much to my family — I work full-time, volunteer at school, orchestrate our social life, tend to the house and cook a fabulous dinner EVERY NIGHT — and I feel like Mother’s Day is the one day when I should not worry about a thing, and just have a meaningful day with my family.
How can I communicate my need to be loved, appreciated and taken care of to my family?
Arabella, St. Louis
The day after Mother’s Day was a difficult one for me as a therapist. I heard one sad story after another about how hard each of the mothers worked at being a good mother and how little was received in return. It didn’t seem to make any difference whether the women received jewelry or books. But then there was a small group of women who had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I strained to figure out what they had done right (in particular because I was in need of improving my own experience) and I think I figured it out.
Those women knew what they wanted, made it clear to their husbands and families, and made it possible for their loved ones to accomplish what was requested. Not a bad strategy in general for getting what you want.
Whether it was a handmade card, a fancy necklace, or maybe not to have breakfast in bed but to sleep an extra hour, they made it clear what would make them happy. They had given up, or never had the fantasy, that their husband and children would intuit what they want.
Just because you are able to figure out what your husband needs and wants does not mean it’s reciprocal. There are gender differences operating here. Generally, girls are raised with an emphasis on focusing on the needs of others and boys are frequently reinforced for forging ahead on their own.
What followed for the “happy” mothers was that they were genuinely pleased with what they received and they showed it. The result of this was their husbands and children felt good about themselves and their potential to give. This bodes well for the future.
Different men need different levels of prompting: some get better as they get older and some always need help. Being able to determine where they are on that continuum and accepting it is the trick for you. By the way, if your needs change you may very well have to tell them again. Otherwise you can get the same thing over and over, on the theory if you liked it once you will like it forever.
This is for ALL the mothers out there, not just you.
Dr. Irene Goldenberg is a family psychologist and the author of several textbooks on family therapy, including Family Therapy: An Overview, and Counseling Today’s Families. Dr. Irene is also a UCLA professor emeritus of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. To check out Dr. Irene’s books, go to Amazon.com. Got a question for Dr. Irene? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org