Doing what matters

by Kathy Kuhl

Though my kids are grown, these last two week I’ve been doing important work, like you: changing diapers, reading aloud, interpreting baby talk, fixing snacks. I’ve been caring for my small granddaughter, so my dear daughter could study and write while they visited here. It was delightful. The empty nest seems too quiet now.

This hard, rewarding work was good preparation for Mother’s Day. When my kids were small, I loved the tokens of gratitude that came every May. I saved their cards.

Sweet card I saved

One of the thank you notes I saved.

Seeking Gratitude

Sometimes, though, I wanted more. It’s easy to start craving gratitude and recognition. Just because we chose to stay home doesn’t mean we’d object to having our work noticed and valued. Perhaps we dream of one perfectly fabulous day off. Is it too much to ask?

Perhaps it is. It’s certainly too much to demand. I’m not saying you don’t need breaks. (You do.) I’m not saying you don’t do great work. But expecting perfection–even expecting perfect appreciation– is inviting disappointment.

But once we start feeling entitled to gratitude and to gifts, we spoil the gifts. Any expressions of thanks or gifts we do receive can be soured by not being quite so nice as what we imagined. Think of Harry Potter’s ridiculous cousin Dudley, pouting because he got only 42 gifts for his birthday, no more than last year.

Worse yet, craving gratitude corrodes our relationships. We choose to care for our children out of love and duty, not for a payment–whether in cash or hugs or an annual breakfast-in-bed. Whether it’s my birthday, Mother’s Day, or other holiday, I’ve had to watch myself, that I don’t let a longing for appreciation keep me from enjoying the gift of being able to care for my family. I mustn’t let my desire to be honored keep me from seeing and honoring what my husband and others do for my kids.

The Pew Research Center reports that mothers think they do more of the work at home than fathers think they do. I know I can undervalue or overlook my husband’s contributions. Is it time in your house to discuss and appreciate each other’s contributions?

It is a gift to be able to love our families, to care for our kids. It’s fine to drop a hint:

  • “I loved those cards the kids made last year. That was so sweet” or
  • “I’m so exhausted. What’d I’d really love for Mother’s day is for you to take the kids for three hours so I could nap.” Those of us with spouses need to remember we are part of a team. Teams need to communicate and to appreciate each other.

Mother’s Day is also a good day to thank your Creator for the gift of children, and for the privilege of caring for them. It’s hard to remember at two a.m., cleaning up after a sick child. But at least you have the child.

The bottom line:

  1. Don’t be caught up with unrealistic expectations for Mother’s Day.
  2. Remember the work is a calling and a privilege.
  3. Encourage someone on Mother’s Day who has no living children.
  4. Enjoy your children. One day you may have an empty nest like mine, that may feel a little too quiet.

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Please answer in the comments below.

******** For further reading/references: ********

Christine Carter, whose post Feeling Entitled to a Little Gratitude This Mother’s Day, got me thinking about Mother’s Day.

She quotes the Pew Research findings from here. 

For parents of children of all ages, I recommend Paul Tripp’s book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. In Chapter 2, he helpfully discusses a sense of entitlement and other attitudes we can slip into that make parenting harder without our even noticing.