It’s almost Mother’s Day, a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of telling moms that you appreciate them.
I didn’t realize just how important this was for me personally until a stranger in Shop Rite commented on my parenting and changed my perspective.
I don’t know his name, and will probably never see him again, but this letter is for him.
To The Older Gentleman Who Stopped Me in Shop Rite,
You’ve probably forgotten about me already. I’m the frazzled lady from the fruit section, with the toddler and the cart full of groceries. When you spoke to me, my son and I were in the midst of debating the relative merits of red and green grapes.
“Excuse me,” you said. “I love hearing how you are talking everything out with your son and explaining everything to him. My wife did that with our children, and they all turned out wonderful.”
I think I managed to squeak out a “Thank you! My son loves to chat.” Or something like that. Then I swiftly maneuvered to the cereal aisle so you wouldn’t see the tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
I have never worked as hard at anything in my life as I work at parenthood. As a student, and later as an employee, when I worked hard, I got positive feedback. Good grades. Compliments. Raises. But as a parent, my hard work almost always goes unrecognized. On the contrary: instead of praising me for my significant efforts, my younger son criticizes me for what he perceives to be my significant mistakes.
Which takes me back to that morning at Shop Rite. Prior to our trip there, I was home with my son, who told me he was going to “throw [me] in the dumpster” because I insisted he eat oatmeal instead of a cheese stick for breakfast. I had spent time making him the slow-cooked kind of oatmeal, topping it with almonds and raisins and cinnamon. Far from thanking me for my efforts, he expressed a desire to punish me for them. It was as if he was my heartless boss letting me know in no uncertain terms that I, his employee, was not cutting the mustard.
Of course I know that parenting a toddler is often a thankless job, that you reap the rewards of your hard work when your kids are older and hopefully turn out to be kind and gracious. In fact, as a psychologist who specializes in working with stressed moms, I talk about raising toddlers as a form of delayed gratification—you plant the seeds now, and enjoy the fruit (green or red grapes, or otherwise) later. I should also note that parenting a toddler can at times be very rewarding. My son, for example, is smiley and delightful and hilarious. However, it can be very hard to remember how delightful your kid is when he is screaming at you.
I was furious when my son called me out for trying to feed him breakfast. It’s not like I was taking away a cherished toy or forcing him to leave the park or (God forbid) turning off Daniel Tiger mid-episode. I know, I know, “toddlers are #$%holes.” Sometimes I can laugh about that, but sometimes, I can’t. Sometimes, I just want to be appreciated. After all, I have sacrificed so much (my time, my energy, not to mention any hobbies I once had) to build an amazing life for this child and his brother. Can’t a gal get a thumbs-up from her 3 year-old every once in a while?
Man from Shop Rite, your comment that morning re-energized me. It reminded me of why I do all of this stuff for my kids, why I talk to them about the intricacies of grape selection and make them oatmeal and de-prioritize my own needs for theirs. It turns out that telling moms that you appreciate them is important. It keeps them going when they have nothing left in their tanks and gives them hope for the future. Your comment reminded me of what I often tell my patients: that someday soon, all of my hard work will bear fruit.
Thank you, again, for the feedback. The next time my son threatens to take me out with the trash, I’ll think of you. I’ll remember that someone is giving me the thumbs-up. Then I’ll take a deep breath, pick the oatmeal up off the floor, and soldier on.