Dear Family Whisperer,
It's the same every year. They bring me breakfast in bed, and I get a 24-hour break from my normal routine. It's as if my husband has been replaced by an alien who does the dishes without reminding. The kids hand me homemade cards that bring tears to my eyes. But what about the rest of the year? The other 364 days, I'm constantly schlepping, catching up on chores, remembering and reminding. I often feel alone and overwhelmed. Sometimes, I try to get my DH to do more and the kids, who are 8 and 11, to at least clean their own rooms. But mostly, I just accept that I'm stuck with the whole enchilada. What else can I do?
Dear Resentful Mom,
There is a different way that will change your perspective and your attitude: Adopt a family-centered version of "motherhood." When they wake you with a tray of pancakes and roses and handmade cards this year, thank them and tell them how much you appreciate them. But also use the moment to usher in a new year of family consciousness in which everyone -- not just you -- is responsible for getting through the day. Your children (and DH) can do more than you realize.
Start with these five important resolutions that will make your life easier throughout the year, improve your marriage, help your kids become capable and competent and make your family stronger as well.
1. I will remind myself that I matter. There's an "I" in family -- a collection of them. Each I deserves to get what he or she needs... including you! Like many women, you've probably internalized the message that "mothering" means Doing It All. But think of the "lessons" you are inadvertently teaching the future adults in your household -- your children.
2. I will admit that I need -- and want -- help. Whether you complain or seethe in silence, needing is more effective than nagging. Be honest. Tell your partner and kids, "I can't/don't want to do it alone." Your "it" might be cleaning, bill-paying, making doctor's appointments. Be specific about responsibilities that others can do for the family -- solo or with you.
3. I will allow other members of my family to participate. The question is, can you? Or, do feel insecure if you're not "in charge"? In many households, Mom, is -- by choice or by default -- the Designated Doer.The kids (and, often, the partner) get the benefit of family membership without assuming much of the responsibility. That's not only unfair, it erodes relationships and deprives others of opportunities to learn new skills.
4. I will learn from my kids and partner. If you're like most mothers, you look for teaching moments. Keep an eye out for "learning moments" as well. When others take responsibility for jobs you normally do -- whether it's vacuuming or making school lunches, washing a scraped knee or making a shopping list -- let them do it their way. Your approach isn't necessarily better; it's just different.
5. I will make time each week for family "check-ins." Planning, managing, and troubleshooting shouldn't rest solely on your shoulders. Meeting together regularly helps all of you remember that you're part of the whole. It can be a time to plan (birthdays, holidays), celebrate success ("We put in the seedlings on time"); brainstorm problems ("What can we do to make our mornings less chaotic?"); and change course if necessary ("We have less to spend for our vacation this year").
These resolutions are easier made than lived. But if you dare to step back and let family members step up, all of you can become what Daniel Pink in Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us calls "Type I" individuals -- people who are intrinsically motivated. You will be less likely to act as society tells you or because you're afraid of punishment or looking for rewards, but because working toward a common good -- in this case, the family -- feels good inside.
Keep it up. If you change, they have to change. And next year, you might not resent it when they say, "Happy Mother's Day."
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You'll find more in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.