Married fellas of a certain age, if you have spent the past 20 or so years of your life raising your children and supporting your wife emotionally, spiritually and professionally while she succeeded wildly in pursuit of her professional, personal, social and extra-curricular dreams, this column was NOT written for you.
If, however, it was you who had a meteoric professional rise with your wife providing the lion's share of the aforementioned support while also working full-time and (miraculously) raising the kids, please read on.
I know. It's a drag, this Mother's Day thing. You feel pressure to produce concrete proof of your love and appreciation for everything your wife has done.
You know -- and she knows -- that Mother's Day is a Hallmark creation, a dopey, manufactured consumer trap. Together, you have rolled your eyes at those poor schnooks who are hoodwinked by advertisements or otherwise tricked into purchasing extravagant Mother's Day gifts.
If your kids were lucky enough to have a grandma or two while they were growing up, chances are that your Mother's Day focus has been in the direction of the older generation, with your wife waving away any notion that the day was intended for her.
So, here's the thing.
It is at this very moment in your marriage -- the transition into New Empty Nesters; kids just out of the house -- that you need to re-consider Mother's Day's meaning for the hardworking woman you have lived with.
But guys, there is no need to whip out your credit cards.
The gift I am talking about cannot be bought.
You see, it is at the very moment that the kids leave the house that women tend to evaluate their lives, their careers, their place in the world and their marriages... and often feel dissatisfied.
By which I mean enormously pissed off.
The plight of full-time moms who are bereft when their chicks fly the coop has been well documented. These women often report "waking up" to the realization that their husbands have built lives and connections outside of the domestic sphere while they have not. Also, if their children have been the primary focus of their attentions, they often feel lost as well.
What is lesser known is the New Empty Nest experience of women that have actually worked outside the home throughout their childrearing years, morphing during the work week from nurturer to professional back to nurturer seamlessly, making multiple compromises, handling their second shift of duties with dedication and perseverance, often putting their own interests, passions, ambitions, friends and goals on hold in service to their husband and children's needs.
Such women often arrive at the shores of this magical moment in their marriage and family life with a burst of exhilaration -- free, finally, from the obligation to oversee schoolwork and provide nightly dinner and go on college visits and fill out applications! Free to date one's husband! Free to achieve one's true professional goals! Free to go to the gym at night! Free to get together with friends! Free to pursue a neglected passion or dream! Free to plan vacations and the future -- only to be zapped by the realization of the yawning gulf of achievement between them and their husbands... and the reality check that they are not so free, after all.
Typically, while the women have scrambled to keep things together, their husbands have soared. And why should they not? They had wives, which typically translates into support staff, cheerleader, social director, scheduler, children's medical director, shopper, cook and family first-responder, to name just a few tasks handled by most wives, working and not.
Most likely, the husbands in these dual-income households were also given the gift of time to complete their work and projects and pursue their extracurricular interests. Need to stay late, honey? No problem? Taking Sunday off? Again? I've got things covered! Don't feel like coming with the kids and me on our winter vacation? No worries! And let's not forget that husbands often get excused from attending tiresome family events, such as parties and graduations.
But all that is in the past. Now the youngest child is off at school and the phase of the New Empty Nest begins. What a relief for working mothers! No more family friendly work hours! Farewell Mommy Track; hello workaholism! Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!
This phase feels like the long-awaited moment of rebirth and liberation for women, with glittering possibilities twinkling on the horizon... yet after the first rush of excitement many wives realize that they have one more hoop to jump through: the hoop of resentment as they take stock of the achievement gulf between them and their husbands.
Given the opportunity to gain an aerial view of the past couple of decades, many working mothers are shocked by the stark imbalance of privilege within their marriage. Why were they so selfless, they wonder? Why were their husbands' needs always more important? Why didn't they self-advocate? Why did they let go of their ambitions so easily? Why didn't they realize that the compromises made were almost exclusively one-sided?
Naturally, not all working mothers feel this way. Some have had completely fulfilling careers while raising children, with a smooth trajectory to success and few compromises along the way.
But I am not speaking on behalf of those women. In truth, I don't know many of them. What I do know is that my yenta-style research -- i.e. talking to New Empty Nesters women I know -- confirms my own experience.
My sources tell me that what they want more than anything is for their husbands to check their privilege. To hear the words, "I know things haven't been fair," would go a long way towards extinguishing the flames of resentment and remind them of how wonderful their husbands are and why it is awesome that they have reached this phase of marriage.
Therefore, as a public service for those caring New Empty Nest husbands whose can-do, competent working wives are suddenly beset by moodiness, sadness or rage at the glaring imbalances they have discovered between their mate's situation and their own, here is a suggestion for this Mother's Day... and every one hereafter.
Give your ladylove the gift of partnership. Start by listening to her, absorbing her sadness or rage or diffuse sense of discontent. Be strong enough to bear the brunt of her anger towards you. It may shock you in its intensity. Try on her perspective. Pay attention if she says there are still factors that are impeding her from going forth and fulfilling her personal and professional goals at this long-awaited moment.
Understand that as she gave, willingly, for decades, it is now your turn to give back to her.
That's called friendship.
That's called fairness.
Understand also that if you have arrived at the Empty Nest stage of your marriage your wife might be going through changes that predispose her to being more emotional than usual.
So, for Mother's Day be a good friend to your wife. Join her in her quest for the fulfillment of her dreams. If she has lost sight of them, help her find them.
Mother's Day has arrived for New Empty Nest husbands. Congratulate yourself on having made it this far; that is an achievement. Then, commit yourself to feathering your nest with friendship and fairness. Give your wife the gift of partnership so that you can both soar in tandem.