If I could sum up mom life in one word, it would probably be “thankless.”
From the moment I birthed the children who inhabit my house (which in itself wasn’t exactly met with gratitude — there were no “push presents” to be had in my hospital room), I’ve been at their beck and call. Not just for their personal needs, but for their every need, including the meals they scarf down (with nary a “Thanks, Mom!”) and the mounds of dishes they dirty and the dizzying revolving-door endlessness of the laundry they generate.
The job of a mother — any mother — is constant and tiring.
Even when our kids are old enough not to require diaper changes or supervised bath time, they’re still demanding. My house would be pristine if everyone would just keep it that way, but that’s not how this works. And while I’m teaching (and constantly reminding) them all to be self-sufficient and responsible, it falls to me to take care of almost everything. In every room of the house, there is an invisible list of everyday tasks that need to be completed, and there’s one name beside each hypothetical checkbox: MOM.
Do I do all this because I get so much enjoyment out of menial labor? Because it deeply fulfills me? Hell nah.
I do it because it’s what mothers have done since practically the beginning of time, and it’s always been done with minimal gratitude from its beneficiaries (those ingrates). There are no cave paintings depicting moms scraping animal skins or arranging rocks in a comfortable and homey fashion. There are no medieval ballads or Shakespearean sonnets about moms whipping up a kettle of gruel, no Renaissance statues depicting a mom wiping an ass or sweeping a hearth.
Nobody takes notice if we do it all on top of a full- or part-time job or when we’re sick, or if we do it while schlepping around a fussy infant in a sling. Going above and beyond, ignoring our own comfort to meet the family’s domestic needs, isn’t perceived as heroic or inspiring or even worthy of much notice.
This is because the main person who keeps the household running is like oxygen — vital yet always taken sorely for granted. And if we don’t also happen to be the one bringing home the majority of the bacon, fuhgeddaboutit. Sure, we might get a Mother’s Day card with a few lines of sentiment about how much we mean to the family, but a periodic and societally obligated reminder is pretty much the best we can hope for. “It’s a labor of love,” we say to ourselves, as we scrub pee that isn’t ours from the base of our toilets, ad infinitum.
Because I’m living that mom life, fulfilling those constant household obligations on top of everything else I do, I get a wee bit prickly when my husband does something to — as he calls it — “help out.” Don’t misread me here. I appreciate the lightening of my often-overburdened workload (which is why my children have been trained to assist since they were old enough to grip a sponge). And since my husband works outside our home more hours per week than I do, it’s only logical that I do more taking care of this place than he does. I get it. I accept it.
But…what I can’t accept is his expectation of praise for doing the things that I’m expected to do, and do dozens of times for his once or twice, without any kudos at all.
Case in point: the dishes. I work outside our home a couple of evenings a week. Before I leave, I make sure a meal is ready for my family, even if I don’t get to sit down and eat with them. When I come home, if the table has been cleared, my husband is sure to point out his good deed. “I cleaned up after supper,” he’ll say, not outright asking to be commended, but obviously expecting my gratitude.
It doesn’t matter if the table is still crusty and crumby. It doesn’t matter if the dishes that wouldn’t fit in the dishwasher are now chillin’ in the sink, a disheartening mound of congealing food and greasy water. It doesn’t matter if the remainder — the hand-washing, the countertop wiping, and whatever else — will be left up to me, the lucky one who gets to finish cleaning up after a meal I didn’t eat.
In my husband’s eyes, of course, thanks are perfectly in order. After all, he could have just left the entire thing to me, foregoing all domestic duties and plopping his ass down on the couch with the remote, which is clearly what anyone in their right mind would prefer to do. But theoretically, I could do the same thing, and then what? Watch from my recliner as the crud piles up? Hope that maybe then somebody will realize that I’m the primary reason this place runs like a well-oiled machine? I do it because, no matter how unfairly, it’s expected of me. More than my proportionate share. Because I’m the mom, and everybody knows that moms run the show on the home front.
But if I’m not getting thanked profusely for keeping this house in order, for the hundred tedious tasks I do every damn day that ensure my family has hot meals, fresh laundry, and a sparkling clean pot to piss in, then I’m not in a hurry to issue any thanks either. If it’s part of my job description, then it’s damn well part of his, too, because we’re just as much a team when it comes to our home as we are when it comes to our children and our finances and all the other things that make up a marriage. It’s hard to give gratitude for those things when I give maximum effort and still don’t get any.
He does something once and expects acknowledgement. Do it again and again and again, and I’ll take more notice, pal. Do it with a child attached to your hip, and I’ll be even more grateful. Do it with a cold. Do it while simultaneously cooking dinner, helping with homework, and settling an argument. Do it the way I’m automatically expected to, then let’s talk.
Hell, maybe I’ll just start doing the minimum. Maybe the next time I do laundry, I’ll toss his work shirts in the washer and conveniently forget to transfer them to the dryer — let alone hang them, wrinkle-free, in his closet. And when he says, “Uh, Honey? My work shirts are still in the washer?” I’ll respond with a big, proud smile, “I know! All clean!” and wait for him to heap me with praise. Because hey, at least I’m not just sitting on the couch, right?