Originally published on Medium — May 13th, 2017
The Mother of My Child
Appreciation is a funny thing. People say “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and that basically emphasizes that the things that call attention to themselves are the most successful in getting attention. Appreciation is the flip side of that coin, when something good calls attention to itself, you appreciate it.
The picture I used above might seem pretty mundane, but it might be one of the most important moments in my life in retrospect. Let me explain. This is a picture of my wife, and my snoozing 6-month old son. We’re sitting in Javalencia Cafe on Valencia St. in San Francisco. My wife is reading a book we had just purchased at a bookstore called Dog-Eared Books just a block down the street.
As I sat, watching my wife read, I realized that I was witnessing one of her not-very-many moments of respite. Turns out, a 6-month old is a bit of a demanding tyrant. Surprise!
Motherhood is an unseen force. No one really considers what it means to be a mother. My wife and I made the decision that, instead of working full-time, she would stay home with our new baby. As we’ve transitioned away from college, and into “adulthood” she’s often gotten the question, “so what are you going to do while Kyle works?” And most of the time, she feels like she should have an answer other than “I’m going to take care of our baby.”
In the Washington Post, Laura Fitzgerald Cooper makes this claim: “I think the popular culture currently values family detail work in negative territory. I mean it’s valued at less than zero, especially when done by educated, once-professional but now un- or under-employed mothers.” It isn’t that mothers aren’t there, it’s that we don’t truly see them.
What I saw that day, as I watched my wife enjoy a book, was a glimpse into what I don’t get to see every day. I don’t see the giggles-into-crying-into-giggles that my son goes through every day. I don’t see the diapers, and the kids books, and the dancing, and the playing, and the laughing, and the talking. I don’t see the exhaustion. I don’t see the frustration. I don’t see the desire to raise a child perfectly confront the undeniable reality that, everyday, something will always go wrong.
When my wife does tell people that her primary responsibility will be acting as a mother, a lot of people think out loud, “it must be nice to not have to do anything all day.” Think again.
Each day, my wife experiences an almost unimaginable struggle. The work that I do is weighed and measured in dollars and cents. The work that she does is measured in dreams and potential. When my son looks into her eyes, that is when her work begins. And all she asks is that I see her.
The Mother of Me
On occasion as I grew up, my parents would have a hard day. All-in-all, they had a pretty idyllic life, I mean, after all, my siblings and I are some of the most poised, delightful individuals you would ever have the fortune to interact with.
But when my Dad would have a bad day, he would come home frustrated. “No one appreciates me, it’s like I’m not accomplishing anything.” My Mom would gently remind him that he got a paycheck, and a raise when he did his job well, and that was them appreciating him. My mother’s job was raising my siblings and I. Not everyone has the opportunity to make that their sole job, but my mother did. And she did it well. But often, it was the most thankless job imaginable. Even if my siblings and I did say thank you, motherhood rarely offers you any feedback on whether or not you’re really doing a good job. And that’s hard.
Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” I have never come across a statement that I could so readily claim as representative of my own feelings more so than this one. Without my mother, I would have no hope of being the man that I am today. But I didn’t see that while I was growing up. I saw someone with their own thoughts, feelings, and life, but what I didn’t understand was how pivotally she had placed me in the center of that life. How hard she worked to offer me every opportunity to succeed. Not everyone will have a mother that will offer them everything in the world, but I did.
How Can We See The Mothers in Our Lives?
Elaine S. Dalton served as a representative of young women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In answer to the question, how can men help to raise healthy, well-adjusted children, Dalton responded, “By the way you love [their] mother, you will teach your [children] about tenderness, loyalty, respect, compassion, and devotion. [They] will learn from your example what qualities to seek in a future spouse. You can show your [children] by the way you love and honor your wife that [they] should never settle for less.” My father was that kind of man. He loved my mother in a way that changed my life.
What should I see when I look at my mother? What should I see when I look at my wife? I should see a person who has love, strengths, hopes, dreams, bias’, frustration, pet peeves, and weaknesses.
My wife is the sum total of the experiences in her life.
I can never appreciate my wife if I don’t seek to fully understand who she is. She is a person who can’t stop telling me about a book she just finished because she’s still living in the pages. She’s a person who could absolutely make a decision on her own, but still likes to talk about it with her Mom because she respects her opinion. She is the person who can’t stop dancing in bed when we have clean sheets to sleep in. And so much more.
Stephen Covey said that “we see the world, not as it is, but as we are.” So who are you? Are you the kind of man who will appreciate when his wife stands outside to wave hello as he drives up? Are you the kind of man that supports your wife taking up a job or a project that she’s passionate about, even if it means sacrificing some of your professional goals? Are you the kind of man who will tell your wife she’s beautiful, not because of how she looks, but because of who she is? Will you see your wife or mother for who they truly are?
Men are no better than women. Women, no better than men. I desire to see the mothers in my life because no one has had a greater role in making me.
**If it is not apparent enough, I want to unequivocally, irrevocably, unquestionably, undeniably, eternally, and specifically thank my mother for making me who I am, and thank my wife for being willing to take this journey through to eternity.