Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Advice to gentlemen readers about Mother's Day

This post is especially directed toward the gentlemen who read this blog. The ladies may, of course, also read it, and perhaps share it with some gentlemen they know; but the advice contained here is primarily for the men.

This coming Sunday, May 9, is (here in America, anyway) Mother's Day. Last year I wrote a couple of posts about Mother's Day: this one, which expressed my joy and gratitude for Thad's generous gifts and surprises on that occasion, and this one, in which I discussed the theme of mothers' disappointment with Mother's Day, which some other mothers had written about.

Now, on that first post, I should just mention that last year was an unusually lavish celebration for us; I didn't expect such extravagance, and I don't expect it again this year, or anything like that. But Thad always makes sure that the girls give me some "token" of their appreciation on Mother's Day, and my family also pampers me in little ways that include taking care of some of my usual chores, or making a meal, or some such thing. I always enjoy and appreciate what they do.

The second post was written after I'd read elsewhere about women being disappointed with Mother's Day, or other gift-giving holidays. There were clearly two kinds of problems, though--the problem of some women not knowing how to accept gifts graciously, even if those gifts (whether of time, or chores, or homemade crafts, or purchased items) were less than perfect but given with perfect sincerity and love; and the problem, a much more serious one, of some women never or almost never receiving any kind of acknowledgment or thanks on Mother's Day or on any other day of the year, because their husbands insisted that such occasions were all manufactured and artificial events, and that they didn't need to give their wives any tokens of appreciation at all--or even to say "I love you, and I appreciate having you in my life." As I wrote last year:
For many of these moms, Mother's Day is just one reminder that they're a nonperson, a doormat, a glorified domestic servant who doesn't happen to get a paycheck. And because the husbands treat their wives this way, the children often start to do it, too. Make mom a card? Why bother? Offer to help with dinner? Nah, that might set a precedent.

That Christian men treat their wives this way is scandalous, but sadly, it's not uncommon. I'm not saying that every family is honor-bound to celebrate every holiday on the calendar; I know some couples who agree to skip Mother's Day and Father's Day on the grounds that these are artificial secular holidays, and so long as the couples agree, and that's what works for their families, no problem. But that wasn't the situation being described by the women who posted--their husbands never celebrate them or honor them or take a moment to express love and appreciation, and the wives are supposed to accept that as a normal masculine trait. Or, sometimes, the husband will be guilted into buying a card or some flowers, but he'll complain about it the whole time, and think that this token more than fulfills any obligations he has, and good grief, isn't dinner ready yet?
I sincerely hope that none of my gentlemen readers have this sort of attitude in regard to their wives. As I say above, it's no big deal if a couple decides, together and as a couple, that they'd really rather not acknowledge some secular holidays; Mother's Day and Father's Day are not found on a Catholic liturgical calendar, of course, and if a couple is really determined to avoid some or even all secular celebrations and have made an open and mutual decision to do so, that is fine.

But it would seem that such a mutual decision is seldom behind the kind of thing that makes some wives sad on holidays, their birthdays, etc. Usually, the decision not to celebrate or acknowledge the day in any way has been made unilaterally by their husbands, who insist that they show their love in all the ordinary things they do, and that it's simply not necessary to add to those things with a card, or some flowers, or a cake purchased (or even made!) ahead of time, or some similar token gesture of love and appreciation.

Some husbands say, at this point, that they tried--they did, indeed. They used to celebrate Mother's Day or birthdays or other special occasions. But their wives were just too fussy or hard to please. Nothing they ever did was right, so why bother trying?

I'm willing to stipulate up front that there are women who are totally, completely, ridiculously impossible to please. But I'd also guess that the vast majority of women who seem "fussy" are just tired of having their husbands, for example, keep buying flowers the wife is allergic to, or chocolates the diet she's been on for six months now won't let her eat, or some such thing. When it comes to tokens of love, most women are not impossible to please--not at all! Women just like to have some evidence that their husbands are paying attention to them as people, as individual human beings with likes and tastes of their own, and so on.

I'd almost be willing to bet that the vast majority of men reading this post can, without hesitation, tell me the make, model year, engine displacement, fuel economy, and approximate number of miles on their cars--without needing to look any of that up. If you follow sports, you could probably impress me with a list of statistics about the sport of which you are most fond; if you are interested in technology, you can probably tell me a great deal about the device you don't (yet) own but would most like to purchase, including its capabilities, battery life (if applicable), and so forth.

But I wonder how many married gentlemen readers can answer the following questions:
1. How does your wife really feel about Mother's Day? Would she like some token of appreciation from her husband and children, or not?

2. What did your wife buy your mother (if she is still living) for Mother's Day this year (or did you actually shop for your mom and choose a gift)? If it was a card, did she or you pick it out? Did she sign it for you, or did you sign it?

3. Does your wife enjoy getting flowers as a gift (not all women do)? If she does, what is/are her favorite flower(s)?

4. Can you give your wife chocolate/candy, or is there a reason this wouldn't be a good gift at present? If you can give her candy, is there a type she particularly likes? What is it?

5. Is there some unique thing (not necessarily expensive) your wife has been hinting that she'd like to have? Would Mother's Day be a good time to surprise her with this?

6. Would your wife rather be treated to dinner out at her favorite restaurant instead of being given a gift? What is her favorite restaurant (if she has one)?

7. What hobbies, interests, etc. does your wife choose to pursue in any leisure time she might have? What books is she reading, and what authors does she like? Does she collect anything?

8. What kind of cards does she like to get: sentimental ones, funny ones, handmade ones, or is she not really into greeting cards at all?

9. Is there some chore or task that she can't do but would really like to have done--yardwork, painting, etc.? Would surprising her with the accomplishment of this chore, either yourself or by hiring someone to do it, be a gift beyond her wildest imaginings?

10. Would your wife really like the gift of time this Mother's Day? Can you take over her daily tasks, make dinner, bathe the little ones, etc. so she can really have a day off?
These ten questions are not supposed to be all-encompassing, of course. And though I've used "Mother's Day" as the basis, you could ask the same questions about Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebratory occasions in the life of a married couple.

The point here is not to single out all married gentlemen as clueless or selfish when it comes to celebrations of their wives. I know that there are many men who do a fantastic job of making their wives feel special, loved, honored and appreciated--I'm married to that kind of man, and I don't take his generosity and understanding for granted. Nor is the point to layer on guilt about a specific holiday, or to make a man whose family's financial situation is precarious face any additional stress; sometimes the homemade options, the gifts of time or tasks accomplished are appreciated far more than any expensive gift could be.

No, the point is just to offer a gentle reminder that it isn't so terribly impossible to figure out if your wife would like to celebrate this Sunday, and even to get an idea of how she might like to celebrate. If a man has made an honest, sincere, attentive gesture in this direction, he has done as much as any woman would wish for.


Anonymous said...

Good for you Erin --well said!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I skip Valentine's Day on principle, because there is no one day of the year I love.. well, she's neither my wife, nor living with me, but I hope to marry her. Would I celebrate Mother's Day? Probably, but that's more a day for her daughter and grandson, who predate me by decades and years, respectively. She likes flowers, I can get those for her anytime. I do recall a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Art Hoppe, who wrote that his mother never tolerated observance of Mother's Day: she called it "National Florists Day." To each their own. But its true, if mother is given no reason to believe she is appreciated, something is wrong. Oh, I do have a mother still living...

Patrick said...

This was a good read and I'm going to check out the linked posts immediately.

However, I'm a little confused about doing things for your wife on Mother's Day. Your wife isn't your mother. Your wife is your kids' mother. A man should appreciate his mother on Mother's Day; it isn't a generic appreciation of "everyone's mothers".

How do I know this? Ladies, ask yourself if you'd be terribly offended if your husband bought a present or did something special for some mother that wasn't you or your in-laws on Mother's Day. If Mother's Day is an appreciation of all mothers, there would be nothing wrong with your husbands taking their secretaries out to a nice dinner, provided their secretaries had children.

Of course, that is absurd and ridiculous in every way imaginable. But if Mother's Day isn't confined to a particular mother, a man could be obliged to do something for every mother in, say, his own family. That is less absurd, but it would lead to ludicrous results if your husband had, say, three sisters who were married with children.

And that's how you know Mother's Day is confined to honoring a particular mother, your own, and not someone else's mother (which is your wife, your sister with kids, or a random woman with children.)

Patrick said...

I forgot to say: Valentine's Day is, of course, for your wife.

Erin Manning said...

Patrick, since your question is one that comes up commonly, I've decided to answer it in a post of its own. :)