Once again, Mother's Day is here. We'd like to think it's going to be a special day filled with heartfelt gifts from children who truly cherish and value us. But for too many mothers it's just a big letdown. Why? Because the preschool-mandated handprint artwork that used to move us to tears has been replaced by tokens that are less and less thoughtful.
A generic card.
A generic bouquet.
A halfhearted hug or obligatory phone call.
The problem isn't the gift itself, of course. It's the feeling and thought (or lack thereof) behind the gift. Frankly, we deserve more. After all, many of us have devoted our entire lives to our kids, haven't we? Yes, we have -- and that's a big part of the problem.
On a recent Mother's Day my phone was ringing off the hook by moms feeling hurt and unappreciated. Thoughtful gifts were practically nonexistent, they told me. The few kids who managed to bring flowers brought, in the words of one mom, "the tiredest flowers I've ever seen. I'd swear they came from a dumpster." The moms who got late-in-the-day phone calls tried hard to feel content with "just hearing my daughter's voice."
These kids have been shown that we expect so little, are entitled to so little, that the mere sound of their voice is enough. Who showed them that? Why, that would be us mothers! When we devote everything to our kids -- all our free time, energy, and disposable income -- we shouldn't be surprised when they come to believe the moon and stars revolve around them.
Entitled children are the inevitable outcome of time and resources that are wildly and disproportionately assigned to the children and not the adults in the family.
So the bad news is that, for many mothers, May 13th 2012 is a lost cause. The good news is it's not too late for Mother's Day next year. The change in your kids won't happen overnight, but you can start to slowly turn this (unsatisfying) ship around. Here's how:
• All year long, seize opportunities to teach empathy. Kids are naturally self-centered, but you can counter that tendency by frequently reminding them to consider the feelings of others. Ask them, "How would you feel if it was your birthday and no one noticed?" But also ask them, "How do you feel when somebody remembers something special?" Encourage them to stand in someone else's shoes.
• Use teachable moments to help kids think more deeply about gift-giving in general.
When you buy a gift for someone, narrate your thought process: "I'm getting these purple gardening gloves for Grandma because she loves working in her flower bed and also because purple is her favourite colour."
• Ask a spouse or someone else to remind kids next year Mother's Day is coming. You want kids to see and feel gratified by your delight when they present a thoughtful gift. It's the good feelings they get that will reinforce their newfound consideration for others. They won't get to have that experience if they forget the day altogether.
• Start making adulthood attractive. If your child gets an Xbox and all the trimmings for his birthday and you're content with neon blue carnations grabbed from the corner store, well, who in their right mind would want to grow up? Make Mother's Day exciting and about you. Your delight at being really "tuned into" helps your kids learn the pleasure of really "getting" another person and assures them that all fun doesn't end at age 12.
Here's the moral of this story: If you've given up your life and your interests to sit passively in the bleachers every weekend watching kids play endless soccer games, it's time to reorder some priorities. Let kids know that you count. Family life is a collaborative effort...everyone gets to play.
Have a family discussion about the changes you'd like to make and institute them slowly. (A radical change is likely to fall on its face.)
Don't expect this to be easy. Our whole culture is centered on advancing and promoting our kids. Opting out is literally a countercultural move. Parenting habits are hard to break, especially when they're supported by advertising and neighbourhood values that make it seem like it's the most natural thing in the world to be overly involved in our children's every move.
And yet, the science says we've got it all backwards -- that kids thrive best when they're loved, supported and challenged, not micro-managed. That means there's no excuse not to give yourself the best Mother's Day gift of all: Vow to make this the year you get a balanced life. What happens one year from now will tell you whether or not you succeeded.