At the risk of making a broad and sweeping generalization, I believe that women are most often governed by a sense of duty and the guilt associated with failing to meet that duty, while men are most often governed by their own selfishness.
It’s only when we are able to overcome these natural tendencies that we can be successful, happy human beings.
As a result of these natural tendencies, most mothers feel an overwhelming sense of obligation to their children and a concurrent sense of guilt after failing to meet the high (and sometimes impossible) expectations that they set.
In short, mothers rarely give themselves enough credit.
To this end, I offer my wife this reminder:
On Saturday, I brought my five year-old daughter, Clara, to the library. We climbed the stairs to the children’s section, and I plopped myself down in a cushioned chair with a stack of picture books while Clara went off on her own.
On her way to the computers, she stopped at the sight of a picture book standing up on a shelf. She stared at it for a moment, grabbed it, and brought it over to me to read to her. When we finished, she kissed me and listed all the books that she wanted to read before bed tonight. I agreed, and she was off again.
Next, she made her way to the computer nook, sat down in front of a computer and began playing a Dora the Explorer game. A mother and her toddler were sitting at the adjacent computer, and behind them, babbling in a stroller, was an infant.
Clara played her game for about 30 seconds before stopping, turning to the mother and saying, “Hi, my name is Clara. What are your kids’ names?”
The mother smiled, looked a little surprised, and then told her the names.
Clara introduced herself to the toddler, asked her age, said a few things about the game they were playing (including pointing out that the computer was equipped with a touch screen, which is “a lot easier than a mouse, especially for little kids”), and then turned around to look at the baby. “You’re baby is so cute,” she told the woman.
“Thank you,” the woman.
“Your welcome,” Clara said. “If she gets fussy, I can play with her so you can finish your game.”
The woman thanked Clara again, and Clara returned to her game.
After 15 minutes, the computer timed Clara out. Though she had the option of restarting since no one is waiting, Clara walked away and went over to the train table, where she introduced herself to a little boy already playing with trains. They played together for ten minutes while I sat and watched.
After a couple minutes, the mother walked over to me. “Is that your daughter?” she asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“How did she ever become so social? It was like talking to a little adult.”
“Her mother,” I said. “It’s all her mother.”
Yes, it’s true. Clara does not pick up her toys often enough. She does not eat a wide variety of food. There are days when she watches too much television. She’s impossible to extract from the bath in a timely manner. She’s capable of the occasional temper tantrum.
None of this is Elysha’s fault. No one is to blame for any of this. This is simply Clara being Clara.
But Clara’s love for books. Her ability to socialize with both young and old. Her manners. Her willingness to help a stranger.
Even her love for babies.
That’s all her mother.
Elysha will deny most of it. She will reject the credit. Disregard any accolade. Point to all the areas still in need of improvement.
This is what mothers do. They may acknowledge the fruits of their labor, but only in the most perfunctory way. Briefly and without fanfare. Better to instead focus on what still needs to be done. The progress still required.
This can’t be fun. It must be exceedingly stressful at times.
Telling a mother to be a little more selfish is oftentimes a losing battle. Imploring her to take a little more credit for her accomplishments is a frequently futile gesture. Assuring a mother that their child is fine is like spitting into the wind.
But I still try.
My daughter is an amazing little girl, thanks in great part to her mother. She may not believe it or give herself enough credit or instead focus upon the work still required, but that doesn’t make it any less true.