4 Simple Techniques To Get The Appreciation & Recognition You Deserve At Home
“When I first decided to be an at-home mother,” Kristen said, “I was so naïve. I thought I was doing something noble that my family would appreciate. But, the truth is, I feel more like Doris Doormat. While I protect the house and family, it’s at the price of having everybody walk all over me. No one notices the doormat.”
Perhaps you’re a bit like Kristen. Maybe you thought that the joy of being so intimately involved with your children would be its own reward. Or maybe you figured the satisfaction of having an orderly home and well-functioning family was all you’d need. You’ve probably discovered, though, that you crave more. You’d like your partner to say, just once, in your hearing, “My wife’s amazing! She’s not only a marvelous mother to our children, but she makes our house a home. I can’t wait to get home at night.” You want your children to stop occasionally and say, “Gee, Mom, you do a lot for me. What can I do for you?”
Some women have taken drastic steps to get their families’ attention. The most drastic are, perhaps, the women who’ve gone on strike. Eventually their families begged them to return to duty, but only after the house and family were in shambles. You have to wonder how much harder each woman had to work to make up for the strike! And, of course, if you have very young children dependent on you, then a strike poses dangers you cannot risk.
So, how do you get what you need to make your at-home mothering profession a rewarding one? What can you do, short of going on strike, to make sure your family knows all the ways you make their lives easier? How can you get them to say thanks?
You can get the recognition and appreciation that you deserve at home in four simple techniques. As simple as these techniques appear, though, they are not one-time actions. Getting your family to show gratitude for what you do is an on-going, evolving process. As your family grows and changes, your needs and wants will change also. Keep this guide handy so that you can review the techniques often.
1. Know that you deserve recognition and appreciation for the work you do!
The happiest, most satisfied at-home mothers I know are the women who believe that they are performing the most important job in the world. Realize that no one else can take care of your family and home as well as you. Sure, there are others who can do parts of the job better. After all, that’s how cleaning services and tutors and caterers stay in business—they do the jobs that many mothers don’t enjoy or have time for! In addition, if you look hard enough, you can always find someone more organized or more creative or more selfless than you are. But, no one else loves your children as much, or in the same way, as you do—not even their father! No one else would pour as much time, energy or creativity into keeping your family happy and healthy as you, out of love, will. No one else understands your mission quite the way you do. No one else can give your home and family your unique touch.
The tasks you perform for your family, whether mundane such as washing clothes, or short-term such as teaching your child to tie her shoes, are valuable. Think of all the categories of jobs you perform for your family: caregiver, housekeeper, nurse, decorator, activities director, finance manager, chauffeur, teacher, artist, facilities manager, mediator, entertainer… In the work world, you could command quite a salary!
Take some time to evaluate what you do well as an at-home mother. Are you “artsy-craftsy?” Do you serve well-balanced and nutritious meals? Are you particularly good at teaching your child(ren) coping skills? Do you keep your home tidy? None of us is excellent at everything. An at-home mother who is good at providing educationally enriching experiences for her children may be entirely stumped when it comes to cooking. A mom whose home is invitingly decorated may be an excellent hostess, and a reluctant playground supervisor. My friend Vikki spent hours reading to her only child and kept an immaculate home (which I envied), while I preferred having crowds of kids doing crafts with me and, even on the best days, my home was cluttered. We weren’t in competition as at-home mothers, we were simply two moms with different strengths and interests.
Write three lists: what you do well, what you do moderately well, and what you do even though you dislike doing it. You probably enjoy doing the things in your first list and people, including your family, compliment you about them. The other two lists are most likely the source of your dissatisfaction with your family’s responses. Each time you do those tasks, you have to motivate yourself. When you’re done, you want someone to pat you on the back and say, “Wow! That took lots of effort and discipline!” But, of course, those are most often the tasks that no one notices or appreciates.
And, because those tasks are the ones you don’t particularly enjoy or do well, you’re likely to be critical of yourself when you are done. It is a quirk of human nature that when we feel good about something we’ve done, we hear comments from others as compliments. When we’re dissatisfied with what we’ve done, we hear the same comments as criticisms. The problem isn’t in what is said, but in how we interpret what is said.
A good example is this: I pride myself on being a good cook, but when life is particularly hectic at our house, I sometimes serve a less-than-stellar dinner. The other night I served fish sticks, French fries and carrots—a slapdash, low-nutrition meal that my children hate. So, of course, the kids whined and I felt like a lousy homemaker. My husband looked up from his plate and said, “This is wonderful. I always look forward to dinner.” What I heard was, “Maybe if I say something nice, it’ll make up for the kids’ whinning.” I not only felt lousy, but I ended up mad at my husband for being so patronizing. I knew it was a lousy meal compared to what I usually fix and I resented anyone trying to make me feel better. I learned later, though, that my husband truly meant it. To him, dinner is always wonderful and, since he loves fish sticks and we rarely have them, he was delighted with the meal. Had I believed that I deserved credit—if for nothing more than cooking a meal at all when I felt overwhelmed by the pace of our household that evening—I would have heard his comments with different ears.
Believe that you deserve credit, even for the things you struggle to do. Focus on what you accomplish rather than what you failed to do. Read over the list of roles you assume in your family. Aren’t you a marvel!
2. Reward yourself!
Often an at-home mother becomes a martyr who puts off attending to her own needs while she takes care of others. This is not healthy for the mother or for her family. As a role model, you are uniquely placed to show your family that every member has needs and deserves to have those needs taken care of. There are two methods of modeling this: by taking care of yourself and by asking others to take care of your needs.
Let’s address taking care of yourself first. Since only you know what you truly want and what motivates you best, it’s up to you first to develop rewards and incentives for those tasks you neither enjoy nor naturally do well.
Hate cleaning bathrooms? Then reward yourself when you’re done. Find yourself making excuses for not playing board games with your preschooler? Promise yourself a half hour of pleasure reading for every half hour of board games. Maybe the best incentive for cleaning is to invite two couples for a late evening supper or dessert. All your effort will be rewarded with adult conversation.
A weekly goals list will help you focus on specific accomplishments and celebrate your successes. Of course, the goals have to be reasonable and measurable. “Be nice to everybody” is neither reasonable or measurable, especially if your children think “nice” means ice cream for lunch and late bedtimes. A better goal would be “Spend one hour a day minimum doing an activity with each child” or “Show Raymond how to tie his shoes and give him at least one opportunity a day to practice it.” Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals, or try to address every task you will do all week. If you have developed a mission statement, use that to help you write goals. Try to include at least one goal for every aspect of your life: childcare, marriage, housekeeping, physical fitness and selfcare.
A goal chart with spaces to check off when you’ve accomplished the task may help motivate and remind you. If you also match each goal with a reward, you’ll find yourself looking forward to checking off the tasks.
Remind yourself that the goal chart is a target and not a whip. Some weeks you’ll do everything you hoped for and more. Other weeks you’ll have nothing to check off. The point is that you’ll be focused on what is important and not as likely to be distracted by the urgent. Sometimes, of course, the urgent takes priority. When my one-year-old had chicken pox everywhere but on the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet, I spent three days with her standing on my lap and balancing herself against my shoulders. Soothing her became my priority.
The beauty of rewarding yourself for doing a good job is that you know better than anyone else what gives you pleasure. Magazines and advertising campaigns claim that women want flowers, candy and diamonds. How limiting! You can probably think of a dozen things you want as much or more! My friend Marianne thought a bubble bath a glorious reward, but I preferred to hire a babysitter so I could spend an uninterrupted hour at the library. You may long for a glass of wine while you sit on the front porch, a 10-minute phone call to your best friend, a few minutes of gardening, or a pedicure.
Strive for a balance of responsibility and reward in your daily life. If you can recognize your own accomplishments and reward yourself meaningfully, you will find that what you crave from your family will decrease significantly.
3. Decide what you need and want from your partner and child(ren).
Chances are, your family has no idea that you feel unappreciated unless you’ve told them. After all, when they’re unhappy, they complain. So, if they aren’t complaining, you must be doing a good job. And if they are complaining, well, as long as it’s just about one particular thing, you can feel good about everything else.
In addition, your family probably has no concept of how much you do for them. They might notice when things don’t get done, but regular chores go unnoticed. A friend of mine once left a jacket lying on the floor for two weeks to see if someone else in the family would put it away. Her family walked around it! They certainly didn’t notice when she finally put it away. You pick up, put away, wash, sort, clean, fix and rearrange thousands of things each week and, for the most part, most of it is invisible to your family. When they aren’t aware of what you do, they don’t know how to show you appreciation. So, before you approach them to ask them to change their behavior, you need to get specific about what you want from them.
What would make you feel that they notice how much you do for them and value it? Do you want them to thank you more often? To use manners when they speak to you? To pitch in and help more often? To ask permission before they invite friends to dinner? To give you half an hour of peace every day?
It probably won’t take you long to think about the habits your family has developed that make you feel taken for granted. Write them down. You’ll find that they fall into two categories: whole family issues and individual issues. It may be that the whole family has been guilty of leaving dishes in the family room or dropping unwanted mail on a kitchen counter instead of in the wastebasket.
On an individual level, though, the issues vary greatly. It may be that you want your husband to set aside twenty minutes each evening to talk to you, your teenager to let you know by noon whether he will be home for dinner, and your seven-year-old to consistently put her clothes in the hamper.
If your list is phenomenally long, select just a few for starters. As your family masters those behaviors, you can introduce new ones. You don’t want to overwhelm them or they’ll probably not change at all!
4. Ask for what you want and need!
Realize that asking is not always easy. Many women, especially those who have practiced being martyrs for a long time, find it difficult to speak up for themselves. You may also think that your family should already know what you want. “If they really loved me,” the common refrain goes, “they’d know what I wanted and they’d do it.” Unfortunately, as much as they love you, your family cannot read your thoughts. Think about it: you love your partner and children so much that you’ve become an at-home mother to take care of them. Do you always know what they want? I thought my husband wanted sophisticated meals, but, in fact, he yearned for occasional childhood favorites. We had been married over 20 years before I found that out!
Before you approach the entire family, enlist your husband’s support. In fact, it may be wise to review what you want with your husband first so that he doesn’t feel ambushed. Ask for his help in phrasing your wants, in coming up with a reinforcement (reward) system, and in choosing an appropriate time to discuss the issues.
Set up a family meeting. Take care to structure the meeting so that it doesn’t become a lecture or a free-for-all. Ideally, you explain first the contributions you make to the family and how they benefit from what you do.
Then you tell them, specifically and succinctly, what your feelings are and what you need from each of them. Phrase your feelings as “I” messages. “I feel angry and unappreciated when I cook a meal and no one says anything nice about it.” “I feel hurt when I’ve disrupted my day to take you to the skating rink and I don’t get thanked.”
Guard your tongue so that you don’t fall into using false “I” messages that are accusations. A false “I” message says “I think that you are…ungrateful for all I do…a slob…never much help…self-centered…etc…” Those statements may be true, but they are hostile and will sidetrack the discussion.
When you talk about what you want from each person, phrase it as an “I need” statement. “I need you to tell me by noon whether you will be home for dinner.” “I need to be asked at least one day in advance to bake cupcakes for a party.” “I need everyone to write their appointments on the kitchen calendar.”
Give your family a chance to discuss their feelings as well. As a family, brainstorm a reinforcement system. This system may be as general as tickets in a jar or as specific as a chart for each person with points towards a reward. The reinforcement system is important—rarely will people change without an incentive.
You may need to continue with regular meetings to assess how things are going. Don’t be surprised if you have to ask repeatedly. Repetition and reward are the keys to changing behavior. Try to catch your family “in the act of doing it right.” When they backslide into undesirable behavior, call another meeting to review the agreed-on behavior. You are retraining them and they won’t necessarily get it right the first or second or third times.
You may learn that your family needs more recognition and appreciation from you as well. Consider that a wonderful opportunity to model what you are asking from them! When we teach our children courtesy and appreciation in the home, we are truly preparing them to be successful in the world. Sometimes, though, it takes making them walk in our shoes for a day (and we in theirs). Your partner can try managing the household over a long weekend or your children can take over a few of your tasks. Sometimes the best eye-openers happen when Mom gets sick and actually stays in bed for a day or two!
An at-home mother’s job is not always easy or exciting, but it can definitely be satisfying. Your family yearns for ways to express their appreciation. When you let them know what you need, you give them concrete ways to show their gratitude. Even better, you model for them an appropriate way to get the recognition and appreciation you deserve from the people who love you best.