It’s no secret that the owners of card stores, florists, restaurants, and phone companies benefit most from Mother’s Day. For the economy, it’s the third biggest spending period of the year (after Christmas and back-to-school). But, for many mothers, it’s a mixed blessing.
Even in 2014, the woman -- by choice or by default -- often assumes the thankless role of “Designated Doer.” On Mother’s Day, she gets a 24-hour break from the normal routine. Dad does dishes without reminding, and the kids give her cards that bring tears to her eyes. But what about the other 364 days? Where is everyone when it comes to errands, chores, remembering, and reminding?
It doesn’t have to be that way. Parenting fashions, like skirt lengths, change with the times, as do definitions of “mother,” “father,” and “child.” Once Mom stayed home and no one questioned the division of labor. Now, many mothers work full- or part-time, and parents have “chore wars.” Once, children were supposed to be seen and not heard. Now, they’re so watched and listened to, parents have little time for themselves or their own relationship.
Fortunately, some households have adopted an alternative: the shareable family. Everyone -- not just Mom -- is responsible for “running” the family. Being “father,” “daughter,” or “son” is just as important as being “mother.” Mom deserves to be thanked, of course, but so does each family member, for doing his or her part.
How to get there? Start by seeing the whole, not just its parts. Instead of blindly accepting the traditional top-down hierarchy, embrace mutuality -- a family in which adults and children give to and learn from each other.
By all means, wake Mom up with a tray of pancakes and roses and handmade cards. But, while you’re together having a picnic on her bedroom floor, also make four resolutions that will help you design a “We family.”
1. We will all care for our family. Imagine your family as a cooperative enterprise. As parents, you’re still “in charge” -- directors who set policy -- but everyone is a “stakeholder.” Everyone pitches in to better the co-op, and everyone enjoys the benefits. Depending on how child-centered your family is, this might be a hard shift. Ask yourself: Am I worrying so much about my child’s future that I can’t see how capable he or she already is? And, if I don’t create opportunities now, when will she learn how to sew on a button, run the washing machine, or oil her own baseball glove? When will he learn to plan, notice, make lists, cooperate, and collaborate, or build tolerance for frustration, disappointment, and failure?
2. We will be fair. You can’t magically manufacture more time, money, or energy, but you can make conscious decisions about how to “spend” these critical family resources. Have weekly “check-ins” to take care of business and to divvy up responsibilities. Praise individual contributions (“Thanks, John, for taking such good care of Spot this week.”) and celebrate family accomplishments (“We did our Halloween decorating early this year.”). Brainstorm problems (“What can we do to make our mornings less chaotic?”) and change course if necessary (“We have less to spend for our vacation this year.”).
3. We will remember that each of us matters. There is an “I” in family -- actually, a collection of them. A strong "we" not only cleaves together, it also values its members as individuals. Each "I" is respected and accepted as an essential part of the whole. The good that others do is noticed, appreciated, and said out loud. Take time to learn what’s important to each "I" and what he or she needs. Let family members know that you miss them when they’re not around. The payoff is huge: feeling cherished will make each "I" more willing and more generous in supporting the "we."
4. We will love and honor our family. When you “bank” memories -- of significant events and of everyday moments of connection -- it solidifies your sense of togetherness. Routines, rituals, and traditions make a family a good place to come home to. Revisiting old photos and souvenirs allows you to savor and hold on to the good times, and be proud that you’ve gotten through the hard times. Try to view all your celebrations and holidays through a family lens.
Mother’s Day, for example, is a perfect time to create a different way of honoring motherhood. After discussing the four resolutions above, each family member might write down (younger kids can dictate to a parent or older sibling) one “gift of doing” that he or she will try to give Mom throughout the coming year. Seal these pledges in an envelope and open them a year from now. If you -- the adults -- keep them in mind and allow your children to contribute, you might be surprised to see how shareable family life has become.
Journalist Melinda Blau is the author of 15 books, including Family Whispering, which inspired this post and which is one of Shareable’s “Top 16 New Books for Spring.” She also contributes to Shareable, writes the weekly “Dear Family Whisperer” column for Huffington Post, and blogs at FamilyWhispering.com.