Q. This Mother’s Day was another disappointment. I, of course, purchased gifts for both my mother and mother-in-law. By 2 p.m. on Mother’s Day, I still had not received a card or gift, and I knew yet again that my husband had done nothing.
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He then left the house and returned with potholders as a gift. They were nice potholders, but that is not the point.
The fact that he bought them, not my children, and that he had obviously not made any effort to do so before Mother’s Day, left me feeling very disappointed, unappreciated and taken for granted. I was angry at both my husband and my kids and told them so. Their excuse was they did not know what to get for me.
I work many hours. My husband refuses to work. (That’s a whole different story.) I, like other moms, do all the scheduling, planning and everything else for my children. I am still upset. It’s not about the gift. It’s about the lack of thoughtfulness, appreciation and preparation. Am I wrong?
A. There is no right or wrong when it comes to your feelings. The issue here is not whether you should or shouldn’t feel slighted, but why you feel this way and how to deal with it.
The problem is not just Mother’s Day, either. Mother’s Day might be a nice time for people to express gratitude for their mothers, but when there are high levels of resentment, anger and frustration — as is the case in your family — those negative feelings are likely to eclipse the loving feelings typically expressed on Mother’s Day.
If you are angry at your family because your husband is not working, your kids are not helping and every burden is shouldered by you, it’s no wonder you are resentful. Your family, in turn, feels your annoyance and disappointment. Nobody here seems to have much understanding of where the other is coming from.
Your family said they didn’t know what to get for you. This statement implies that any effort would be wrong and any present wouldn’t be good enough. This may or may not be true, but is an expression of their own feelings of hopelessness and impotence in this unhealthy family dynamic.
You are currently the primary breadwinner as well as the family caretaker. So you feel others should be doubly, thoroughly appreciative of you. Maybe they should, but the fact likely remains that your husband is feeling doubly emasculated.
I see this situation a lot nowadays, with men who have lost their jobs and remain unemployed. They feel shame, helplessness and low self-esteem. Some refuse to take a new job with less pay or status than their old job. They may act defensively and take their feelings out on family members. So it is not surprising that tempers are short.
Though it’s great you are able to support your family with your job, your husband might feel humiliated that you have a good job while he does not. The kids are certainly aware of the emotional tension in the house, which is not likely to make them want to demonstrate their gratitude. Besides, they are asserting their independence. Being thoughtful toward their parents is not exactly high on their list.
In sum, this is not a well-functioning family. I suggest you use Mother’s Day as a wakeup call to evaluate how things aren’t working and to revamp the situation. Rather than accusing your husband, tell him you want to understand things from his viewpoint.
Ask the kids why they are so angry, why they think you are so hard to please and why they didn’t even want to try. Really listen to them and envision the situation through their eyes.
If you are doing all the work around the house and feeling resentful because of it, you need to reparcel the workload. There are plenty of responsibilities your husband and children could take on. Help them to feel helpful and everyone wins.
Unemployed husbands are often perceived as being bothersome, unhelpful and generally underfoot. If they are not knowledgeable in the domestic realm, their action, or inaction, can be a big source of conflict. A vicious cycle develops where he feels useless, defensive and eclipsed by you and you feel overwhelmed by work as well as annoyed with him. Both of you are likely contributing to this cycle and can break it by shifting responsibilities as well as the credit for tasks well done.
Frankly, a lot of women criticize their husbands about doing things the wrong way. You can show him how to do things “your way” around the house, but don’t continue to criticize him once you have. It is emasculating for him to be told he has folded the towels improperly. There is more than one right way to do things and you must work together as a team. This will mean relinquishing some control on your part.
Father’s Day is approaching. This year, many fathers are anxious and panicked about being out of work, or are taking on extra jobs. Father’s Day is another opportunity to express appreciation and empathy. Ideally, by this Father’s Day, all of your family members will be able to express thoughtful emotion and really mean it.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Everyone wants to feel appreciated by loved ones. If you don’t, underlying resentments might be coming to the fore.
Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.
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