“50 BEST GIFTS FOR MOMS” ARE NOT REALLY BEST GIFTS BUT THIS AND ONLY THIS
“‘Why don’t you feed your children first before taking some rest?’ suggested my husband to the heavily pregnant me who has just brought our three kids back from the park, felt too exhausted and gently asked him to look after them so I could have some rest,” my friend told me, and then added, “He doesn’t even put the plates into the sink after eating.” She is a very accomplished professional in her field with a strong voice, featuring in major conferences. Yet she can’t find her voice at home with her husband and ends up outsourcing as many house chores as she could. And yet, outsourcing still takes a lot of time and effort for coordination and there are things you can’t really outsource, from guiding kids with their homework to caring for a toddler and preparing meals.
In one of our chats over the last summer BBQ, two moms said, “We would never move to the suburb. Staying in an apartment like now, at least, when there is something broken, I can call the facility manager to fix it. If we live in the suburb, it’d be me who does the fixing which I wouldn’t choose to because it may take days for my husband to do it. I can’t rely on my husband.” They are both successful working mothers.
This is not just the case for working mothers. “My husband came back from a business trip and complained about something in the home. I explained to him what I had done. There is so much work in the house that he could never imagine. And he said if I went to work, I could not get a promotion. This made me want to throw my shoes at him,” a stay-at-home mom told me, rage surging in her chest.
For moms who made a career detour by having their own businesses, the puzzle is still there. A mom who used to be a designer in New York City shared, “My husband ran away to the office, so I had to do everything in the house, from fixing the roof to cooking to many other chores. I then had to quit my job, made a career detour by having my own business so I could handle my home life. Yet I couldn’t really have a business when everything in the house screamed my name. Now my children are in college and yet, when they are back for the holiday, I am still by default the one who does everything.”
For others who are determined to really stay active by making their businesses work, it takes a lot of courage to claim their working time. “You know, I asked my husband to take leave so I could deliver a client’s work on that day. Working for myself and with a lower income than his doesn’t mean I don’t work and doesn’t mean my work does not matter. And I want him to realize that my work is as important as his,” shared with me by a mom entrepreneur.
These are among the many stories I have heard from different nationalities who stay at home, or working for companies or having their own businesses. In a recent Fair Play facilitators’ meeting hosted by Hello Sunshine, author Eve Rodsky also shared a story told by a man who wrote her that his sister had passed away recently and reading her book helped him realize that the poor woman must have suffered so much from unbearable mental load, work and home, that her brain exploded. Over the pandemic, I also personally bumped into a mom with a newborn who shared she had just divorced. How could she handle life and work without the true partnership at home, especially when her body and brain were still recovering from giving birth to a human being?
Rage. Discomfort. Sadness. Irritation. Helplessness. Do you feel it reading these stories? We talk so much about equality and raising children who honor this. The truth is we are so far away from that ideal as it rarely starts from home. Even when women try to be more proactive, it feels much harder than climbing the Everest.
The real problem is women have been so wired for years to assume and impose on ourselves all responsibilities in the home front. And men were taught to be the breadwinner, the provider and the protector and to prove themselves at work as if they didn’t have a family. In our ancestors’ time, the women stayed at home and cared for the children as well as all things around the house while the men had one big job, which was hunting. Over thousands of years, this has been hardwired in our brains, reinforced by generations. Even though we no longer live in the wild and our needs as humans evolved, from the basics including safety and satisfaction to the highest of self-actualization and making meaningful contribution to the world, our brains are still primitive.
Over 40% of women after having kids step back from our careers, back off from a life beyond the home and the kids every human deserves (and indeed serves everyone else with a truly deeply happy us), and suffer, either it be resentment, regret or a bad relationship till the marriage falls apart. Indeed, in the Fair Play documentary I had the opportunity to watch before its release this July, one woman shared most of her husband’s high achieving male colleagues are divorced. According to Melinda Gates, women step back from our careers or take a job with lower pay to solve the problem and it doesn’t solve the problem at all. Indeed, data show that women suffer from depression, anxiety… much more than men. So this is not simply a family issue. It’s a public policy problem and a humanity problem.
Even when women try to be proactive, instead of waiting for changes to happen at institutional level, by bringing up the topic of getting their husbands to be really involved and have a fair share of the housework before the birth of their first child, their spouses get tense and challenge, “Why do we have to change?” leaving them bewildered, worried and upset. Many are so afraid if they initiate the discussion about their home life, they would be rejected so they felt they’d better keep silent.
In my case, I am fortunate to have a true partner, a husband who is really involved, but there are certain self-limiting beliefs we are still unlearning and the social standard sometimes makes this unlearning process harder than it should be. More sadly, it often comes from moms ourselves. “We can do it ourselves without hiring someone. I and the kids would spend the weekend fixing the floor if I were you,” advised a mom friend. I love my friend but where is my husband in the equation? I do have one. If the work is DYI, it’d be us, all of us. Another concerning mom asked, “How do you bring your kids to the playgrounds when you can’t drive?” Again, why me? During the week, I work, just like my husband, and during the weekend when we go somewhere, he drives and I am in charge of the other stuff in our home “enterprise”.
A good friend of my husband told him it was difficult to live with me. How can someone who never lives with me say that? Yet I agree with the person as I happen to be a woman who doesn’t believe the world would be a better place with women being the CEOs at home wasting her unique talents and not being able to live her purpose and men being the CEOs at work having no opportunities to create the true bonds with their families. I happen to be a woman who believes that equality and true partnership start from home, that a fulfilled mom inspires her own kids to unleashed their full potential, that an involved dad is a caring dad and a loving husband at home, and an inclusive leader at work, that having our kids contribute to the operation of the most important organization on the planet make them responsible and compassionate, that our society is better off with all human beings treated with respect and living our truly happiest and deeply meaningful lives.
So as long as my husband can answer the question, “What makes you proud of your wife?” with something beyond “She is a great wife and a great mom…” then I guess I can live with being labeled as being difficult (or whatever it is). As long as my kids are proud of mom’s work uplevelling women’s personal and professional happiness, enjoy mom’s home cooked food, share with moms stories when having their backs rubbed each night with mom’s true presence credited to a day fulfilled, any judgement doesn’t matter.
So the best Mother’s Day gift one can gives his wife is not something among the list of “50 best gifts for moms” sent to his mail box just for one day, but true partnership and care throughout the year. For when they do, that’s called true love. And that’s when we, humans, really evolve.
P. S. Of course, flowers are still and always appreciated :)
*Amy Nguyen is working on a book about her journey of training her mom’s brain to have her all from more peaceful parenting to more solid relationships to successful career pivot and entrepreneurship. Subscribe to her weekly Happier YOU Letter for weekly happiness-fuelled stories and brain-based tips to uplevel your happiness in both work and life.