I know, I know. There are still loads of shopping days left. But as we’re rapidly hurtling toward extra expensive expedited delivery or a dented box of discontinued scent territory, it’s time to acknowledge things are getting tight.
But no fear! To the rescue I come with a list of gift ideas that will not only blow Mom’s socks off, they’re (mostly) free!
My friend, let me introduce you to what I call Emotional Labor Coupons.
You may be reading a lot about emotional labor these days. But what is emotional labor anyway? Well, essentially it’s all the heavy lifting that goes into life. Emotional labor is all the between the lines stuff. All the extras. Think of emotional labor like a computer operating system. It’s a necessity, I mean, you need it to binge watch Narcos, right? But because you can’t see it, there’s a tendency to forget about it. Yet without it? Nothing runs. No spreadsheet, no email, and certainly no Killing Eve on Netflix.
Here are some ideas for things that will shift just a bit of that behind the scenes burden off Mom’s shoulders.
Arrange dinner once a week. Every week on the same day. Plan it, shop for it, cook it. Or get take out or make a reservation. Doesn’t matter. And this is important: Don’t ask her what she wants. Figure it out on your own. And don’t pencil that shit in, it needs to be in Sharpie. ALL CAPS.
(The best gift I got last Mother’s Day was a day free of food duties. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, water bottles, dishwasher. Thinking about it, planning it, cooking it or peeling it. It was glorious.)
Tell her you appreciate everything she does. A lot and often. Peeling carrots, finding an alternative to the ham and cheese sandwich, trying new recipes, making sure extended family members don’t feel left out or get thank you cards, baking last-minute reindeer shaped cookies for your holiday party? Someone’s doing it. Notice that person. Appreciate that person. Vociferously. A lot. And often.
Wash the dishes in the sink. I know most guys do this already. In fact, most guys are more than happy to help, “just ask–you can’t expect me to be a mind reader, though…”
The gift? BE the DAMN MIND READER. Except it’s not really mind reading, is it? It’s just general observational skills. No one is asking you to predict when the sink is going to be full of dishes or the laundry needs to be put in the dryer. No one’s asking you to shake a Magic 8 Ball to see when your mother’s birthday is. Do that shit without having to be asked to do it. If there’s laundry in the basket? Fold it. If the dishwasher needs to be emptied, empty it. Take the trash out if it’s full. Don’t wait to be asked. Do you know why? Because the burden of noticing, observing, and then asking falls to…Mom. Emotional labor.
Ask not what Mom can do for you. See if you can figure it out before you call or ask for help. Seriously. I’ve been away on weekends with other women and inevitably someone’s phone rings and it’s a spouse asking a question which is easily answerable without help. More than cards and flowers, candy or jewelry, what most mothers really want is a little more head space. It gets awfully crowded in there with sports schedules and birthday gifts and work and deadlines and the thousand tiny things that make everyone’s lives a little more livable. Look, if someone’s in the emergency room, call. If the house burned, call. If you’re unsure if you’re supposed to put the wart cream on before or after a shower? Figure it out. You guys work with sums of money with a string of zeroes behind them. You manage teams of employees. Yet you can’t figure out if you need to bring a snack or if the kids need an extra layer when it’s minus ten outside?
Answer questions with real answers. Example: “What do you want for dinner?” Answer the damn question. Don’t say, “whatever”. You may think you’re being helpful there, but in reality? You’re not. When a woman asks, ‘what do you want?’ she isn’t doing it because she wants to make your favorite dinner because she loves you. She’s looking for ideas because she’s out of them and she just wants someone else to make a damn decision so she doesn’t have to think about it.
Plan a day out. Make a suggestion. Do the legwork, make the reservation.
Here’s a super easy one: DO NOT ASK FOR ANYTHING ONE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS. No grab bag gifts for the office or “can you just nip out and grab the perfume I meant to get Aunt Beryl?” A week before Christmas most mothers are tracking packages, keeping the kids from killing one another, making sure the turkey’s defrosting and that there’s enough booze to lubricate the family gathering, sprinkling everything with glitter and magic Christmas dust. It’s a big, fat gingerbread house of cards. Adding just one more peppermint request, no matter how tiny it seems, could leave you with a woman high on Egg Nog weeping into a gingerbread mess.
Make lunch with the food that is in the fridge. You don’t need to wait for Mom to get home to eat. I promise.
Let her know about that Secret Santa gift more than a day in advance. Don’t spring last-minute dinner plans on her. Even if she is a stay-at-home wife/mother, don’t do that shit. It’s rude.
Stop using her as your personal calendar. She’s your wife, the mother of your kids. Your partner. She’s not your secretary. Make–and more importantly remember–your own appointments.
And on the big day itself? Steer clear of “Are you ok?” or “Do you need any help?” Christ on a Christmas cracker, the answers are NO and YES. Don’t make her list out what needs to get done. Just roll up your holiday pajama sleeves and get to work.
So this season break out your hard hat and do some of that heavy lifting. Trust me, it will be appreciated much more than the new hand mixer. Oh, and for the love of St. Nicholas, do not buy her an appliance for Christmas to make her life easier. That little hand blender might be nifty, but it’s not buying your mother a Christmas card or making sure Uncle Zeb isn’t getting drunk in the corner is it?
I didn’t think so.