By now you’ve taken stock of the damage. You’ve loaded the recycling bins with mounds of wrapping paper. You’ve thrown out the poinsettia you forgot to water. You’ve started packing up the breakable decorations in bubble wrap. You’ve committed, once again, to not not overdoing it next year.
Besides your oldest’s tears on Christmas morning when he didn’t get the overpriced game he’d desperately wanted and your youngest’s indignant proclamation that she’d gotten the least presents, everyone seems relatively content.
Everyone, that is, except for you.
You tell yourself that this is how it goes for mothers. We’re the ones that make the magic, after all.
You see the memes of harried moms juggling gifts and baking and decorating and cleaning. You read the tweets that make fun of the elaborate schedules we make for the season, wondering to yourself what’s so funny? You see the texts from your friends complaining that they are completely out of ideas for what to get their partner’ parents.
You have this sense that you’re supposed to be sinking into an overstuffed chair sipping warm tea and smiling to yourself right now, satisfied that all of your mothering has created such warm memories for everyone.
But you can’t shake the feeling of being totally and unmistakably unseen.
You don’t want to feel this way. It seems to you ungrateful and indulgent.
You’re tired of feeling this way, in fact. You feel it almost always, at least vaguely. But right now, after weeks of planning and executing and deconstructing, it’s strong and persistent. A hollow feeling in your heart that burns down into your gut.
When you realized there was no present for you under the tree, you felt what can only be described as heartbreak. And as soon as it came, you admonished yourself for getting upset about silly things. You remembered that when your best friend had the same thing happen last year, she went out the next day and bought herself a handbag from Nordstrom Rack.
But you don’t want a handbag you bought yourself. You, like everyone, know that gifts are as much about the actual thing as flowers are about foliage.
You wanted to be known.
You wanted someone on this planet to recognize the goodness and uniqueness of you.
You wanted someone to express how much they adore you by choosing something just for you.
You wanted to be treated with surprise and maybe even wonder.
You wanted, for once, to feel really seen.
Look, I don’t have easy answers for you, my friend.
What I won’t do is to chalk your experience up to struggles of motherhood. I won’t sugarcoat the loads of invisible labor you do. I won’t call your venerate your selflessness as the mark of your love for your family.
Because you are allowed to – no, you need to – have both a self and love for your family.
You need to be tended to and cared for, just like every other member of your household.
You need to be cherished and admired for the human you are, not simply for what you give to others.
You need to be able to feel all the complicated feelings you have – anger, self-righteousness, grief, frustration, hope, guilt, confusion, and hurt.
You need to be deeply seen and known.
My words won’t stand in for the gratitude you deserve from the people closest to you, but I hope that they help you feel even slightly recognized. I hope that you can honor yourself and your longing for more, because it’s what you deserve. Our culture has failed you, and I’m sorry for that.
My one request is that don’t silence your feelings, which I know is a big ask. But please, dear one, know every time your daughter looks at your beleaguered face and asks what’s wrong and you say, “Oh, nothing,” you are teaching her that being overlooked and overextended is okay – that it’s the cost of motherhood.
Let’s today start creating a world in which mothers are valued – not as the magical, boundaryless and selfless elves that burn themselves out for others’ joy – but for being whole, unique, human members of families.
Let’s help each other be seen and never forgotten again.