Appreciating the Appreciation

“Does your husband appreciate you?!?! I sure hope so!” says an acquaintance to me as I am leaving the YMCA, Carlitos running ahead as I yell for him to STOP! and Xavi squirming to get away from the death grip I’ve got on all four limbs as I carry him down the sidewalk.  Xavi continues to try to head butt or bite me since I am preventing him from hitting or kicking me, completely ignoring this woman’s words and only strengthening her point.

I stammered for a second, and then said, “Yes, he does.”

“Well good, because whenever I see you around at the Y those kids are sure making you work!”

How exactly do you respond to a backhanded compliment about a topic as sensitive as your own kids and your relationship with your husband…from someone you ‘kind of know from the gym’?

I wish I could relate some perfectly clever, yet not quite aggressive, retort I had given her with a wink or something. But I just half smiled and mumbled, “Yeah.”

The truth is, even though I was too taken aback to really fight back, I felt extremely defensive about her words.

My kids are awesome kids! Sure, Xavi went through a violent phase before he built up his vocabulary to express frustration and sure, Carlitos doesn’t always listen to me, but they are polite, thoughtful, hysterical kids 90% of the time.   Lady.

And my husband?  He tells me I am beautiful and hot every single day.  He is almost 100% on diaper duty on nights and weekends and tells me how delicious every meal that I make is.  Even meals as easy as hard boiled eggs with toast and arugula.

But here is what I would never tell that woman: I do sometimes feel unappreciated.  Absolutely, I do.

And you know what? I bet my husband does, too.

Even though I try to be vigilant about telling him how thankful I am for his contributions to this family and acknowledging how hard he works.  Even though I tell him how attractive he is, what a good dad he is, that I appreciate him.

The more I thought about it, I realized that when I am chatting with friends or reading magazines or watching TV, one of the most common complaints you hear from one spouse about the other is feeling unappreciated, taken for granted.  Perhaps the most common complaint.  And based on my own marriage, I truly believe that it isn’t because nobody is ever saying anything appreciative to the other person.

So why do we still feel that nagging sense that our significant other doesn’t know how good they’ve got it?  Maybe we are just all doing SO MUCH that it would be impossible for anyone to acknowledge all of it.  Sure, you noticed that I bought groceries and picked up your dry cleaning, but why didn’t you mention the toilet I scrubbed, floors I cleaned or diarrhea butts I wiped?  Huh?  Huh!?!?!?!

Oh, I forgot to thank you for paying four bills on time today, installing two air conditioners and buying tickets to that comedy show for our date on Thursday?  Oops, sorry. Okay, yeah, maybe we’re even.

Honestly, I don’t actually want to be in a relationship where everything is tallied up all of the time (even if I did use it as a blog post title once as a joke) or where we both feel resentful or undervalued.  I think my husband and I both work hard to show each other our gratitude for that reason.

But it is still there sometimes.  That little nagging voice inside telling you that you are undervalued in your own home.  And it sure doesn’t help when some outsider puts it into words.  In public.  When you’re already having a rough moment.

My choice is to focus on my husband’s words of acknowledgement and thanks.  And to remember to do the same for him as often as possible.  And I guess also hope that we aren’t alone in feeling that way sometimes.

The kids?  Forget about it.  Their kisses, hugs and Thank Yous are fabulous, but there is NO WAY to ever truly show adequate appreciation for all I do for them.  A friend’s mom once told me that ‘Being a mother is truly a thankless job.” and she was so right.  Not that you don’t get filled up by their love and affection, but the million things you do for them each day tend to become things that get taken for granted.  Of course I feed you, bathe you, wipe you, hold you, buy you toys, clothing, arts and crafts, drive you everywhere you want to go, let you stick your booger on my shirt…that’s just What We Do.

So, like I said, I’ll stick to the gratitude from my husband.  I will actively choose to hear him when he thanks me and assume that for each thing he forgets to mention I have probably also missed something he did. You have to try to give each other the benefit of the doubt as much as possible or things just get bitter, it seems.

And if you have any perfect responses for me to use the next time someone offers that kind of back handed compliment, I will gladly accept them.   I have a feeling telling them that their face doesn’t appreciate them isn’t really very adult.  Or clever, frankly.

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6 Responses to Appreciating the Appreciation

  1. I totally relate to this, feeling under appreciated and maybe not showing my appreciation to my husband.

    As for that rude lady, I feel giving her an intense stare down while saying something like, “Wow. Thanks for that,” will give her something to think about.

    I am betting that she is not a mother.

  2. Erin – Ohhhh, but she IS a mother! Of 7-year-old and 6 month old boys. That’s the worst part. Well, that and the smile. Grrrrr

  3. Monica says:

    You’re always capturing my thoughts, it’s kind of creepy :)

  4. OR, are YOU capturing MINE, Monica? Hmmmm…???
    ;)

  5. Zoe says:

    Comeback: “Aw, thanks! Keeping up with these two is hard work, but brilliant, athletic, and personable kids usually do need a lot of engagement. And my husband is always telling my how fantastically gorgeous I am, so I guess all this hard work must look good on me.”

    And I know what you mean about feeling unappreciated, but I think of that feeling more as free-floating hostility due to being overtouched/overworked/etc that lands on the closest adult possible when one is feeling cranky (I mean closest both in proximity and emotional distance).

    This morning, we were getting ready to pack and fly to Seattle from CA, and I was sitting there thinking, “I’m not getting up. I’m just going to sit here and see if HE notices that it’s only an hour before we have to leave and none of our bags are packed. I ALWAYS pack the kids clothes and wander around looking for things we are forgetting.”

    I sat there and stewed for about five minutes, and then I starting thinking, “Well, he did the laundry last night, drove the rental car all week, and took care of all of our flight reservations and checking us in. I guess I can haul myself out of my chair just this once.”

    And now, the day behind me (along with 2.5 glasses of wine), I just love him and think he’s the most wonderful spouse a gal could have. And I didn’t actually SAY anything to him at the time about how unappreciated I felt. I think it’s OK and normal to have waves of resentment and anger, but to pick and choose very carefully which issues are actually going to benefit from a throw down. In my experience, there aren’t many.

    They way you write your “appreciate me!” words above, it sounds more like a voice in your head than anything you actually say. Although I have many close friends who do have regular sparring matches with their spouses and have as loving and strong marriages as I do. Are you a “work it out in your head” type like me or do you actually give voice to those emotions when they happen IRL?

  6. Zoe – Thanks for the comment love!

    I like that response…now I just need to wait for someone else to say something as random and backhanded as she did. Shouldn’t be too long! ;)

    And no, I do my best not to always say when there are ‘appreciation’ issues. While it is great to speak your mind in any relationship (especially a marriage), I agree with you that this particular issues often seems to work itself out pretty quickly in my mind and therefor isn’t worth upsetting the other person or fighting with them.

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