During my first job after business school, let’s say I had a little, um, trouble with my boss, a woman who openly despised me. My boss’ boss did me a great favor by slipping me the Harvard Business Review classic, Managing Your Boss . Almost 20 years later, I still refer to my dog-eared copy for insight and counsel.
Too bad Harvard Business Review has not tackled a far thornier post-graduate issue: Managing Your Husband. Mine is no more trouble than other guys. But marriage is tough, and in particular, negotiating in family relationships presents unique challenges. It often makes the workplace look downright easy.
Case in point: Mother’s Day.
Like a lot of pre-moms, I considered Mother’s Day a Hallmark Cards pseudo-holiday. Hard stop at my first Mother’s Day two months after my son was born. Let’s just say my philosophy about the sacred nature of the day had changed, along with every single thing in my life. I assumed my husband’s appreciation had transformed too. So I was a bit upset (for the next ten years) when my husband failed to get me anything for Mother’s Day, failed to even wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and instead launched the lovely idea that we drive an hour to his mother’s house to surprise her on her special day.
As my family grew to include three children, I endured many tearful Mother’s Days as year after year I failed to communicate my wishes and my husband failed to grasp why this one day mattered to my identity as a mom, the most important job description in my life. Gradually I translated the HBR article to domestic life, realizing that managing one’s spouse, just like managing a boss, is 100% your responsibility. Neither spouses nor bosses can intuit our wishes. No matter how sweet, clueless, or frustrating he or she may be. We have to communicate our needs, or they will never get met. If only I’d learned that back in business school.
Now I speak up – about six weeks before the second Sunday in May.
It’s taken twelve years, but finally, two Sundays ago, I had the perfect Mother’s Day.
I slept late. No one woke me, not even to bring me breakfast in bed or to hand deliver sweet little homemade cards. I came down, refreshed, to a quiet, clean kitchen where the children were watching tv and my husband was standing guard to prevent anyone from gaining entry to my bedroom or screaming loudly enough to wake me.
A chorus of happy greetings and a little pile of presents awaited me: adorable cards from the kids, the Twilight DVD (I had put it on my Amazon wish list), an Edward doll (ditto), several framed family photos (my husband did that on his own), and three pairs of shortie pjs from Garnet Hill (I’d stuffed the catalog in his briefcase three weeks before with a giant note that read “FOR MOTHER’S DAY!!!”).
The family took me to Le Pain Quotidien for brunch and I did not share my Cobb salad (no egg, no scallions) with anyone. I went home and napped, then trotted off to yoga while my perfect husband took the kids ice-skating. We had husband-made turkey burgers for dinner while we all watched Twilight and then ate chocolate cake. My husband put all three kids to bed at a reasonable hour. I did not wash a dish, settle a fight, or make a bed the entire day.
And I felt like a really, really good mom who loved her husband and kids madly. The best Mother’s Day present of all. My personal, hard-earned, mom-in-chief bonus.