Spoiler alert: when I reached out and asked moms about the one compliment they needed to hear and why, I heard a lot of repetition. A lot. It's almost like, even among hundreds of different women from various backgrounds and walks of life, mothers have a lot of the same problems, insecurities, fears, and needs. It's almost like we're in this together, in a lot of ways and more ways than we may even take the time to realize. Go figure.
Now, normally, when I get a lot of repetitive responses to a question I've asked, I usually try to find the one quote that encapsulated the main idea in the clearest, most succinct, poignant way and go with that one, essentially sacrificing the rest. While I was not able to include every answer I received, I kept far more than I normally do, specifically because I felt that the ubiquity of some of theses sentiments, in addition to the specific reasoning behind the answers, was important and just as telling as the answer itself.
So what was the main theme? In a word: validation. Validation of self. Validation of ability. Validation that everything was going to be OK. Personally speaking, I'm a girl who needs frequent and enthusiastic words of affirmation. I used to (OK yes, still) call my mom with proud news and follow up by saying something along the lines of, "Go ahead and validate me, please." Alas, not everyone is as direct in their need for kind words and praise as I am, and their needs can often go unfulfilled. Fortunately, many women were kind enough to open up with me about what they need to hear, so pay attention.
"I just want someone to tell me I'm doing a good job, largely because there are so many ways in which the world tells you that you are not enough, that your kid is not enough, that you should be worried about X,Y, Z...'You're doing a good job' is general enough to make me feel appreciated for my authentic choices/authentic self."
"Hands down the best compliment is when someone tells me how friendly, nice, and happy my kids are. I pour everything into them so a compliment like that goes straight to my heart and makes all of the spills, tantrums, and sleepless nights worth it!"
I go weak in the knees when my hubby says 'You're the best mom I know, look, our kid already knows how to xyz because of you.'
"You don't look like you've had (/or are old enough to to have) two kids!"
"Twice this summer I've had completely random strangers on the city bus come up to me at the end of the ride (we got off at the last stop) and say something like, 'You are doing a great job as a mom, stay strong.' They've usually been older grandmother type ladies. Both times I was struggling on the bus with my kids' public behavior. Somehow that kind of compliment always makes me feel really good. Knowing someone has watched me deal with my kids and I haven't exploded at them..."
I would love to hear 'Thanks for taking care of all of this' once in a while. The paperwork, the enrollment forms, the doctor appointments, the behind the scenes administrative stuff goes so unnoticed and under-appreciated in my world.
"'You have awesome hair.' I mean, I'm surrounded by my children all day. No one appreciates these things. I am still a person." *hair flip*
"I wouldn't mind hearing an, 'I don't know how you do it' from my husband. I'm pretty happy with the occasional 'You're a great mom!' though, and I loooove hearing 'I love you mommy!' (or frankly, even an enthusiastic 'Hi Mommy!') from my kids."
'You are doing a good job.' There are no performance reviews for this gig and it sucks.
"I was recently told how loving my boys are. That is a value I want to instill in them in a world full of hate so it warmed my heart to know I'm at least doing that right!"
"Not long ago, I told one of [my son's] teachers something. It was so benign and regular, but it did show my reality of having two kids, one with a laundry list of things, and my own full time job. I was just talking to her, and she said, 'You are so amazing. You are such a good mom and you're so nice and your boys are proof of that.' And I felt blindsided by the kindness. That was awesome. And sometimes [my partner] will come out with a compliment about me, but to the kids, like, 'We would be lost without mama, wouldn't we? She knows everything!' That's awesome too. For the first [kind of compliment] it's that my ordinary seemed extraordinary. And I guess it is, but it's nice to hear it. And [for the second kind of compliment] I love that [my partner] compliments me to the kids. I love the example that sets."
My dad (who doesn't see the kids) always tells me that my kids always look happy and you can tell they are loved and cared for.
"It's interesting as a working mom who is the sole income earner. I don't hear 'good job' for being a good mom and I don't hear 'good job' for supporting the family because it tends to still make people uncomfortable. My husband get's a lot of kudos for being so super hands on and SAH, being a man doing that job seems to amaze people! Anyway, it is pretty annoying at times, it's like I have to hide my contribution in the background. I'd like to hear 'Good job,' too!"
"The most important thing anyone can say about my daughter is that she is kind and patient with her peers, especially kids who might be struggling or need more support. When she graduated from kindergarten her teacher told me that [my daughter] often would tell her to calm down and remember that they need help from her; she said it made her more self-aware."
'You are the best possible mother to [your daughter]. No one else could be her mother the way you are.'
"I would love to have someone compliment me on keeping it all together. 60+ hour work weeks, twice monthly travel, breastfeeding my one year old, keeping my crazy 5-year-old alive, cooking dinner, doing homework, keeping a marriage together, etc. I hit the pillow at night feeling like superwoman, but it would be nice to hear someone say it."
"For me, honestly, the mothering compliments are lovely, they are...but they are not the ones I need to hear. I put so much into mothering the things, I know I am a kick ass mom. As a working mom, I struggle with finding the balance with [my partner] and friends. So hearing a friend talk about how I am a great friend, or my husband telling me I am his best friend, those are the types of compliments I need to hear, as a mother."
Your children are so well behaved. Because I work really hard to raise non a**holes who can sit in a shopping cart and not go nuts.
"I think the best compliment I could hear is you aren't letting anyone down, you are giving everyone your best and you haven't failed. As a working mom I feel like I'm constantly failing somewhere and someone."
I was hiding in Walgreens breastfeeding my son, trying to not get noticed. A woman and her husband walked by and she smiled and said, 'Aww I love to see that! You go mama!' It made my day. I also like hearing I'm doing a good job as a mom or that my struggles are relatable."
The best compliments for me are those that validate my anxiety-fueled attempts to go above and beyond to prepare and plan for my kid.
Because I'm not a go-with-the-flow type person and I'm not a natural mom, so when I've frantically Googled and researched and my efforts pay off and someone acknowledges it I feel like maybe someone as anxious and unnatural at motherhood can be a good mom, too.
"You look really pretty!"
"Sometimes just a smile when my kid is melting down in public makes me feel like they know it's not my fault my kid is acting like an a**hole."
"I was at a restaurant with my two kids who were both being unappreciative jerks at time. That on top of being 19 weeks pregnant I was feeling really overwhelmed. A man (no kids) walked up to me and said..."
'Take a deep breath. You're doing just fine. This will pass.' I can't tell you what a change he made for me in that moment.
"'I'm happy you're my mama' because I doubt my qualities a lot."
"I received the best random message once:
Good morning, Miss Brittni! I just wanted to tell you what an awesome young woman you are. I love seeing your posts about your boys and your posts about your weightlifting regimen. I sometimes worry that you are much too hard on yourself, so I just wanted to let you know what the rest of the world sees when they look at you. You are beautiful inside and out. You are thoughtful, kind and caring. You are a great mom, wife, sister, and friend and this shines through every day. I see you lift up others and I am certain you do this far more than I could ever know. Just remember to treat yourself with the same kindness, love and caring you extend to the rest of the world. God made you and you are perfect in His eyes. That makes you perfect to the rest of us, just the way are!
So I would say I need to hear that I am a great mom, wife, and friend and that I'm perfect the way I am, I don't need to be so hard on myself. This message really changed me."
I hate compliments, it just feels like more pressure to be 'awesome.'
"I want to be told that I'm good at what I do. Validation. And some acknowledgment that my stay-at-home job is just as hard as his out-of-the-home job. Maybe that's not a compliment, but it's worth mentioning!"
"A woman high-fived me in the grocery store parking lot while I was nursing and wearing the baby, loading groceries into the car and simultaneously shouting at my 4-year-old who was being particularly a**hole-ish that day. She yelled over her shoulder something like, 'You are crushing this!' I felt like a superhero."
'You are making a difference in the world.' Because so many days feel like drudgery, and I wonder if they are adding up to anything.
"'I always enjoy talking with you.' Because as a stay-at-home parent, I sometimes fear my brain and personality have been destroyed by sleep deprivation and household drudgery. And I feel that when I do get to talk to another adult, I babble like an idiot because it has been so long. I need to know people can still see 'me' in here!"
"I always feel good when I hear from another parent about how much their kid likes [my daughter]."
Your kids really love you.
"'You are so beautiful.' Also, 'I really appreciate you.' Often I feel like an under appreciated slob."
"My husband died 7 years ago, and when someone in his family tells me I'm doing a great job raising our kids, it's 100% sincere and acknowledges our loss, so it means everything to me."
Right now I would love to have a mom at school seek me out for coffee or whatever and tell me she enjoys spending time with me.
I feel so isolated and as though I am the only one trying to make friends. I am starting our fifth year at this school and people seem to have their friend groups and I feel excluded. It's like middle school all over again.
"'You are an amazing advocate for your son' ... I work my ass off at therapy with my son, I spend hours advocating for him, and I wouldn't change a single thing. Some days are so dark with my own issues that these lift me up and keep me going. I feel fortunate to be able to focus on him, and I plan to pay it forward by advocating not just for my son, I want to help other families- spreading free and appropriate public education all over!"
"Thank you. All I want is a goddamned thank you every once and a while."