Whatever she was doing, and now that I’m a mom I know she must have always been doing something urgent at that time of night, she would stop and rush to greet him.
She wasn’t putting on a show, and she wasn’t a subservient woman, rushing to meet the demands of her entitled husband. She was simply hurrying to greet him with love after a day’s separation. It didn’t happen by accident or by default. It was a conscious choice she made every day. When I got married some of the best advice she gave me was to always stop what I was doing and greet my husband with love when we’d been apart, even for a few hours. It was to show him that he mattered to me, that he was my top priority.
It sounded like nice advice. And I did it for a while. At first. When it was easy. Before I was busy with homework and dinner prep and sports practices and writing deadlines.
But over the years my life has gotten so busy, so cluttered, so inexplicably full of appointments, papers to fill out, TV shows, volunteer service and hobbies. Some things matter. Some don’t. But they all take time. Before I realized it, the schedule clutter of my life was taking up more time and attention than the people in it.
I would notice some days that I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked deep into the eyes of each of my children and my husband and listened to them talk. Maybe I had heard them speaking or glanced their way and smiled. But I hadn’t listened. How long had it been? A day? Three? A week?
I suddenly felt lonely. We weren’t really connecting as much anymore. Small missed opportunities were adding up and I could see the gaps between us widening. A little less respect here. A little more frustration there. And then I remembered my mom’s advice. “Stop what you’re doing and greet your husband when you’ve been apart. Show him that he matters to you.”
Could it be that simple? I decided to give it a try. What would happen if I made a point to warmly greet each of my family members with eye contact and preferably physical contact the next time I saw them after an absence of more than an hour? When we woke up in the morning. When one of us came home from work or school or some other outing. Would it make a difference if we expressed love at first sight on a consistent basis?
I decided that when the kids got home from school, I would put my computer, phone, tablet, graphing calculator and all other Mom Vader devices away and greet them warmly with love and interest. Now, of course, because I can never plan anything halfway, I also imagined myself setting a gourmet, organic, homemade, pintrestable snack in front of them and sharing hugs and smiles all around.
I soon found that the ideal wasn’t always possible, that many times I would be greeting them in the car as we moved from one activity to the other, that often the snack (if there was one) would be a string cheese tossed toward the back of the van. But in those cases, I turned the radio off and we talked.
Nothing groundbreaking happened at first and they didn’t always reciprocate or even fully acknowledge my presence, as they kept their noses firmly planted in whatever dragon book they were currently reading. But we slowly experienced a thaw. The chilly distance that had been forming between us warmed and I found them more frequently telling me about how they felt, being kind to each other, and smiling as we hustled about our afternoons. Showing my family members love at first sight made a huge, simple difference in how they felt about themselves and each other.
The most surprising thing to me about the experiment was how hard it was to maintain. Although things were improving, and the effort it took was actually quite small, it was still effort and it wasn’t second nature to me. It still isn’t. I have to consciously thing about it every day. Show love at first sight. Show love at first sight. Greet them. Don’t mumble hello and keep walking. Put the device down!