Having just made macaroni and cheese for my daughter and her friend, my husband quickly cued both girls to tell me “thank you” on their way back down to the playroom. I didn’t even think about eliciting that phrase, I was already onto making dinner in the crock pot. But he was right. That’s the thing about “thank you.” It never gets old.
Standing in our kitchen, he mentioned the often heard refrain that manners are a lost art. But he made it personal when he said we (meaning me and and all my friends) are accustomed to going the extra mile for our kids and other important people in our lives. But do we expect thanks and gratitude? Do we expect respect? Or do we assume, as I did with my own mom, that thanks will come after they have their own kids and realize how hard this shit actually can be? His assertion is that we do so much for our kids that our parent’s generation did not do. Maybe we even overdo it. And that all that work deserves some respect.
But here’s the rub. My husband doesn’t always thank me for everything I do for him. I don’t thank him every day when he comes home from work for being such a great provider. Should I? Isn’t a sincere “thank you” more potent when it comes less often?
Still, I don’t think my husband views some of the work I do in the same way that I view it. Really and truly, I enjoy taking them to soccer and swimming. I like watching them play. Maybe I enjoy the hour to myself in the car during a rainy practice when I can flip through a magazine without being close enough to a computer or stove or washing machine to dive into my work and chores. It’s also fun to drive them (and their friends) and hear their magical conversations, their fleeting and childlike views of the world. Quietly, with my hands on the wheel but my ears in the backseat, I get a small piece of insight into the huge slice of life they are living outside my home. Making meals, folding laundry, restocking outgrown clothing and combing a knot out of their hair all feel like mini-expressions of love. So it feels almost disingenuous to expect a thank you for something that makes me feel so satisfied.
Does that make me a martyr? Let’s consider the definition: ” a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.” Well, maybe. It doesn’t always feel like such a sacrifice. But sometimes, yes, it does.
Like when I brought my daughter her lunch after she left it at home, only for her to say that it was pizza that day for hot lunch and she’d rather have that anyway. Now that is the moment where you would like some respect, please. (Which is what I asked for and did receive, by the way). But this goes for all people. Not just your little ones. My neighbor recently headed up the auction for our kids’ school and exceeded everyone’s expectations for the amount of money she could raise and how much fun the attendees could have. This deserves sincere thanks and respect from everyone involved. And respect for the resourcefulness involved in such a huge undertaking. My husband greased the chain on my road bike and replaced my old pedals with pedals to go with my new bike shoes. A huge thank you to him! And respect that he is so handy with bikes. The guy at the coffee shop makes an extra special latte which you truly appreciate. You let him know his skill does not go unnoticed.
Where we are coming from as parents however is probably more along the lines of not wanting your child to be an ungrateful, whiny spoiled little pain in the butt. Have you ever had one of those little gems over your house? Do you find yourself saying, “I hope you don’t act that way when you are over your friends’ houses.” In suburbia this week, there have been many witnessed scenes where a child was seeming to expect their parents to jump to their requests without any thanks required. Demands for toys at Target. Yelling at parents to hurry up. Hot cocoa grabbed from parent’s hands at Starbucks. I find it hard to believe these same kids said thanks when they were given what was asked.
How does one teach gratitude anyway? And respect for that matter? It seems impossible. But at first it’s just rote. You say thank you, every time. You write thank you notes, every time. In our family, we make a paper gratitude chain that we string around the Christmas tree. On each link, a daily remembrance of something you appreciated. When I am bitchy or aloof, I try to apologize to my kids and husband. This shows them that I respect the fact that my actions affect them. A small gesture, but it is enough. Grandiose gestures of thanks are not required. Every day in every way, little eyes are watching us. They see us. So does the community.
By the way, thank you for reading!
Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the lovely image at the top of this post. Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography.