I was talking with a friend recently about a woman we both know and her son. She’s been struggling with the changes he is going through in becoming a teen and one of her sticking points is how he doesn’t seem to appreciate all his mom does for him. Between the friend visits she schedules and drives around for and the after school/weekend activities she gets him to, she feels like he doesn’t appreciate all she does for him. She reminds him of this often telling him he is ungrateful, that he needs to realize her life does not revolve around him and that he needs to be more respectful and appreciative.
At first, I was all on board with this. Yes! Kids DO need to be more appreciative and grateful and on and on. We do so much for them, planning events, buying them things, getting them to and from, school meetings, laundry, cooking, cleaning – the list goes on and we get no thanks in return. So often, we become so ingrained in doing for our kids, we forget to do for ourselves. I got myself all riled up in this conversation and then it hit me:
We cannot teach Gratitude.
Gratitude is not a lesson to be learned like English or Math. It’s not something I can MAKE my kids understand. It is not something I can shame my kids into either. I have to model it. I have to model HOW to be grateful to them. This includes showing them how I’m grateful, as well as appreciating and acknowledging when they do something I’m grateful for. I also realized, gratitude should never be expected. I don’t do kind things for others with the expectation that they will in turn be grateful. I do it because I want to, because it feels good to me. If I’m only doing things because I am expecting a certain result, I will consistently be disappointed in life. Not just with my kids but with all humans.
I decided then to become a model; a model of gratitude. I began to do what the “experts” say and started reflecting on my gratitude’s daily. I made more of an effort with my boys, to model for them what it means to be grateful. I wrote notes to them when they had done something that touched me and told them how much I appreciated it and how much I loved them. I spent time each night before bed with them, talking about 3 things we were grateful for that day. I talked more openly about kindness and how my number one hope for them in life was to grow up to be kind men. Men who not only show kindness to others but who know how to show gratitude when kindness is done for them.
You know what? Those “experts” are really on to something! I started feeling happier each day. It’s not like all the stress, worry, frustrations and hang ups of life are gone BUT, I have a little more patience. My boys have noticed it and one day, my oldest and I were laughing and he stopped and said, “Seeing you happy is the best thing in my life.” (I kid you not).
Recently, I experienced what was, hands down, the worst migraine in years. I was unable to take my youngest to school (thank you kind friend for getting him there) and my oldest didn’t have school that day. Once he realized I was in such pain, HE took care of ME! He brought me water, helped me to the bathroom, came in and checked on me, asked if I needed anything. Once the pain let go its grip some, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for his actions that day. I let him know (repeatedly) how much it meant to me and how appreciative I was. He didn’t say much, but his smile and his hug said it all. It felt good to both of us.
I’m loving my modeling career. I hope my boys continue to follow in my footsteps and become models. Because we all have things to be grateful for. Even if some days it is just that cup of coffee in the morning or the fact that your kids are healthy and able to hug you.
Let’s all work on being models.