How grateful do children have to be?

Just the other day, my husband and I tried to wrap our heads around this concept. In fact, we both seemed to struggle with it. We talked for a while and then ended our conversation deciding that, when it comes to our kids, there are two sides to gratitude.

On the one hand, we do not want our kids to take things for granted. We do not want them to be spoiled brats who think they are entitled. We always want them to ask nicely, please and thank you. We want them to know that our life is not the norm for a lot of people. While we do not have the biggest house in the neighborhood we want them to appreciate where we live knowing that some people do not have a home at all. While we are by far not the richest people in our community we want them to understand that they are privileged to have one parent staying home who takes care of them full time. We want them to be happy with what they have – toys, bikes, new clothes, going to preschool, play dates, ballet lessons, birthday parties and the likes – as there are many children in this world who do not have a thing to call their own. These are more of the big, tangible things for which being grateful is somewhat understandable even for a two-year old. It is our responsibility as parents to teach them gratitude for all of this and most of all, we as parents, have to live it ourselves.

On the other hand, we cannot expect kids to thank us when it comes to the seemingly smaller, more intangible stuff, the everyday things we as parents do for them. They don’t think or say “Thanks for cooking an organic meal tonight. I know you really care about keeping my growing body healthy and giving me the best start in life. Thank you for rushing home from work, papa, so you can take me to the playground before dinner. Great job, mama, for dealing with all my tantrums today. And thank you for changing my sheets in the middle of the night because I got sick and had to puke. I know you’re super tired so I really appreciate it.” Kids do not understand how much love, work, effort, worry, and sacrifice goes into raising them. Quite frankly, most adults don’t grasp that until they have children of their own. I remember that when I was a kid I certainly didn’t understand it either. All I knew was that my parents gave me everything I ever needed. It was my “normal” that my Dad worked and traveled all the time to provide for us and still took us to the pool on Saturday morning. It was my “normal” that my Mom seemed to have super human strength and patience to be readily available to cater to our every whim at any time. Was I aware of her stress level or hopes and dreams and aspirations that she may have had outside of the universe that revolved around my brother and I? Heck no!

So why, even with this knowledge, do we still sometimes feel disappointed or frustrated when our kids seem to have zero respect for us as they whine and complain despite the time and effort we put into them? I know I often feel discontented in those moments and wonder what I’m doing wrong that makes them so ungrateful. Or does it? That’s where the fine line between my children’s gratitude (or lack thereof) and my own expectations gets blurry.

Yet, my children have this amazing ability to stop me in my tracks.

In completely unrelated moments, they suddenly offer an overwhelming outpouring of gratitude and appreciation that is so genuine and unexpected it makes up for the frustrating moments of self doubt. The other day when I volunteered to read to my daughter’s pre-k class was one of those moments.

Mind you, it has taken me all school year to finally commit. Why? I was oddly nervous to read in front of the class and the two teachers. Turns out, I am a much better public writer than speaker (never mind that the “public” in this case is a bunch of 4- and 5-year olds) and have zero educator qualities in me to say the least. However, I finally did sign up because my daughter herself said that she wishes mama would come in and read to her class.

And let me tell you, the whole experience – all sweet ten minutes of it – was absolutely everything! All the kids were so well behaved and curious and excited I was there. And they truly made me happy with all the funny and cute things they said and did while I was in their classroom. We read a Christmas book that my daughter picked out and all the girls in the class told me they, too, have and love this book. Score! The main character in the book is revealed to have crazy green and red hair and one of the girls told me that when she is a big girl she, too, is going to dye her hair AND her eyebrows beautiful colors. Priceless! When the girl in the book goes Christmas caroling, the whole class burst out singing “Jingle Bells.” Yes, 19 kids in the middle of 80 degree April weather, completely unrehearsed, singing from the top of their lungs. How could one not smile and love all life has to offer at that moment?

The biggest sense of contentment I felt, though, was when I saw how my daughter was acting in class. She sat in her circle so quietly, listening attentively to every word I said, smiling and winking at me, nodding encouragingly when my eyes caught hers for a brief moment. I suddenly felt so proud to see that my efforts are not in vain and are not ignored because the product of them was sitting right in front of me with big eyes and an even bigger smile.

At the end of two books the teacher said to the class to thank me for reading and to thank my daughter for sharing her mommy. Right then, my daughter ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug in front of her entire class. She was so obviously proud of me and showed me so much gratitude though her actions which her 4-year old words may have never been able to express.

It reminded me yet again to pay attention to the little moments we share and to be able to enjoy them. To recognize the power that the briefest of instances can have when I let myself take a break from my to-do list and break away from the “job” of being mom to just be mom. I felt grateful that I was able to come visit my daughter in the middle of the day and that she was so happy that I did. It made me appreciate this time knowing that in a few short years from now she would probably rather die than have her mother come to her school let alone her classroom.

Time flies faster and faster with every year that passes and when my kids are grown, I hope they will remember these moments and be grateful – just as I am – that we had them together.

**Photo Credit: © Robert Kneschke / Stylephotographs /** 

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