Maybe some of you have seen the movie Lady Bird. It is an intense story of a teenage girl coming of age, doing rebellious teenage things. She is working on finding her emerging young adult voice through her choice of a college, and generally muddling through those difficult adolescent years. It is also about her mother, who is working hard to support the family as the main breadwinner, and is a pretty tough cookie. This is a complicated relationship story.
One theme of the movie is mom’s expectations of her daughter to recognize how hard her mom is working and to show her thanks and appreciation. Mom also expects that her daughter will show some understanding of the value of money….that is……”why do you think we can afford to send you to some fancy university far from home to pursue your dreams?” While that is a real situation for many families – college is ridiculously expensive – the mom is looking for something that she is just not likely to get from her age-appropriate egocentric daughter……YET.
At my house we call this “You’ll Thank Me For This When You’re Thirty.” It goes back to when one of my daughters was 13 and was supposed to get her braces off. She specifically wanted them off before an important event. We went to the orthodontist and he told her she needed another six months. She was mad and sad, and announced that she was getting them off anyway. I told her that she had already made a big time investment in her braces (and us a cost investment), and another six months was worth it for a lifetime of a beautiful smile and healthy teeth. And I told her, “you’ll thank me for this when you’re 30.” She ended up keeping the braces on, she survived, and now has a winning smile. And a few years later, she thanked me for “making” her keep the braces on.
So this has become our family “saying.” When something comes up, or I give the girls some advice, I say, ”you’ll thank me for this when you’re 30.” And we laugh. And sometimes when they thank me for something they say….”Mom, I’m not 30 yet, see???”
Now I must clarify – I am not talking about kids thanking their parents for material things, or for us giving them a ride somewhere, or making their favorite pancakes for breakfast. They should say thank you, and we as parents should remind them or prompt them to do so. I’m talking more about the sacrifices that parents make for their kids, or the good counsel, advice and support we give our kids. That is often not recognized at that time.
Parenting is not really a two-way street. We give and we give and we do and we do. We don’t really do it for the “thanks” (though an occasional thanks here and there is nice)…..but we do hope that our children will grow up healthy, well adjusted, kind, considerate of others, and probably many other things. And so we invest, mostly one-way, in growing good adults. It’s a long process, it does not stop when they go off to college, or even when they graduate from college. Once a parent, always a parent.
But there does come a point when our kids start to notice what we are doing for them, or what we have done for them. It can happen at any age, depending on the kid. Some young children might notice something we have done and say thanks. “Thanks for that cool birthday party.” Sometimes it doesn’t happen until the “kid” is a parent him or herself, and starts to realize how hard we have worked and what sacrifices we have made. Sometimes it might not happen at all.
Parenting is a bit of a “pay it forward” kind of deal. We work hard at raising our kids, not to get thanks, but to raise good people. And then they do that with their kids.
Our thanks as parents come in seeing our kids do good things. The thanks are in watching them be nice to a child who doesn’t have a friend, or bringing us tea when we have a cold, or calling their grandparents without a reminder, or making a card on our birthday. Or following in our footsteps on something which means we have shown a good example, like cheering up a sad friend or cooking one of our recipes. Or showing some responsibility in earning some money, rather than asking us for cash all the time.
So when your children, at age two or age 20, seem a little self-absorbed and self-focused, it is not unusual, and may even be developmentally appropriate. Of course, you can and should point out to them that saying thank you to their mom and dad would be a very nice thing to do and much appreciated. In that way, you are teaching them to be show their appreciation, which is a skill they need. We are not trying to raise entitled children.
But keep in mind that parenting is a lot of giving, and we have to look for our results in the kids we are raising. And maybe you’ll want to say “You’ll Thank Me for This When You’re Thirty” at your house too.