Michelle Martin

A pat on the back

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One of the things I most want to instill in my kids is a sense of gratitude. I want them to be thankful for their lives, for the world around them, for their education, for their opportunities, for their siblings, and yes, for their parents.

I know we’re not perfect — at least I’m not. But I love my kids and I try hard to raise them well. That should count for something, right?

But raising them well means not always giving them what they want. Can we stop for McDonald’s on the way home from school? No. Can I have an iPhone (at age 9)? No. Teresa doesn’t really talk yet, but those tantrums are often related to not getting to do something she wants, like playing among all Frank’s electronics or riding the dog.

Part of being a kid is not understanding that what you want isn’t always the best thing for you. Sometimes its the worst. Then again, maybe that’s just part of being human. But hearing “no” doesn’t make kids too grateful.

Of course, sometimes we do give them what they want: an occasional snack from McDonald’s, or an iPhone (at age 13, after demonstrating responsibility with a non-smart cell phone) or a half-hour on the floor, reading “Jamberry” or “Green Hat, Blue Hat” over and over and over again.

The gratitude that wins lasts about as long as it takes to say “no” to something else. That is, about 30 seconds, or maybe a few minutes, if we’re lucky. Except for reading on the floor; then the gratitude lasts for as long as we’re down there.

All I really want is for someone to tell me “Good job! You’re a great mom!” Unfortunately, you get to develop and test your parenting chops when your kids are saying “You never understand anything! Why do you hate me?!” Not that any of my kids would ever say any such thing, of course.

And it’s not like I ever thanked my parents for raising me. I don’t think anybody does. But to this day, if I need help, I call my mom.

That’s where Teresa comes in. As much as toddlers like to challenge parental authority — toddlerhood is an early preview of the teen years, when they will drive off around the corner instead of run down the grocery aisle — they also like to cuddle. When Teresa gets out of bed and snuggles her head into my neck and puts her arms around me, she actually does pat me on the back. Just like she’s saying, “Good job, mom.”

Someone, somewhere, must have told her I need that. Can my guardian angel talk to hers? And to Frank’s and Caroline’s?

It doesn’t happen as often as Teresa’s pats on the back, but Frank sometimes will look up at me and say, “You’re the best mom ever!” even when he isn’t asking for something. Caroline will offer sincere thanks, without being prompted, for the smallest of favors, the things I do for her almost without thinking.

So thanks, guys. When you do things like that, you make my day.