My chest tensed up and I held my breath, knowing what was about to happen. It had happened every single evening for the past several months. What deep trauma am I referring to? Dinnertime complaints.
As I called everyone to the dinner table, hungry kids ran in, their eyes searching the options laid out in front of them. Before their little bottoms even hit their chairs, the dreaded flood of grievances poured out. It’s not like I regularly serve my kids oysters and asparagus; it was simply spaghetti and meatballs! But one of the kids expressed their hatred of tomatoes while another grimaced at the fact he had to eat THREE WHOLE meatballs, all the while they also argued about who would sit where.
The pent up frustration over this repeated scenario led me to do something that surprised even myself! I stood up, took my plate to the patio and ate a peaceful dinner alone while the kids sat perplexed on the inside of the sliding glass doors. It gave me some time to think.
Even though I had vowed, as many amateur parents do, that my kids would not be picky eaters, the pickiness wasn’t what really bothered me. It went deeper. It was the lack of gratitude with which they had been approaching things. It’s fine to not like tomatoes, but how about starting with a simple, “Thanks, Mom,” for the fact that a meal was prepared for them in the first place?
How did something as basic as saying “thank you” slip through the cracks of my parenting?
I felt ready to implement some change. After consulting with some of my mom friends, I decided to take one of their suggestions to reward kids who have been heard saying “thank you” throughout the day, but especially at dinnertime, with an Oreo cookie.
Amazingly, it has been working! I hear, “thanks, Mom!” quite a lot these days. But actually, what this whole thankfulness experiment has led me to is a deeper look at my own use of the magic words, “thank you.” As with everything in parenting, the example I set says way more than my words ever could.
There is this weird idea that expectations don’t need to be thanked. But, why not? For example, in our family kids are expected to make their own beds, put their dirty dishes in the sink, and put their shoes away, among other things. Some days I spend a lot of time reminding them of all these expectations, but not thanking them when they do these tasks without being asked.
If I turn the situation around, it’s easier to see why it matters. Just because I’m the adult in our home who makes most of the meals, doesn’t mean I don’t like to be thanked for my effort. And even if as a mom, I’m the one who generally gets the groceries, washes laundry and manages our household, I still like to be appreciated for it.
It’s basic manners. We thank the person who serves us in a restaurant. We thank cashiers for giving us a piece of paper that tells us how much money we just handed over to Target. Why is it so easy to forget to show more appreciation for our favorite people on the planet: our kids and spouse?
Speaking of spouses, even if we both work hard, and even if he forgot or messed something up because he is a human like me, I can still thank him. It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration. It’s amazing how meaningful a simple expression of thanks can be. “Thank you for the work you do!” If you’ve never said those specific words, you’ve been officially dared to try it. Text it, email it, say it and see what happens.
The magic words “thank you” are such a simple and easy way to encourage each other. It doesn’t erase the fact that we need to work on some things or improve some behaviors. It simply acknowledges that we are seen and appreciated.
Saying thank you is magical because it actually changes the perspective and attitude of our heart. On the other hand, complaining drains the life right out of our homes. It is much easier to deal with some of the harder things in life when there is a good amount of positive reinforcement to balance it out, especially in a year that has given us all way too many reasons to complain! If, like me, you’ve had it with the negative feelings that accompany complaining, grab yourself some Oreos and create your own “thank you experiment.”
Watch the attitudes change in your home and tell us all about it in the comments!