Wanted: Gratitude With No Strings Attached

“Thank you for everything you do for me. I love you. I’m so blessed that you’re my mom.” -Imaginary text of gratitude that I’ve never received from my teenage kids Despite my best efforts to teach my children manners when they were toddlers, I’ve discovered that there’s a big difference in teaching kids to be polite and say “thank you” vs. teaching them gratitude. I know this for a fact, because by the time my kids hit adolescence they’d not only forgotten the word “thank you” existed…they’d seemingly become ungrateful, entitled, self-absorbed monsters. My teenage kids’ gratitude-lacking texts were always more like these: “You need to pick me up like NOW” “Did you wash my football pants yet?” “I need $50 for the school field trip” “We never have anything good to eat in this house” “You forgot to pay me my allowance last week” …and, of course, any text beginning with “MOTHER!”

As a parent of five teens and young adults, my exasperation with my kids’ lack of gratitude has often made me feel like I’ve failed as a parent, and that this sense of entitlement will cripple my kids from becoming the responsible, compassionate, grateful adults I’ve worked hard to parent them toward. And according to most of the other parents I talk to, they’re feeling the same way about this gratitude problem.

So besides the obvious: not spoiling them and indulging their every whim, allowing them to experience consequences for their attitudes and choices, requiring them to get jobs to earn their own money, and supporting opportunities to serve on mission trips and see the world through others’ eyes…what else can we as parents do to survive the self-centeredness of the teen/young adult years? AND WHY IN THE WORLD DO THEY KEEP EXPECTING MORE? I’ve been doing some soul-searching reflecting on why this ungratefulness bothers me so much. Is it because I’ve invested and sacrificed so much because I love them? Or is it because I need the validation that I’m a good mom and it feels nice when my kids thank me? My answer is actually a bit of both, and the following fresh perspective: I do things for my children because I love them and believe in them, and I’ve chosen to invest in their lives in a loving, selfless way that only parents understand. Perhaps what I view as a lack of genuine gratitude is actually my kids simply trusting that I’ll take care of them. Because it’s what parents are supposed to do. And isn’t this what Jesus does for us? God sent His one and only son to die a hideous death as a common criminal even though He was without sin in order to give us eternal life—just because He loves us. But there are many days I forget to live a life that oozes gratitude for this great sacrifice. And there are many other days when I feel lonely and inadequate and I forget how much Jesus loves and wants me. Just like my children expect that I’ll take care of their wants and needs, I expect God to take care of me, answer my prayers, and come through no matter what. And I also still whine a lot when His plans for my life don’t seem to match mine. Yet despite my frequent lack of gratitude, God sticks with me and promises to never leave or turn His back on me. His love doesn’t hinge on my thanks. I’m challenging myself to take the same attitude with my children, and recognize that maybe they aren’t actually ungrateful—they just don’t always show it the way I’d like to see it. Gratitude often comes in hindsight, when kids look back on their childhood, teenage, and college years and the opportunities they were given with the grateful perspective that only comes from maturity. And even though I’d love my children to act more thankful, I can’t gauge my parental value (nor theirs) based on the gratitude I receive in the current moment. If I do, I’ll miss the joy that comes from just being their mom and loving them unconditionally. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself about how God loves me despite my own ungratefulness, and spend more time thanking Him for sticking through life with me. And of course, I’ll be looking forward to the future when my kids will likely encounter this frustration when they become parents themselves, and they’ll call (or text) with a long-overdue expression of gratitude for what they never realized. Excuse me now, I need to go call my mother and thank her…again! ________________________________________

Digging Deeper— Devotions and Journaling

As our kids grow up, so do their expectations. Unfortunately, it seems like their gratitude doesn’t keep up with the pace of growth. It’s easy to start feeling bitter when the bills are mounting, the stress is increasing, and the requests and expectations keep coming. Read and reflect on the following verse from the Bible: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Journal your thoughts about this: Have your kids ever appeared ungrateful for what you do for them? If so, when? And how did that feel? Read and reflect on Ephesians 2:4-10 Journal your thoughts about this: Yes, Jesus saved you from your sin. But rather than think only about what He saved you from, focus on this: What did He save you to? Finally, read and reflect on Colossians 2:6-7 Reflect on moments in your life when you felt an overflowing gratitude for your relationship with Jesus. What prompted those moments? What might you do to experience more of those moments? Up for a Challenge? Write Jesus a thank you note. Be specific, thanking Him for what he’s done for you and your relationship with Him.