Not my gratitude. My kid's gratitude.
I will preface this by saying that Eve is almost always a delight. She's smart and funny and passionate about her friends and deeply upset about injustice; she usually does what she's asked without (too much) complaint and she is almost completely self-sufficient (laundry, room, homework, etc.)
And she's 16, and so she sometimes asks for things that she's not going to get, and when it becomes clear she's not going to get them, she has the typical adolescent reaction. This includes sighing, eye-rolling and detailing the ways in which her life is soooo harrrd. Our five-bedroom house is too small., Our backyard lacks a pool. We've only renovated one bathroom, and it's not hers. The hundreds of dollars she is given for a clothing budget is inadequate. You get the idea. She's not grateful.
I am not alone. A lot of my friends have the same experience. Our kids are incredibly privileged; they have rooms of their own, clothes with the right labels, and money to spend. At a more basic level, they have loving parents and safe homes and electricity and food and drinkable water. And we are shocked and somewhat hurt that they aren't grateful.
This reaction troubles me. I have the same impulse - tell me you appreciate all this. Tell me you recognize how lucky you are, how many children around the world have nothing, how many children in this country go to bed hungry while you're complaining that we don't have a backyard pool. I hear Eve rail against injustice and wonder why she can't make the connection to her own complaints. And then I answer myself: because she's 16. Because she still thinks she's the center of the universe. Because the terrible reality of poverty and war and famine and racism is too much to bear and she wants to look forward to being a grownup.
I wonder why it's so important that they be grateful. For some reason, this makes me think of Oliver Twist. "Please, sir, may I have some more?" Eve is not a waif on the streets, thank God. I trust she will never have to cower and beg for favors, and be grateful that someone granted them. Eve was adopted; there's an extra layer of all the people who tell me she's so lucky to be our child, and she should be so grateful that we took her, and how we rescued her. Since I think we're the lucky ones, and I know we didn't rescue her - she has two biological parents who love her as much as we do - I shrink from that idea.
I realize that what I really want is a kid who appreciates - who appreciates her parents' efforts to make a comfortable home, and the work we do that makes the money to buy the clothes, and the thoughtful choices that mean we went to Paris and don't have a pool. I also want her to appreciate her privileged place in the world. I also want her to claim what is hers without apology; I want her to feel that she belongs so that she can use her secure base to advocate for the justice of which she speaks so passionately. She's sixteen. Sometimes her pendulum swings over into the petulant. I will try to take the long view and trust that it will land in the balanced center.