Friday, May 20, 2016

Gratitude

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.

9 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how to teach gratitude. I was deprived growing up, but that just made me extremely jealous of classmates with wealthier parents. I also stole cash from my mom's purse to get the things I wanted. So being not spoiled did not teach me gratitude. I think it just takes life experience to feel grateful. Meeting more people and reading more books. This is why it's good to go away to college. Doing volunteer work helps.

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  2. Great post. I like your perspective of taking her age/developmental stage into account. I cringed when, in public, my preschooler saw a picture of a house and said "But that's not a house, it doesn't have a garage!"

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  3. I think the gratitude will come with experience and age. I also don't think having less automatically makes you a better person. She's obviously a great kid, she'll learn.

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  5. Eve does sound wonderful. I do agree that complaining that your (large) house is too small, or lacks a pool, is a little troubling. I have some perspective on this because I grew up in a four bedroom house, with a pool. I went to a private school (sounds like Eve does) so my very well-off parents were less well-off than many of my friends - and more well-off than others. And it perversely is the case, as we all know, that the comparison between ourselves and those immediately around us is the most important thing. I think it helped that among my immediate group of friends I was probably on the slightly more privileged end. I would never have complained about the size of our house. Or in our case, the fact that my parents drove old cars and that we absolutely did not get to go to Paris. As Eve starts to have friends who are less well off than her, her perspective will change. However, if she continues to be in an environment where she is slightly (or perceives herself to be) slightly on the less well-off end, that may not change. I recommend arranging activities, if she does not have these already, where her peers - not merely people who are recipients of charity - come from more diverse backgrounds. I participated in a summer volunteer camp sort of thing that was very inexpensive and purposely drew from kids of varied backgrounds. And of course going to a public school (or a public school that does not specifically cater to the rich) would help. … I want to present the dissenting opinion that you are right to be troubled by these comments by Eve. It doesn't mean she is isn't a wonderful girl who won't grow into a wonderful adult - but she does have some growing to do. She won't see that through your telling her. But you could help facilitate some experiences that will show her that.

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  6. I hear you Jay, and I'm sure you try modeling your own gratitude. Gratitude for small and big things, and small and big ideas and love and emotional support. Agree with you and N who commented above that developmental stage is important. As is taking the long view, but it's so hard in the moment. It could be how she expresses herself differs from how she feels inside.

    Most of all, THANKS for your post.

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  7. Fantastic post Jay! I started volunteering at a camp for kids with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, cancer, etc. when I was Eve's age (summer before college). Sucked me almost entirely out of myself, in a good way. Did I still complain to my parents when my engine went bad in my car because I didn't change the oil ("But you didn't remind me!!"). Yes I did.

    I know it's easier to do this because I'm a pathologist - but the kids spend a day or half a day at work with me, once in a blue moon, and see the whirlwind of people coming in my office with cases and lab questions, and see me running around to bronch lab and radiology (I don't take them with me yet, but maybe in a few years) - and that has helped too. Started asking, "Mom, how is your day?" once I gave them a little window into it.

    I think it is in our human nature to compare ourselves to our peers - we do it, and our kids will do it too. When I get compared to dad and stepmom ("They have a bigger house") I sit down and have a chat with my 13 yo about finances, why I choose to put my money where, and how different people have different financial desires and priorities. I try to give it all context. Maybe someday it will sink in:)

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  8. Actually, Eve does not go a private school - it's a charter school. Some kids are wealthy and most are not. She went to public school through sixth grade in our economically challenged district (70% of students qualify for free lunch.) She also goes to camp with kids who live in much wealthier areas and have bigger houses with pools, so she sees both ends of the spectrum. That's one of the reasons we sent her to public school. We wanted her to have those experiences for just the reasons you cite, and we'll keep at it.

    Thanks for the kind comments. I do think it's important to remember age and stage and not expect her to have our sensibilities at 16. I didn't have any understanding at 16 of how privileged I was - I think in general she actually gets it more than I did at that age. She doesn't have it all the time, and that's OK.

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