Parenting and Gratitude

A few days ago, I read this post.  I came to it from this homeschooler’s blog and I went back and read the original post, written by a home-educated adult who now repudiates her upbringing.  If you read the comments on Get Along Home, you’ll see my knee-jerk response to it.  I’m not going to quote myself being judgmental, but I will be honest and say that I called her ungrateful.  But the more I thought about what she wrote, the more I began to realize that I was being foolish.

Bear with me on this, please.  Gratitude has been on my mind some ever since I read Christine Carter’s “Raising Happiness.”  She talks about how important it is to teach your children to practice gratitude (and to practice it yourself), but it’s something I feel somewhat conflicted about.  We all want our children to feel grateful for the way we bring them up, don’t we?  We make sacrifices for our children all the time in the hopes that they will feel more loved and more secure than we ourselves did AND THAT THEY WILL APPRECIATE IT.  I myself make tons of parenting choices that are informed by the lack, real or perceived, of something in my own background.  But if I think about it, I will only be able to measure my success by the degree to which Liam has no idea what I kept him from experiencing.  And because he will have no idea how much worse he could have had it, how am I to expect him to be grateful for these gifts that I offer him?

The woman who wrote the article I link to above is about ten years younger than I am and to read what she has written, her childhood could hardly have been more different from mine.  She has twelve siblings.  Her parents had a healthy marriage and shared a strong set of (unusual) religious beliefs, which informed their parenting and lifestyle choices.  They homeschooled and tried to keep their children from being influenced too much by the rest of the culture.  She was college-educated, but belonged to a group that believed that a woman should not pursue a career outside of the home, never lead any life away from her family, and in her own words, be a servant in her own home.  She was taught a distinct vision of herself in relationship to the wider world, but she was also taught that she could have no vocation, should have no vocation, outside the home.  She describes a childhood of endless chores and family responsibilities, as well as of happiness and love.  Yet she feels cheated in a fundamental way, of her personhood as well as her childhood.  She suggests toward the end that children being raised in the way she was ought to be rescued, that it ought not to be possible for parents to so completely control their child’s world as her parents controlled her and her siblings.’  When I read this, all I could think of was how impossible it was for me to relate to what she said and how much I think I would have liked to have had parents I could really trust and who could really trust one another, and how that strong sense of purpose in life was something I learned to grow up without.  Her parents knew who they were in a way that mine never seemed to.

But why should she be grateful she’s not me?  She doesn’t even know me!  But in applying my own standards to her life I realized how it is that I think we expect our children to be grateful to us in just the way I felt she should be grateful to her parents.  And I realized at the same moment that I have been ungrateful to my own mother in exactly the same way.  When I thought about it, I knew exactly what my mother felt I should be grateful for.  She wanted me to be grateful for indoor plumbing, and for the fact that we were not literally impoverished, for the fact that she and my father supported my education fully (emotionally as well as financially), for the fact that no one questioned why anyone would send a girl to college by the time my turn came around.  My mom wanted me to feel grateful that no one spanked me with a switch or a strop, and that no one told me that my heart’s desires were sinful.  And my mom wanted me to feel grateful that I didn’t have to wake up at dawn to make the biscuits and sausage and gravy for the family plus the boarders whose rent apparently included breakfast.  When I came around (that would be the 1970’s), this world was all gone and what was left is what most of my readers can remember. I couldn’t understand then what they were saving me from, but I think I get it now.  And all I can say now is how wonderful it is that I don’t know about these things myself.  And I realize that I am grateful, not just that my parents’ generation defeated communism or whatever, but that they did as well as they did at raising me.  The only gratitude they could have really hoped for in this was what they knew in their hearts: That I would have instantly understood the injustice of how I was being treated if I were suddenly dropped into their childhood circumstances, along with the knowledge that of course I never would be.

How do you teach your kids to be grateful and do you ever feel like it’s a little self-congratulatory?  What are you grateful to your own parents for?  Are they things that you can understand and relate to, or are they mainly relics of that bygone era?


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