The Phrase That Makes My Kids Better People

Parenting, in a nutshell, is bossing around the people you birthed for 18 years or so. But some days, it felt as if all I did was bark orders at my children. I disliked this one-dimensional approach to life with kids so much that I vowed to change the way I interacted with them.

And it only took two words …

“Thank you.”

Just uttering this phrase after my kids did something I had asked them to made me feel like less of a tyrant. Just because much is expected of our children in the way of chores, school work and contribution doesn’t mean parents are exempt from showing our gratitude.

So when they take out the trash, I say thank you. And same for doing homework without a nuclear meltdown (I may even add a kiss for that one) or helping with the groceries.

While I realize that these tasks are children’s way of paying back and being a valued part of the family unit, I still feel it is praise-worthy simply because it teaches gratitude.

To me, part of what is wrong with our world today is that people have forgotten to be grateful for the small things. In a time growing more and more impersonal through electronics and our endless quest for the next big thing, we are losing sight of the exquisite nature of the here and now.

Yes, putting the dishes in the sink is not earth-shattering stuff, but I really do appreciate it. It means I don’t have to and that they get the idea of lessening my burden. It means they are learning life skills. It means they see the world is about more than just themselves.

When you put it in that context, clearing the table is pretty amazing and certainly worthy of praise. And if I feel this way, why on earth would I not say it out loud?

The funny thing about gratitude is its boomerang effect. The more gracious I was, the more my kids reciprocated. My menial and expected tasks such as cooking dinner and driving were soon capped by a thank you from my children.

A mutual appreciation developed over the most mundane things, so when I asked for something above and beyond, the kids knew I would value the effort. These were our first faltering steps toward not taking each other for granted.

There are still spats, bickering and eye rolls galore, but each time I see a text with “Ty” either to me or a sibling, I know the foundation of the family is chugging along just fine.

Certainly if we can muster up gratitude for our family—the people who make us craziest—no doubt we could do the same for the world at large.

I guess that’s really parenting in a nutshell—equipping our kids with the skills and example to be the best people possible once they are on their own. I am thankful for the opportunity to do just that every single day.