Not Ungrateful, but Still Stubborn
Letter from Seeker
I’m wondering if you can give me some advice on how to deal with a personal issue.
As an adult, I find myself having moments where I realize that some of the things my parents made me do as a kid (chores, punishments, etc.) were really good for me. I was able to take care of myself when I moved out of the house a lot better than a lot of friends my age, and I think I was more responsible than a lot of them, too. I’ve got a better relationship with both of my parents now than I did as a teenager, but I still find myself holding back on confessing these moments of appreciation to them. It’s not that I’m not grateful, I AM! But some part of me still hesitates, and I know this sounds silly, but I feel like I’d be betraying that child so many years ago who vowed to never forgive my parents for the ridiculous punishments and chores they made me go through. I know that sounds childish, to hold on to that that anger and resentment, but it was such a motivating force for me at times and it helped keep me going through rough times growing up.
Should I keep these thoughts to myself and find other ways to show my parents my appreciation, or should I betray my younger self’s convictions and thank them?
Signed, Been Raging At Them
~ An Answer ~
Parents expect to have struggles raising children. Many go into the fray imagining they will do it better than their forebears; few believe it will be a flawless mission. Against the popular mythology of the under-twenty set, all parents were kids once – and they remember struggling with their own parents. Are your grandparents loopy? Now you know why, they’ve spent the last thirty-odd years watching her kids fight the same battles. They sympathize with their progeny and root for the grandchildren to be tyrants, all at the same time. That inner conflict must be maddening.
You know, parents are human. One of the first, coldest, lessons of becoming a parent is the realization that an individual is still the same person even once they’ve acquired the title of Mom or Dad. There is no magic transformation the day they are passed the squirming burrito of their own DNA. Father and Mother are still the same guy or gal who could kegstand for two and half minutes, or once had to go the ER for a self-piercing gone awry.
I think most parents don’t count on their children showing their full appreciation for all the valuable life lessons and sacrifices until their offspring are well into adulthood. They’re setting themselves up to be guilt-trippers if they expect more (if that sounds like your parents, yes please comply, give thanks and apologize or risk being miserable and having grandparents who refuse to babysit in the future).
Kids are ungrateful by nature – they kind of always have been. They are little parasites that rely on the kindness of adults to survive – so they expect the things that come to them. The days of being seen and not heard, and sparing rods are long past. Parenting style now places importance on nurturing, teaching and living by example.
Parents are thanked on a couple special days and that’s how it is. Greeting card empires have been built on the premise that once or twice a year, hard work, sacrifice, and years of sweat and tears, be recognized in colorful, gilded print. These notes are treasured, but I believe parents get the most validation out of the people their children become – that the character they instilled is evident in how their adult children live, and perhaps raise their own children.
If they want more validation? They’ll probably take it. If your folks want credit for you knowing how to build a birdhouse, believe me, they will point that out and remind you where that skill comes from. Even though I am a mostly self-taught cook, my mom, a restaurateur for most of her life, takes full credit for my above-average cooking skills. And I don’t begrudge her that. She led by example.
Pro Tip: Any parent is thrilled when you call them up for pointers. My mom, who is well past her able-bodied cooking years, was tickled to give me advice on how to make a chowder like hers. If your parents have a skill set, get some use out of it and make their day. Giving advice is a parent’s favorite thing.
In reference to your youthful rebellion and your promise to self that you would never forgive, an image that comes to mind is the first stage of a rocket – it was powerful, and you couldn’t break free of your gravity without it; but to do you any good, once that big ass rocket has done its work you have to let it go. It served its purpose to launch you from childhood into the adult you are now. You can retrieve it, dust it off as a memento and hold on to it like a rusty grudge. Or you can let it quietly sink to the bottom of the sea and live your life with the values you developed under your parent’s strict tutelage.
As for showing your appreciation? Being the best person you can be at the moment is what counts, right? Your folks will know where you got it. If you have a good relationship with them today, that might be all they need to know about how well they did their job.
If the urge to directly express thanks, or forgiveness, or appreciation cannot lie still forever, you can save that for when you have children, and they are the loopy grandparents. A) You will find yourself even more compelled to forget your promise of youth and B) You’ll have so much more in common.
Do you need some life advice? Submit your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may see your answer get published in a future column.