During my childhood, I was a very respectful child.
I was the student that all teachers loved.
I was the friend whom all moms wanted their kids to have.
I was the kid that all adults appreciated.
How did I become this kid? I don’t give the credit to myself; I give full credit to my parents because they set the expectation early on that my brother and I were to be respectful of authority and of others. Their expectations taught us to:
- Comply with the directions of authority
- Say “Please” whenever asking someone for something
- Say “Thank you” whenever someone did something for us, got us presents, took us somewhere, etc.
I don’t know why I listened. Maybe their consequences encouraged me to follow their expectations. Maybe I loved my parents so much that I wanted them to be proud of me. Maybe I agreed with what they said and so I decided to do it myself. Maybe it was a combination of a variety of these reasons.
I don’t know why I listened and followed their expectations, but I did.
I remember one of my teachers cupping my face in her hands, smiling and telling me what a respectful young lady I was and how much she appreciated that quality in me.
I remember a friend’s dad scolding his kids in my presence because when he took us out for ice cream, I was the only one who expressed gratitude for receiving the ice cream.
I used to be the most respectful kid I knew. But this weekend, I questioned if any of that respectful kid still exists in me.
On Saturday night, I met my family at a restaurant for my dad’s birthday. Beforehand, I knew that we were meeting to celebrate my dad’s birthday and that my parents were paying for the meal. When the bill came and my mom took care of it, I said nothing.
There was no “Thank you” and to my astonishment as I think back on the event right now, I don’t even think that I wished my dad a happy birthday!
This was enough to make me feel bad about myself, but unfortunately it gets worse!
Following the birthday dinner, my mom announced that she had some Easter candy for us. My mom still really enjoys giving us Christmas presents in our stockings and giving us Easter candy. My brother and I (and now my husband) still enjoy receiving the presents and candy, so it’s a win-win!
As my mom started doling out the candy, within seconds, my brother and I were trading candy: my Cadbury Cream Egg for his Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. We started eating the candy; my mom made a pot of coffee. And again, I said nothing!
It wasn’t until we were leaving the house and my husband thanked my mom for the dinner and candy that I realized that I hadn’t thanked my parents for anything that they had given me that night!
How did this respectful kid turn into an ungrateful adult who doesn’t thank her own parents for a free meal, free candy and welcoming hospitality in their home? I wish that I knew that answer, but I’m not sure what happened. And I’m not here to tell you exactly what happened. I think that life has plenty of unknowns and sometimes we just have to admit that we can’t predict with 100% accuracy how our actions today are going to affect the actions of today’s kids 1, 10 or 20 years from now.
We’re human beings, we make mistakes, and we make our own choices, sometimes having nothing to do with how we were parented as children. My choices this weekend are a reflection upon me, not a reflection upon my parents, and I’m the one who has to fix them.
But as I reflect on this experience, I wonder how I would have reacted in this exact same situation with a child.
Our nephew stayed over at our house this past week to have a guy’s night with my husband. They ate pizza and snacks and played games together. How would I have reacted if he had not said thank you for the things that we gave to him?
Would I have thought of him as disrespectful?
Would I have thought of him as a spoiled brat?
Would I have launched into one of those stereotypical adult lectures about how that behavior wouldn’t have been accepted “back in my day” or made some sort of comment about “kids these days?”
Is it fair for me to ask a child to show such gratitude and respect when I have been unable to do it for myself as an adult? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to reconsider whether teaching kids to be polite and respectful is a good thing to do. I think that it is, assuming that I help them to learn these skills by teaching the why behind our focus on being respectful and using our manners.
But is it fair for me to get upset with a child who forgets to say “Thank you” when I myself have learned to forget to say “Thank you” for so many of the things that I’ve received in my life? It doesn’t seem so, and it seems that kids deserve a little bit of wiggle room in this area. Instead of jumping right to the conclusion that no thank you = no respect, which results in a chosen consequence, maybe I can think about the fact that if I have a hard time remembering, so do kids. Maybe kids need a reminder just like I do, instead of a lecture or a punishment.
This does require a mind shift. It can be really tempting for us to interpret a child’s behaviors from our own experience and include our own emotional reactions. I can admit that if I see a child with a “gimme, gimme, gimme” mentality, I do want to launch into one of those stereotypical lectures about “kids these days.” But it is possible that a child who appears selfish may simply be showing a temporary lapse in judgment, not a blatant attempt at showing disrespect. If I can change the way I view this behavior from deliberate misbehavior to accidental mistake, I can tackle the concerning behavior in a hopefully more appropriate and effective way, instead of holding the child to a standard that I can’t uphold myself.