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Pretty-please spare me from ungrateful teens, with sugar on top

Pretty-please spare me from ungrateful teens, with sugar on top

Nothing frustrates me more as a mother than my ungrateful teens. Nothing.

I can take the backchat (mostly). I can weather the get-off-your-screen storm (generally). I can even hold fort when the tantrumy shit hits the fan (regularly). But I cannot, I will not, overcome their complete distain for all that I do, all that I give and all that I am.

I know I’m not the only mother who feels this way. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a mum who doesn’t. We give our children so very much and in return they give us so very little.

Actually, we give our children the world and in return they give us:

  • Why do I have to do it?
  • It’s not my turn
  • In a minute
  • Other kids don’t have to…
  • I always have to…

And every other entitled stalling tactic they can muster.

Apart from those entitled moments where they want me to buy them something just because they want it, the ingratitude mostly stems around the housework.  Of course it does – parenting is 90% picking up after your kids (both physically and emotionally). So it stands to reason that ungrateful teens are mostly found when it comes to housework. If I let them (and sometimes I do because I just can’t take another fight), they will literally watch me clean the house from top to bottom and then complain because they have to lift their feet for the vacuum.

It ain’t pretty.

A grateful life

The thing is, I’ve ‘taught’ my kids gratitude from day one. Hell, for a while there I was the ‘grateful’ lady over on Kidspot, sharing three things I was grateful for every single week. My family have shared gratitudes at the dinner table for years.

Believe me, they know what being grateful is and why it’s important to share it.

Deep down, I know that all three teens are grateful at heart. They are good kids. They realise they’ve got it good in life and they do tend to express gratitude for all that they have.

But do one tiny little thing to help their mother who spends her days helping them?

Not on your life.

Lose-lose situation

It’s a tricky one to fix because when I lose my shit from the frustration of it all I feel both guilty (sorry for losing my temper, kids) and even more frustrated. Because I know that you can’t force gratitude. If it’s not freely given and you have to ask for it, it’s not genuine. When I demand it, the only reason they launch into the ‘oh, thanks Mum, we love yous’ is to stop me being cranky and keep me giving them the world.

So they’re still ungrateful teens, only now they’re ungrateful and self-serving.

It’s a bit of a lose-lose situation.

It’s also a bit of a vicious circle. Of course, I’m not actually doing things for my children in order for them to feel grateful, but to them it probably feels that way.

I don’t know, a little ‘thank you’ might even be enough? I do know that there are certain things that will help me feel better about this situation and hopefully result in less ungrateful teens.

Here’s my three-step plan.

Say thank you and express gratitude

1. Model gratitude

This is my best strategy. Just keep on thanking my children when they do help out. 

The same is true for me expressing gratitude to others. I’ll make sure they overhear me thanking their dad, the neighbour, my friends and, most of all, my parents.

2. Notice kindness

I’ll make a big deal when they are kind to others or express gratitude in other ways. I’ll let them know how proud I of them for noticing what others do for them.

If necessary, I’ll point things out to them, like “that was really kind of your Aunty to send you that gift” or “what a nice thing to be able to thank a teacher for doing”.

3. Express empathy

Above all, I need to keep sending my ungrateful children over to Empathy for a bit of a talking to. It’s actually really hard for tweens and teens to “walk a mile” in other people’s shoes (their brains make them very self-centred), but it’s such an important life quality.

I’ll show them how empathy works by saying things like, “that must have been so hard for you” and “I want to know how that felt for you, can you tell me more?” and “help me understand better how that feels for you”.

In the same way, I’ll keep pointing out how I feel when they don’t help me out more around the house. I’ll remind them that we all have to pitch in because it’s too big a job for one person to manage all the time. That’s why we have routines and chores that we all need to do. When they don’t do their bit and I have to pick up the slack, it’s not fair.

I’ll remind them that housework is not my favourite thing either, but I do it anyway because a clean house is necessary for all of us to thrive.

With a bit of luck, they’ll soon get the idea that no one wants to do all the housework, but every one of us needs to.

So, really kids, how about we all just get on with it and help each other out?

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Practising gratitude can help older kids find more joy in life

Feature image Photo by Nathan Dumlao; say thank you by Brett Jordan