My 12-year-old son gave me a gift this morning before school – the best parenting paycheck, ever! It was unsolicited, and came from the heart. He said, simply, “Thanks, Mom, for everything you do for us. I'm not just kissing up. Really, thanks.”
Yeah, I know, right?! Wow.
Now my son is no Eddie Haskel, and he's not a particularly earnest kid. He's generally witty, a bit sarcastic, and a straight-talker. So it's not like he's given to frequent bouts of gratitude, or anything – though I will admit that he's an affectionate kid, still comfortable with snuggling at bedtime and holding my hand on occasion (shocking, I know!).
So this morning's paycheck caught my attention. Seriously, he's 12!
The Power of Acknowledgment
As you can imagine, I've given some thought to how this came about. And here's my Aha! for the day: by acknowledging my kids for the little things they do well, I've taught them to acknowledge the little things I do, too.
Often parents will ask me why they have to acknowledge their kids for doing what's expected of them. And the truth is, you don't HAVE to. But wow, what a lesson it teaches them.
I'm thinking of one “get-er-done” mom who started working with me when her son was 14. He wasn't doing anything for himself, and she was starting to “lose it” all too often. You can see where the dynamic was heading, can't you? They were on a collision course, and something needed to change.
You should have seen the look on her face when she challenged me with that classic question: shouldn't he just do it because it's expected of him? She was incredulous – and exasperated!
So I asked her how it feels at work when she's acknowledged for a job well done. Truth is, she admitted, she doesn't care that much – she's one of these rare people who honestly doesn't need a lot of external reinforcement to get stuff done. But she recognizes that it makes a difference for the employees she manages. She'd been taught to acknowledge people, and saw the impact in the work place.
So she agreed to try the same thing at home. She started thanking her son for the things he was doing (even though they were expected of him), and recognizing his efforts. And you know what? The NEXT time we spoke, things were already changing in their relationship.
Now I'm not saying that acknowledgement is the end-all-be-all of relationships, but it sure can make a difference for the person being acknowledged!
Conversations Set the Stage
When I think back to my son's gift to me, I realize that we'd had three conversations this morning (on top of years of reinforcement!) that led my son to express his appreciation.
- First, as I checked in with the kids to see if the dog had been fed, while I was sweeping up the spilled grits on the floor, my daughter asked me, “Mom, how do you manage to do so many things at once?” (a parenting paycheck in and of itself, one that every parent earns on a daily basis, even if it goes unpaid).
- Second, in response to my daughter's question (and referring to a conversation from the previous morning), I suggested that it might be helpful if my son would create a morning check-list like we used to have when he was younger. I actually said to them, “you know it's hard to be the frontal lobe for everyone around here – it could really help me out if you do that. It would take the check list out of my brain so everyone can see it.” Of course, I checked in to make sure he understood the “frontal lobe” comment, and I am pleased to report that he did! (in my line of work, that's another parenting paycheck, but also another topic completely).
- As the kids were gearing up for the cold, I simply said, “nice job this morning, everyone. You did great getting out on time.”
And on his way out the door, he stopped and hit me with my paycheck: “Thanks, Mom”!
A Gift for Me was a Life Lesson for HIM
It's all too rare for any parent these days, moving at the speed of light as we tend to do, to get acknowledgement for the vast array of things that we do in a day. It's crazy when you think about it – by 8 a.m. I've generally contributed to laundry, breakfast, lunch, education, pet care, planning and logistics… you know the story, because you have a similar tale to tell!
But here's the take-away I want to make sure you get: when my son took a moment to see me for what I do for him, HE GOT a gift that will stay with HIM for a lifetime. It will shape how he chooses a partner in life, and how he treats his friends. It will inform him when he becomes a partner, and a father, and an employee. Frankly, it will set him up for success in ways I've never considered before now. All from a few “atta boys” and “thanks for taking care of that.”
So, how will you acknowledge your child today?