Shortly after my husband and I were married he told me something on a car ride home from a family event that changed the direction of our marriage and shaped my parenting. Our conversation went something like this:
“I wish you would thank me.”
Confused, I asked “For what?”
“For doing things for you. Like going to this family gathering. I know part of being in a relationship is doing things you don’t want to do for the person you love, I just wish you would say thank you.”
I was a little indignant. I felt like you should just do what you’re supposed to do because you were supposed to do it. That’s what is expected of you in a relationship. If they do something extra-ordinary then of course thank them, but for typical relationship things? Isn’t that a little needy? You need me to stroke your ego every time you do something for me? But I figured saying thank you wasn’t that big of a deal, and if it made him happy, then great.
It felt weird at first. “Thank you for taking out the trash.” “Thank you for emptying the dishwasher this morning.” “Thank you for saving me some pizza rolls.” When I started doing it and noticing him saying it back I realized what it really was. Acknowledgment. It was more than just “Thanks”. It was, “I see you, and I see the things you do that keep our household working. I appreciate that you do those things that no one really wants to do.” It made me notice all the little things that each of us did that I had taken for granted before.
Six years later my thank yous have changed.”Thank you for working hard so that my life, and our kid’s lives are so easy.” “Thank you for keeping your cool when our toddler runs directly into your crotch for the 3rd time today.” I’m so glad that it became part of my regular vocabulary before we had kids, because it has been an incredible tool in parenting a toddler. Magda Gerber, well known early childhood educator and author of Your Self-Confident Baby wrote “When your child does something truly difficult, like wait a few moments for her meal while you are busy, thank her rather than praise her. Say “Thank you for being patient. I know it’s hard for you to wait when you’re hungry.” Positive reinforcement is always helpful.”
I thank my three year old all the time for things that I know are hard for him, sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. For things like letting me cut his fingernails, rinse the shampoo out of his hair, and brush his teeth. When we are waiting in line at the bank, probably the most excruciating things a 3 year old can experience, and I see him starting to lose his composure I’ll say “Thank you for waiting with me. This is taking a long time and it’s no fun to wait, but thank you for doing it with me.” I can see him dig deep into his tiny reservoir of patience and find a little more. (Not always obviously, he is only three after all.)
What I initially thought was an unreasonable request from my husband turned out to be one of the greatest gifts to me, our marriage, and our children. It was so simple and so profound and I can’t believe he needed to say it at all.