Should Motherhood Be a Thankless Job?

Should women thank men for doing the dishes ?
Fathers can role model gratitude toward mothers, too, especially for kids who are too young to really make the connection themselves. And showing gratitude toward your co-parent has the added benefit of strengthening your marriage . Research has shown that when spouses show appreciation for each other, they are more satisfied in their relationships, feel closer to one another, and are more likely to stay in their relationship longer.
Mothers can act as role models of gratitude themselves, by giving thanks to others—including our kids and co-parents—who do kind things for us. If our kids observe us showing appreciation, they are more apt to imitate us, especially since kids tend to do what we do, not what we say to do. And they will appreciate the acknowledgment we give to them and to their dads, particularly if we avoid the temptation to couch our thanks in criticism for what they aren’t doing.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to gratitude that can be difficult to break through, including a child’s inability to see much beyond him or herself—a self-focus that can be developmentally normal. But exposing kids to the hardships of others—through stories or volunteer community service, for example—can help them recognize that not everyone has the same gifts in life, and to think more carefully about and to appreciate what they’ve been given.
Sadly, many American children today—including mine—live in a media-fueled world. Advertising that promotes consumerism at the expense of thoughtfulness can distract kids from reflecting on what’s important to them, like their relationships with parents and others. As Froh and Bono write, advertising encourages impulsivity and self-indulgence, which is “antithetical to gratitude,” and may also communicate to kids (and fathers) that buying a gift or a card is what mothers really want on Mother’s Day.
Thanks: More than a gift
There’s probably no research to test this directly, but I’m guessing that a thoughtful, heart-felt “thank you” to mothers on Mother’s Day would please more than a gift. In employee surveys, researchers have found that workers are happiest and most motivated when they feel appreciated. In fact, some management researchers argue that expressions of thanks are more important than raises for increasing employee motivation. Of course, I’m not suggesting that my kids are my bosses—much as it may feel like that, at times. But I am suggesting that appreciation can be more meaningful than gifts.
Some might object that the joy of parenting springs from giving without expecting anything in return. I agree; we should preserve at least one place of total altruism in our lives. But here’s the good news: encouraging your kids to give thanks to you might benefit them more than you. Studies have shown that expressing appreciation for someone in your life—through letters or in person—increases your happiness and life satisfaction and lowers levels of depression.
Saying thanks also strengthens social relationships , according to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, at the University of California, Davis. It may be because expressing gratitude releases oxytocin—the tend-and-befriend hormone that has also been implicated in increasing trust, generosity, and positive emotions. Encouraging children to recognize our contributions to their wellbeing can help improve our parent/child relationship, as well as promote acts of gratitude in other social settings. And oxytocin never hurt a marriage, either.
Of course, if your kids aren’t in the habit of practicing gratitude already, it may be premature to expect them to suddenly start valuing all you do for them right on time for Mother’s Day. Gratitude training for kids takes time and effort, though the payoffs are large. Froh and Bono’s book can help parents get ideas about how to teach kids gratitude over the long haul.
The GGSC's coverage of gratitude is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Expanding Gratitude project.
But here’s where dads can lead the way. Fathers, you can encourage your children to think of all that their mothers do for them and make sure they let their moms know. I have a good friend whose husband encourages their kids to make a poster on Mother’s Day listing the fifty things they most love about her, which she hangs proudly on her bedroom wall. Depending on your kids, fifty may be too many to think of. But, dads can help out, maybe even adding to the list themselves.
So, I’ll put in my bid for a thank you this Mother’s Day, in whatever form. No flowers or Hallmark card would do as much for me as the sense of knowing that my kids recognize the efforts I put in to care for them and that they feel grateful I’m their mom.
And, happily, the reverse is also true: I feel very, very grateful for my kids. On Mother’s Day, my plan is to say so, loud and clear.

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