Authentic Gratitude

May 25th, 2011 by Dionna | 11 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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I’ve had an epiphany about asking my children to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou‘: I don’t have to prove to other people that I have manners.

Last summer we were visiting my mother with our children, aged six years, four years, two years and one month. My mother’s sister dropped by to meet the baby and she brought a gift for him and for each of my daughters. The gifts were exactly to their liking.

My four year old, who is an exuberant kind of girl, shouted ‘Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!’ But my six year old, who is a quiet, reserved kind of girl, said nothing to my aunt and brought her gift over to me, her eyes shining bright and a huge smile on her face. She whispered, “Look Mommy! It’s so beautiful!”

I should have known something was amiss because my mother started asking, “What are the magic words?”

“Mom,” I said, confused. “My kids don’t know that expression. What are you talking about?”

Then I heard my aunt: What do you say? Don’t you have any manners? She shouted at my Partner-Guy: Don’t you teach your children to have manners?

All the joy went out of my daughter. She was humiliated. She had shown how much she loved her little gift from my aunt, but my aunt could only scold her for not saying ‘thankyou’. Then, we were all shocked when my aunt stood up and left the house, offended that we would were not going to MAKE our daughter say ‘thankyou.’ As if I could MAKE the words come out of her somehow!

My mother had sort of an ‘I told you so’ attitude about what had happened. She had previously warned me that other people would not understand our parenting choices and she had tried to step in with the ‘magic words’ talk.

I felt confused about what had happened. Was I supposed to apologize to my aunt to preserve my relationship with her? Or should I tell her that her actions had offended me?

In the end, I did nothing. But I did send a thankyou card regarding the lovely baby gift she had given me.

At Christmas this year my mother gave my daughters beautiful dresses. Again my 6-year-old did not say thankyou, but while we were eating our turkey dinner she looked across the table with a huge smile and her face all aglow and said to my mother, “I love my new dress.” Before we left for home my mother whispered to me that my daughter’s authentic joy about her lovely dress was her favourite part of Christmas.

Aaaaah, I thought. You do get it.

Isn’t an authentic expression of gratitude far more delightful and satisfying than a coerced ‘thankyou’?

I think so. It took me while, but I have learned how to give my children a chance to express themselves authentically rather than in a contrived or coerced notion of what is proper. I use what is conventionally described as ‘manners,’ and I trust that my children will learn to do the same when they are ready.


Patti is a mother of four who follows the teaching of Naomi Aldort. She blogs about her journey of Authentic Parenting at Jazzy Mama.

11 Responses to:
"Authentic Gratitude"

  1. Rachel   bluejeangraces/

    Love this! I have been one to say, “say thank-you” or to say, “what do you say?”. Although, if my children say something else that shows appreciation, I won’t push for more. I think that people who are that offended by not getting an exact response may not be giving the gift for the best reasons…. Good reminder for me too, to not expect certain words for things but to look at the heart :).

  2. Amy   Peace4Parents

    Thank you, Patti. :)

    “Isn’t an authentic expression of gratitude far more delightful and satisfying than a coerced ‘thank you’?”

    Absolutely! It is interesting to read different accounts of what we feel ‘coerced’ means.

    I used to think any mention of what a child could do was coercion. After a while I realized that giving kids simple guidance in the moment from a loving place isn’t force – it’s guidance. Of course they can choose to follow it or not and most times they will if it simply makes sense – and in this situation, they’re already grateful.

    I appreciate you sharing your experience.

  3. Patti, thank you (authentically) for sharing this story. I admire your ability to stay focused on what is truly important and not be swayed by other people’s expectations for ‘good manners’.

  4. Thank you for this post! I find myself confused about people’s reactions to our parenting as well. But like you, I’ve found that even when they don’t ‘get it’ consciously, they always ultimately appreciate the results as your mom did with your daughters love of the dress. Maybe in time it will translate into a true understanding…or maybe not :) But at least we can all soak in the joy of those moments!

  5. Alicia   aliciafagan

    This is awesome. My son is only 2 and just learning his “manners” but I am having a hard time finding my way with it all. This story brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful.

  6. This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot recently and I’m leaning more and more towards not enforcing manners like how I was raised. Authentic gratitude makes much more sense to me.

  7. I agree that authentic expressions of gratification are just as acceptable as “thank you.” Esp. if the “thank you” is obviously a subtle, “thank you, but I don’t really mean it and you can tell by the kind of choking way in which I’m saying it with a frown.”

    I find myself struggling about this issue almost daily. Why do I make DS say “please” and “thank you” if he has asked respectfully/obviously appreciates it? Just to make sure other parents don’t judge me that I’m not teaching my son manners?

    Why do I worry about what people think in my role as a mother when I don’t worry about that in any other part of my life?

    • I can understand your point and I agree that a genuine appreciation for a gift/action/whatever is better than contrived words being forced automatically from a robot-response, however, I might also direct you to the fact that while your shy daughter did show YOU how much she liked the gift your aunt gave her, she didn’t really show your AUNT that she was grateful. If she had said to her “I love it!” or whatever, maybe your aunt would have been more likely to accept that as her show of appreciation? Just a thought.

      My MIL was obsessed with her kids saying ma’am (as in yes ma’am, no ma’am) and it used to bug me when my SIL would answer every question with “yes, ma’am, I did…” etc. It sounded so fake. While I often use ma’am and sir in my own conversations, I have not forced that with my own kids because I don’t feel it’s a required thing to show respect (though I know my MIL would argue that point!)

  8. SueG

    Whoops, somehow sent too soon! I was trying to add:

    Extended nursing and self-weaning are great gifts, but so is a sibling. I feel that ultimately my son will gain more from having his sister in his life than he would have gained from a few more months of milk, and I hope that if your son weans completely you will eventually feel that way too.

  9. Wonderful post.

    I can’t believe the rather childish way your Aunt reacted!

    Of course, I appreciate good manners, but it’s always struck me as bizarre that we EXPECT “please” and “thank-you’s” in return for our gifts or actions. Authenticity is to be applauded and desired FAR more than a rote ‘thanks’ that holds no true value!

  10. felicia

    The gratitude issue is one that I’m a little torn on also. On the one hand, I don’t want to encourage my children to lie but on the other, I know the sting of being labeled “ungrateful” firsthand (being very disorganized about thankyou notes.) I guess right now I’m leaning toward prompting for thank you because I want to spare them that hurt. Yes, it can be a meaningless form but it’s something of a shield too from what can be very painful criticism. And once your child acquires the “ungrateful brat” label, it can be very hard to shed. I feel for you, that’s a tough one.

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