Modeling Graciousness, Part II: The Long Run

teen couch food

It’s 6:45 a.m., and I’m crying like a baby, you guys.

Yesterday was a long day.   In my house, we relish our weekends, particularly the ability to sleep in.  Of course, I can’t really do that anymore (because menopause and almost 18 years of getting up early to do all the mom things that must be done in the early mornings), but I do love the idea.  And sometimes I still do just enjoy the silence or read or meditate or take a walk.   And of course, my almost 18-year-old has gotten really really good at it, as teenagers will do–it’s their specialty.   Yesterday, neither of us got to sleep in.

We both got up at 6:15 to be ready to leave the house at 7:15 to be at a school that is about a half hour away for the absurdly absurd ritual of standardized testing for college admission (don’t get me started.)  The ride over there went well.  I was sorely tempted to issue all of my maternal “helpful reminders,” but instead, I had a running commentary inside my head that said mostly “just keep your mouth shut.”   Finally, when I felt that I could no longer contain my utter and invaluable helpfulness, I managed to harness the energy to, when I opened my mouth (danger!), simply ask if there was anything I could say that would be helpful.  She said no.   So that was that.  I dropped her off and went to a 50’s diner for breakfast.  This is her journey.  She’s got this.  There are home fries waiting.

And then, later, I picked her up.  Again, it was clear that nothing I could say or ask that would be helpful.  I wasn’t quite as great at avoiding my UIH (utter and invaluable helpfulness, you will recall), but I reined it in pretty quickly and semi-succeeded in managing to shut up, but with a bit (or a lot) of an attitude.  You win some and you lose some, eh?  Can you blame me for being curious?  No.  You cannot.  We do what we can.  We get home.  We process our own stuff.  And then all is well.  That’s what happened.  It’s all good.

None of which has squat to do with modeling graciousness.  Remember?  We’re talking about modeling graciousness?

First…if you haven’t read the blog post–among the most heavily traveled here–on modeling graciousness, do that now.  Or you’re just not going to have any idea what I’m talking about.  Context is everything.   Go.  Do it.  I’ll wait.

{humming, twiddling my thumbs, giving you a little extra time, some people read slowly and that’s okay}

You back?  Great.  So we’re all on the same page.  Terrific.

So (hopefully) you get it that, essentially, modeling graciousness is doing things for others (without resentment,) modeling the behaviors that you wish for your children to adopt, taking responsibility for the “way you want things”, and always acting from a place of compassion and empathy for another’s experience.  It is, at its core, the golden rule . Treat your children the way you would like to be treated.  Trust in the power of modeling and empathy.  You got that, right?

So here’s what I want to talk about in this Part Deux thing.  I want to talk about the pushback.  Not by my daughter, but by my readers.  I want to talk for a minute about all the things that people worry about, or get upset about, or feel resentful about.  All the reasons why people think that it’s a lovely idea, but in practicality, they think that it sets our children up to be selfish and entitled (i.e. “what’s the matter with kids these days”, as if every single generation back to the Neanderthals didn’t think that their adolescents were entitled and selfish, come on now.).  All the things people say:

“I’m not my child’s servant.”

“Fine.  I was playful and helped them clean up with they were 3, because they’re 3 and they need my help.  Now they’re 6, and they should know better by now.”

“Really?  You’re suggesting I just do everything for my kids?  We’re all members of a household, they have to pitch in.”

“How do you handle chores, then?” (I don’t.)

“That sounds like a recipe for raising children who don’t have any skills and who don’t care about respect for others that they live with.  No, thanks.”

“Why should I clean it up?  He’s 10, he can clean up after himself.”

“It’s my job to teach them to be responsible.  (Yes, it is.) How are they doing to grow up and be responsible members of society?”  (Model graciousness.  Be who you want them to be.  Watch.)

“Okay. I can see that applying for little kids.  But why in the world would anyone do that with teenagers?  Teenagers should be helping.  Period.”

Geez, I can’t even keep myself from answering people’s objections when I’m just trying to quote them.  Now you see where keeping my mouth closed on that car ride to and from college testing comes into play. 

Above all, this post is a nod to the people who are struggling with this idea, those of you who write and say “So I’m just supposed to do for them forever?  How does that teach them to contribute?  Why should I do everything?”   I feel you.  I really do.  I understand those fears.  I have had them.  Sometimes I still have them.  I say it to myself, I say it to friends.  When my teenage daughter is demanding or leaves her plates all over the house or clearly takes me for granted, I have even been known to say it out loud (where do people get the idea that I do this stuff perfectly?  Really??).  “Maybe I made the wrong decisions.  Those other people are right, she should have had to do chores.   I didn’t teach her responsibility.  She’s almost an adult, surely she can remember to put dishes in the dishwasher.”

See?  I get it.

And you know what I do when I get it?  I watch.  I notice.  I breathe.  I wait.  I listen.

And do you know what I find out?  I find out that when I am well rested and when I have been eating healthy food (and staying away from sugar, my mortal enemy and best friend) and getting out to the gym or for a walk and spending time with friends and doing things that are fun for me and that feed me, not as a parent, but as myself, guess what?  I don’t feel  those ways anymore.

I don’t feel resentful.  I feel compassion.  I remember how I left things a mess when I was a teenager, because I had other things on my mind.  I remember how stressful this college admission season is.  I remember who my child is, as a full person, not just as the person who left the dishes on the table.  And I genuinely don’t mind picking them up, just as I would wish someone to do for me (without resentment) if I was feeling overwhelmed or really tired.

Which leads us to the key question lurking in our skepticism or cynicism about modeling graciousness:  Who is this about?  Where do those judgmental, angry, resentful feelings come from?  Do they really come from our child and their behavior?  Or do they come from ourselves, from not feeling appreciated (in general, not just by our children), from not prioritizing our own needs (because after all, we’re adults, and it’s up to us to do what we need to do to “feel better”, not up to our children or spouses to make us happy), from neglecting our own joy?   Well, you know where I come down on this.

As I said, I’ve had my moments.  I doubt myself.  We all do.   “You write a good story there, Robin, but look how it’s turned out.  You’re doing all the work and she’s lying on the couch (um…did you ask her to help, Robin?  No, you didn’t.  She’ll just sigh, and then I’ll just be irritated.  Easier to do it myself.  Martyrdom:  it’s a look.)  If only your “fans” could be a fly on the wall…they’d see that it doesn’t work like you say.”   Ah.  Doubt.  And Fear.  They are horrible roommates.   Tell them to change their attitudes or this living situation just isn’t going to work out (Not your kids.  Doubt and fear.)

So, like I said back there at the beginning, yesterday was a long day.  And like, I said back there at the beginning, menopause and no sleeping in.  And lots of exertion from keeping my mouth closed.  By the evening, I was exhausted (on the other hand, my teen went for a run and to the gym in the afternoon…ah, youth.)

And here’s the kicker.  I have a book club coming to my house later this morning.  And the house was a mess.   I sat there.  I sat there.  I got up.  I put away a few things.  I sat back down.  To hell with it, those dishes can wait for the morning.  Heck, all of it can wait for the morning.  (do you ever wonder if this is how your children feel?  this is a moment to identify with them!).  It was early.  Only about 9.  I was, as you will recall, exhausted.  I needed a reality check.   I turned to my daughter, who was on the couch, watching TV, and said “Is it really that messy?  Do you think I could clean this up in a couple of hours in the morning?  I just don’t think I can do it tonight.”   She said “Yeah, for sure.  I really think it’s probably only about 45 minutes of work.”  “That’s good.  Thanks.  Then I’m going to go to bed and just get up and do it in the morning.   I get up early anyway (remember?).  I’m just too tired.  I’m going to bed.  Goodnight.  I love you.”   “Goodnight.”

It’s 6:45 a.m. I’m up.  I don’t want to be, but I am.   Get up, Robin.  There are dishes and sweeping and vacuuming and cleaning and preparation to be done.  It’s completely manageable and it won’t take that much time.  You’re awake anyway.  If you do it now, you can shower after and relax for a bit before people show up.  And maybe even glance again at that book that we are theoretically going to talk about.

Remember my kid?  She’s almost 18.  Remember that I have had more than my share of feeling like she is selfish, like she doesn’t care about anyone but herself, like she takes me for granted, like she should really be able to remember to pick up her dishes.  I have had more than my share of times when I have felt like saying what my mother used to say when I was that age: “Who was your servant last year?”   We’re not so different, you and I.

Remember her?

I got up.  She cleaned the whole house last night.  She left this note on the coffee table:

Note from P
I asked for none of this.  I didn’t even consider that it might or should or could happen.  Never on my radar.   I am up and ready to do what needs to be done.  And it’s done already.

Model Graciousness.  At any age.  At every age.  Not just with your child, but with your friends.  And your spouse.  Come to the task with compassion, empathy, and trust.  You’re raising and living with a person, not a worker.  You’re not their employer, you’re the person that they count on for unconditional love and acceptance.  Focus your concern on cultivating the love and empathy and compassion in their hearts, not the skills on their resume.

Do it.  It works.



6 thoughts on “Modeling Graciousness, Part II: The Long Run

  1. This is so brilliant.
    Reminds me a bit of the time I was in similar straits over having a messy house before a daycare intake interview. My daughter was seven and when I fretted that the kitchen floor wasn’t clean she said: “It’s not the house that’s important,it’s the person. Just look them in the eye, smile and try not to look depressed.” I don’t often ask for or accept advice,but when I do,it’s from my kid.

  2. Robin, I haven’t been keeping up to date with your writing, but I quote “model graciousness” to people often. On Sunday I quoted it again to a friend and later she sent me a link to this post. I needed this so badly.

    I forget all of the time that RIE, respectful parenting, and all these other days of being a mom are ALSO ways of being a… person. A daughter, a partner, a sister, a friend. And that I’m modeling graciousness not just to my son but to everyone I have a relationship with. Why be gracious only with my son but bicker with my partner, roll eyes at my sister, and sigh with exasperation at my mom?

    Thank you. So timely, so helpful and true.

  3. Someone posted your “Model Graciousness” in a gentle parenting group online. I read it last night and felt all the feels. Then I got up this morning to a messy kitchen – because I decided to listen to my exhaustion and crawled in bed after story time last night instead of cleaning – and I read this post with my coffee and wept. Not because I expect one day to wake up to my teenager having cleaned the kitchen (ha!) but this is just a beautiful story and example of how important respectful parenting is. These two “modeling graciousness” posts came to me exactly when I needed validated; reminded that it’s ok to do parenting this way even if everyone else thinks I’m nuts. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this… 3 years ago. 😉 I needed it today, in the heart of covid and the overwhelming sadness of lonely children in the house. Sigh. I will breathe and model and sometimes cry. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *