The Motivations of Thankless Parenting

I won’t go so far as to say that being a parent is the most thankless job in the world, but it’s definitely a top contender. Much of what moms, dads, or guardians do is seen as par for the course. You keep your kids alive until they reach a certain age. If you do a good job, maybe one day someone asks them about you and they say, “Yeah. My parents were good to me.”

That’s about the best most people can hope for. There’s little in the way of pomp and circumstance. Fireworks don’t go off for great parental achievements. There are no major awards to be handed out. Most people don’t even seem to notice the things we break our backs doing. In fact, doing what’s best for your kids is one of the most selfless jobs because, most times, even the kids themselves don’t appreciate what’s happening. I’ve had my daughter, while playing a game of Roblox with me, ask:

Will you play Roblox with me later? You never do.

Things got quiet. I looked across the room at her.

We are literally playing Roblox right now.

Without looking up from her screen, she laughed to herself.

Ha ha. Yeah. We are. Never mind.

She wasn’t making a joke either. She was just blurting out what was in her head. Kids are hardwired to know their own needs and focus on that first. That’s not an insult or complaint. It’s just a fact and, I imagine, a part of their self-preservation.

Yesterday, after it came crashing down from its sliding mechanism, I found myself holding our giant downstairs bathroom door up with one arm while attempting to fix it with the other. As I did, Olivia stood five feet away patiently “waiting” so I could help her with a Youtube question when I finished. It’s just how their minds work. I kept wondering how badly it would mess her up for life if the door just fell and crushed my head in that moment. Nah, you go on, girly. I don’t need a head. Enjoy your fancy-shmancy Youtube. I’ll be alright.

thankMy son has Autism and is non-verbal, so his lack of appreciation can almost be comical at times. He’ll come tearing into the room desperately in need of more water to drink. He waves around his empty cup like he’s begging in the train station and I, since I’m a sucker, go running up the stairs to fill it up.

I stand at the fridge door’s dispenser, watch as the cup slowly fills, and then carefully place the top on it in a way that, I’ve learned through ridiculous trial and error, doesn’t send water shooting out of the plastic straw attached. I bring it back down the stairs and hold it out so he can grab it without looking up from his TV show. He promptly takes a minuscule sip and places it, face down, on my couch.

Faster than you’d expect, the water comes pouring out and soon, there’s a big wet sofa spot and an empty cup. Within a minute, he’s back looking for a refill. If I put my hands in front of me in a sign that he understands to mean “wait”, he cries as if I just stabbed him in the face. It’s a fun time for all.

What I’m trying to say is that life doesn’t have moments like the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus. If you’re expecting a monument built in your honor for dancing in circles with your kid even though your back is sore, then everyone’s going to be disappointed.

That constant care and attention, though, does build up a certain amount of long-term appreciation. My role in my home is never really in doubt. That’s something to be proud of and only really comes with prioritizing your family first. I’ve never had to thump my chest and proclaim that “I take care of my kids!” People see it. It’s on display. You don’t need to demand respect when you’ve earned it.

The reason for all of this is more than household respect. In fact, it’s less selfish than anything I’ve ever done. You don’t take on that responsibility because someone offers you a reward. You take it on because something inside you says that’s what you should do. The way I see it, I brought these children into my life. I made that commitment. As a parent, you look at your kids and, consciously or not, say, “I’m going to be the one who takes care of you. I’ll be your guide to the world.” Then, you do it, no matter how hard it is at times.

It definitely gets hard at times. You have to curtail your frustrations, anger, and stressful outbursts. You bite your tongue and learn to get up and go even when your body wants to crumble like graham crackers – the same graham crackers that this kid begged me to get him only to drop them on the floor and trample with his grubby little feet.

Yup. So you suck it up with the Dirt Devil, say bad words in your head, and then do it all again. That’s what we do. You know who’s there to see this selfless act of parenting? No one. Sure, they’ll start to notice if your house is overrun by ants because of your graham cracker carpet problem, but there’s no applause in that moment. You thanklessly push forward because, much like my kids and their needs, it’s what I’ve become hardwired to do. I need to take care of these kids as much as they need me to take care of them.

A ticker-tape parade would be great one day. I’d love a shout-out during the WNBA draft or a song written about me on one of their platinum albums. That would all be wonderful. But, if none of that happens, I’m OK with it. I just want them both to grow up to be the best people they can be and, when they think about me, I want them to know they’re loved. No add-ons like “…in his own way or “…as best he could.”

No. I want them to just know that even if the rest of the world turns out to be a bunch of miserable dipsticks on parade, there was always one man who valued them both above anyone else. I’ll forgo all the thanks in the world, as long as I have that.