The 2 Critically Important Words You Forget To Say To Your Kids

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mom and child locking foreheads

It's healthy for us parents to do our share of complaining. The days are long and the nights are often longer. Our lives are jam-packed with a million little tasks and whining, needful children to boot.

It's so easy to feel underappreciated in parenting, but first, you have to start teaching kids please, and thank you. I spend some days feeling like I've been dragged through the mud (sometimes I'm literally covered in mud or other unsavory substances).

As soon as my kids started talking, I taught them to say please and thank you — not just because I wanted them to appear well-mannered, but because I wanted them to know gratitude, to know that there's something wonderful and fulfilling about appreciating what's given to you.

Plus, I end up feeling like a servant instead of their mom if they don't thank me for what I do for them.

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When my kids genuinely thank me, good feelings rush through me and I feel better about the long lists of tasks ahead of me.

I was thinking, though: Do I thank my kids enough?

Yes, I get tired of pouring endless glasses of water, fishing out a zillion cheese sticks from the fridge, wiping snotty noses, and picking dirty socks off the floor. But my kids don't have it easy, either.

It's tough being little, especially when the world expects you to behave most of the time and basically have your s*** together when you can't even read a sentence or drive a car.

In the morning, my toddler never wants to stop playing so I can change his diaper and put clean clothes on him. But really, when he's absorbed in play, he's doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing: using his imagination, acting stuff out, and just being a kid.

And here I come demanding that he stop right now because we have to get his big brother to school on time.

And yet, each morning he eventually complies (OK, I do bribe him with lollipops sometimes). He lies there patiently while I change him, and sometimes even giggles at my silly songs and tickles. By hook or by crook, we get out of the door, mostly in one piece, and mostly on time.

How often do I thank him for doing something that he clearly doesn't want to do? How often do I show him how grateful I am that he ended his very important play at what felt like a totally arbitrary time to him? 

Not enough. That's the answer. I don't say thank you enough. 

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And my older son, who spends six hours at school and then comes home tired to the bone, of course, he doesn't want to do his homework.

After being told what to do all day and (bless his heart) complying, he needs some time to do whatever-the-hell-he-wants at home. And homework feels like an unnecessary task to him, an unwelcome reminder of the arduous stuff he was already made to do.

Despite all his protests and all my nagging, he does end up doing his homework. Yeah, sometimes it's rushed and sloppy.

Sometimes I have to ask him so many times to do it, I wish I could just sit there and do his damn homework myself. But he does it. Every single night. And I don't thank him enough.

When I do thank my kids, they light up. They feel special for that moment, as though the simple task of putting their shoes on makes them a rockstar. Of course, doing what they're supposed to do doesn't elevate them to celebrity status, but each time they do the hard thing, they mature and develop in significant ways.

They deserve to feel the abundance of my appreciation. And just by taking the time to thank them, I'm reminding myself of how good they really are (I definitely need reminders of that sometimes!).

So, dear kids, thanks for doing all the annoying stuff.

Thanks for doing the stuff that feels like a major interruption of the important task of just being a kid. In the future, you will see that my teaching you to do this stuff was for the best. You'll see that life is sometimes about doing what needs to be done. For now, it's hard for you to see that.

Thank you for doing the stuff that every fiber in your being says you shouldn't have to do. Thanks for doing it anyway (eventually!). Thank you, also, for learning to give thanks to me, to your teachers, to your friends, and to each other.

Most of all, thank you for being you. You're exactly the children you were meant to be: messy, freethinking, inquisitive, and creative. Have I told you enough how awesome I think you are, how amazing it has been to get to know you?

I love you to the moon and back, and I'm so grateful to get to spend these crazy, exhausting, beautiful years with you.

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Wendy Wisner is a writer, editor, and lactation consultant whose work has been featured on The Washington Post, VICE, Parenting Magazine, Fit Pregnancy, Verywell Family, Scary Mommy, Rewire, Child Magazine, and others. Visit her website for more.