Ungratefulness vs. Reality Check

Today was the last day of a 2-week Clay series, I called it “Clay Week” but in my head it was pretty much H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks Week(s). Almost every teacher who dropped their kids off at my door took one look and said, “Wow, you’re brave” (Translation: “you are one buckle short of a straightjacket, Lady!”). It wasn’t that bad, but it was definitely borderline insane. Today was the toughest, with an extra added class as a reschedule from earlier in the week, which meant I had zero prep time, zero lunch, zero time to pee, and spent my 10 min turnarounds flinging clay crumbles off the table, and trying to carefully maneuver around creative drying spots for the multitude of snowmen, dragons, one-legged lunch ladies (yes, there is one), ornaments, and mini-football fields (yes, one of those too). I’m just praying this air-dry clay holds up…I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot of one-armed snowmen.

Every time I start to think that I can’t possibly make it in this career the rest of the school year, I run into a student at the store, a soccer game or the park, and the way their faces light up and say, “Hi Mrs. McGreevey!!!” makes me inwardly groan and say, “Darn it, God. Why do you insist on proving your point that I’m right where you need me to be at the moment?!” 😉

Today, I overheard a conversation between two boys while they were rolling out their clay, starting out very lighthearted and conversational, and escalating into fervently adamant rebuke. It started something like, “I’m going to make a bell shape ornament and give it to Taco Bell…maybe they’ll give me a free burrito if I give it to them!” to which the other 3rd grader burst in, “You don’t give someone something because you want something in return! You give something because you just want to give it!” Sigh. These are the moments, when I’m prompted by a child, to think a little bit deeper on something that’s eating at me.

Just this morning, Kris and I had a very short, passing conversation that had haunted me all day – just a bit unsettling. He was relaying a brief overview of a recent conversation he’d had with a good friend about adoption. His friend had had an encounter with yet another adoptive parent (yes there are a lot of us out there! LOL) who had voiced that they were having a hard time with the fact that their child (adoptee) wasn’t grateful. I said, “Grateful for what?” Apparently that their child wasn’t grateful for the fact that they had been adopted. Kris laughed and told me that his immediate response was, “When was the last time your biological children (no matter what age) said, “Mom, thanks for giving birth to me!” I concurred, echoing his amusement, because I know that there are very few children who would actually be given the label “grateful” for anything that they have – whether it be food, family, housing, location, etc. etc. Kids just don’t get it.

But that conversation got me thinking – how many adoptive parents are battling this emotional struggle months or even years after their kids come home, just wanting their kids to turn around and say, “Thank you”? What unspoken (or sometimes verbalized) frustrations do you have surrounding your child’s perceived “ungratefulness” for “everything you have done for them”? Is this striking a chord in your heart? It may be tweaking just a little bit of ugly in your gut at the moment. You may be nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, totally, my kid just doesn’t get it – they don’t appreciate anything they have now, they aren’t grateful for where they are vs. where they would have been if we hadn’t completed this adoption,” or “Why can’t they see how difficult their life was, compared to how awesome it is now, and appreciate that difference?!”

Can I say something that might sound harsh?

Why do you need them to?

If your motivation for adoption was to give – to give love, to give family, to give unconditional opportunity, to give hope – I’m assuming your commitment to giving all of this to your adopted child wasn’t “I’ll love you but only if you love me in return”, or “We’ll be your family, but only if you accept us as your family”, or “we’ll give you unconditional opportunity but only if you actually utilize it”, or “we’ll give you hope but only if you give us something to know it was worth our while”.

But let’s circle back to my 3rd grade boys’ Art Class conversation. When we give, it should just be because we want to GIVE; gifts should be given freely, without expecting reciprocation. So when you give the gift of love to your biological children, are you emotionally distraught when they don’t say “thank you for loving me”? or “Thank you for being such an awesome mom/dad”? Probably not. They are kids, they see the world different than we do – as they age their brains will mature and maybe some day they will realize just how awesome you are – probably when they are 35-70 years old – and they might tell you. So why do we sometimes get our hearts in a twist when our adoptive kiddos don’t reciprocate with a heartfelt thankfulness for their new family situation?

I’ll tell you what I see in my 7-year-old. He says “thank you” when given a gift, when given his food, or something that he’s asked for, like a glass of water. But his life prior to Adopted Life for him was so completely normal, he may not see the true reality of his situation until he’s an adult. Kind of like if you grew up in a low-income family like me, I don’t remember ever thinking that I was embarrassed of my house, or the neighborhood I lived in. I don’t remember being embarrassed that I had to ride the bus to get to where I wanted to go or that I lived in hand-me-downs or bought my own clothes from discount stores, Goodwill, or Fred Meyer when I really saved enough of my babysitting money. It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that there was at least one Thanksgiving where the Thanksgiving Food Box appeared on our front porch, and another one at Christmas with small gifts in it. It was just normal life, and I was a happy kid. This is how I imagine Wes’ view of his past life is. He talks about his orphanage with matter-of-fact-ness, about his friends and stories of things that happened with a nonchalance assumption that everything was absolutely normal. He would probably tell you that there was never a time when he was really hungry, but I know there was. His “family” was the 120+ people at his orphanage, he wasn’t “alone”. We didn’t “save” him from anything.

The truth is is, there is nothing I expect him to be “thankful” or “grateful” for – besides learning thankfulness and gratefulness from this point forward just as my bio kids have been learning since they were old enough to grasp the concept.

I want him to eventually understand that he is blessed to live in a modern day “land of plenty” with opportunities, with thousands of schools to choose from, with plenty of jobs, with technology and networking, with food, with clothing, with amazing friends and an incredible family – but not because he’s adopted. Simply because he is alive, and is a citizen of the United States, just in the same way that we teach our bio kids to appreciate the same things for the same reasons.

If Wes turns 38 and is married and has children and is working hard and calls me up one day and says, “Mom, I just wanted to say Thank you for bringing me into this family and for …” I’ll stop him right there, and I’ll say, “Wesley Wadnelson. You’re welcome. For loving you. Because you’re my son. And there is nothing I would rather be, than be your mom.”

There are days, many many many days, as a parent that are completely thankless. But just because our kids don’t tell us thank you for dinner, and thank you for tucking them in, and thank you for driving me to youth group, and thank you for buying me a homecoming dress, and thank you for packing my lunch, and thank you for doing my laundry, and thank you for cleaning up my puke, and thank you for…(you get the idea), it doesn’t mean that we just up and quit being a parent and go on strike. But we also can’t expect our kids to fully understand, whether adopted or biological, the extent to which we have sacrificed livelihood, income, relationships, free time, brain cells, sleep, etc. etc. so that they could grow up the way they did. They are kids. And many of those kids will continue to be kids in that regard until they are on their deathbed. So be it. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that your child is ungrateful because they don’t recognize how good they have it here, or how amazing you are as an adoptive parent. It’s just “normal” for them. It may be the “new normal”, but it’s normal just the same, and they’re just a kid.

I hope this makes sense. I encourage you to teach gratefulness in other areas moving forward, being grateful for their home, their family and their parents is one thing, but being grateful for their adoptive family having “saved” or extracted them from something lesser is an expectation that I believe should never be placed on your adoptive child. I don’t ever want my son to feel that he “owes” me anything. If I am expecting gratefulness from him regarding his new Adopted Life living situation, I’m expecting him to “owe” me thanks, and that’s not fair. His life here with us, as a part of our family is unconditional. It is forever, no strings attached. My gift of motherhood to him is open-ended, non-confined, and full of UN-expectation.

I love you because you’re my son. You’re my son, because I love you. And there is nothing I’d rather be than your mom.


And all this talk about gratefulness and teaching them to appreciate what they have – we think they just don’t get it, and then Wes comes up to me today and says, “Mommy, can I bring some food to school? I want to bring it for the people that don’t have some.”


I don’t mind if he never feels grateful for or exhibits thankfulness for his adoption. In fact, I would rather he not. I would rather he just be thankful that he has a super cool mom that he loves, that is fun and silly, who sings with him and laughs with him, who corrects and teaches him, who encourages and inspires him. For me, that’s enough – and I hope that can be enough for you as well.


One thought on “Ungratefulness vs. Reality Check

  1. Mary GB says:

    I love reading your blog, thank you for braving the wilderness to write and share your family and heart. Blessings to the McGreevey family!

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