How do I get my family to appreciate all I do for them? I feel largely taken for granted and am rarely thanked. Sometimes I go overboard to do something nice for them, and I hardly get a thank you. Sometimes they even complain about the one thing I didn't do. How can I get them to appreciate me?
Cynthia Ozick said, "We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude." I would add, we often take for granted the people who most deserve our gratitude, too. Parents and spouses are often taken for granted because their service or help is expected, and therefore not seen as anything special.
There is no question this is wrong. We should appreciate every act of service, however small, done on our behalf. But it is a tricky thing "getting" the people in your life to appreciate you, especially if they weren't raised with a gratitude attitude. You also have no control over other people, but there are some things you can do differently that may change their attitude toward you. This will mean changing your attitude when you serve people and creating a healthy balance between serving others and taking care of yourself.
1) Make sure you have a healthy sense of your own self-worth
If you suffer from low self-esteem, you are always in need of validation from other people to make you feel better. The people in your life can subconsciously feel your neediness, and it makes them see you as a taker, not a giver - even when you are giving to them. It makes them feel that your gifts have strings attached. You are giving to them so that you will get the appreciation and validation you need. Over time, this will even make them resent your gifts of service because they are really about you, not them. When you give gifts of service as real gifts of love, needing nothing in return, it feels like a real gift to the receiver and it is more likely to be appreciated.
(You can't build healthy relationships if you are drowning in fear that you aren't good enough. You may need to work with a counselor or coach to fix your self-esteem.)
2) Make sure what you are doing is really for them - not for you
What I mean is make sure they actually want or care about what you are giving them. Do you know their love language? Do you know what makes them feel loved or are you giving what you wish to receive? For example, I have seen housewives work hard to keep a perfect house when no one in her family cares about having a perfect house except her. You can't expect them to value what you value. If appreciation is your goal, then do things that are meaningful to them.
You may want to actually ask them what gifts mean something to them. If a perfect house is important to you, then clean it for you and don't worry about appreciation. Men who work night and day to make more money may want to ask their spouse and children if they value having that much money or if they would rather have more time with a happy dad.
3) Make sure you are taking care of your own needs
This means sometimes saying no and not doing as much for them. When you start feeling bothered by the amount you are giving and the lack of gratitude, it is usually a sign that you are out of balance. You are probably giving too much and neglecting your own needs. If you give too much and are constantly sacrificing yourself for other people, you are setting a bad example. Yes, that is what I said. You are actually teaching them that YOU don't matter as much as they do. If you do this for a long time, they will come to see you as less important. They will expect you to sacrifice yourself all the time and they will take those sacrifices for granted. You will also start to resent them for not appreciating you, and this will further damage your relationship.
You must get your family used to seeing your value as the same as theirs. This will also make them appreciate the times you sacrifice to serve them. Your gifts will have more value if they are a little more rare. If you have a healthier balance between giving and taking, you will also feel happier and have more to give. Remember it is your job to make sure your needs are met. You must take time every week to nurture yourself and have some fun. Trust me, you will be a better parent and spouse if you do a little less for them and a little more for you.
4) Set an example of gratitude
Children learn gratitude by example. Let them see you sending thank-you notes or going out of your way to thank the people in your life. Encourage them to send thank-you notes for every kindness they receive. Make sure you are grateful for every act of kindness or service they render to you. Make appreciation a family tradition. It will also help if you make serving those who are less fortunate a regular family experience. My children had the opportunity to work in orphanages in Mexico growing up, and these experiences created lots of appreciation for their blessings. They also gained a new appreciation for having parents.
5) Tell them how much you appreciate their appreciation
Thank them for being thankful. This models good behavior, but it also helps them see themselves as a grateful person. People will become what they think you think they are. If they think you think they are kind, appreciative and grateful, they will want to live up to your high opinion of them.
I had the chance to interview Jeffery Froh, Ph.D., and Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., authors of the book "Making Grateful Kids," on the "Matt Townsend Show" in March. They have done some groundbreaking research on how kids excel in life if they learn to be grateful. Children who learned gratitude when they were young went on to create better relationships and experience more success in every area of life than those who weren't. I highly recommend their book for great tips on raising grateful kids.
Instead of nagging, begging or asking for more appreciation, try taking better care of yourself and needing it less while modeling a gratitude attitude yourself.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a coach and speaker.