More than to expect thanks, it would be helpful just to expect the unexpected...We can begin to open our hearts to others when we have no hope of getting anything back. We just do it for its own sake. On the other hand, it's good to express our gratitude to others. It's helpful to express our appreciation of others. But if we do that with the motivation of wanting them to like us, we can remember this slogan. We can thank others, but we should give up all hope of getting thanked back. - Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library)
"Don't expect applause." This is one of the lojong mind-training slogans that I come back to again and again in my practice and life as a parent. Sometimes it comes to me with a laugh, and sometimes with a sob. I guess it depends on how spacious my mind is feeling at the moment - when it is very contracted into "me" and what "I" would like, it can be painful to be reminded of this teaching. To see how tight my heart and mind can get and how challenging it can be to give to another being, to my own children, and not receive anything in return. No confirmation of how good I am. How kind and patient and generous. No confirmation of being lovable, that I actually exist in some way. How uncomfortable this can be! We are so habituated to look for something, anything in return for our acts of generosity. We get mad if we hold the door for someone and they don't say "thank you"! Then our children enter our lives and we are asked to give to them in such a primal, total, unending way. From giving over our physical bodies to giving them our time, our energy, our possessions, our food...everything and everything again. How can our children ever truly acknowledge this generosity? How can they acknowledge our basic goodness if we do not truly trust it ourselves?
This is one of the reasons why parenting with mindfulness can be an incredibly quick and powerful path to waking up our hearts. When our children are infants, new to the world, they cannot confirm us. They are completely, totally dependent on us for every need and we must give to them, endlessly, ceaselessly, in order for them to survive and thrive as beings in this realm. It doesn't matter if we are tired, we must care for them. It doesn't matter if it is 3:00 am and completely inconvenient, we must care for them. It doesn't matter if we are sick, we must care for them. And they don't say thank you. They don't even smile until they are nearly three months old!
All the parenting manuals say something along the lines of "with that first smile, all the work of the first few months is suddenly worthwhile." What if it is all worthwhile anyway? First smile or no?
Through all their stages of development, there will be many instances where our children do not conform to our expectations of what we would like, or what we think we deserve from them. Can we continue to give to them in these instances, surrendering our attachment to being acknowledged? If we can't do that with our children, how can we truly give selflessly to others outside our family?
I am not saying we should not teach our children appreciation or manners - not at all. The more we teach our children about basic goodness and how it exists in all beings, and how we need to treat others in a way that honors that goodness, the more kindness, appreciation and true gratitude will flow from them.
But we may find it useful to look at our motivations when we give, both inside and outside our family. Can we notice anything behind our impulse to help, any subtle wish of being liked by the other person, or desire to be seen as generous, or disappointment when the other person, (whether our child, our partner, our neighbor), doesn't respond in a particular way? Do we constantly feel unacknowledged for what we do for others? What I have noticed the more I meditate and work with this slogan is that the more I look for acknowledgement, the more tired and angry I feel when I don't get it. And inevitably, the acknowledgement is not enough. When we doubt our basic goodness and look to others to confirm it for us, we will invariably be disappointed.
Ultimately, we are being called to give everything to everybody, whether they like us or not, appreciate us or not, even whether we like them or not! So we need to practice in our daily lives with our dear children, noticing when we want to hold back from them, when we feel a bit hurt by their lack of interest in confirming us and our needs. Working with slogans such as "don't expect applause" is a powerful way to connect to awakened generosity. If you have the time in your day, you could practice meditation for a little bit, then contemplate this slogan, using it as the object of meditation and watching what arises in your mind while you work with it. This can be brief, even just a few minutes. If you don't have that much time even (and there are many days when I don't) then just write it down on a post-it or piece of paper and place it where you might see it - maybe your bathroom mirror, or above your kitchen sink. When it catches your attention during your day, just pause for a moment, let it sink in, and carry on. If it arises in your mind during an activity or an interaction, just notice it. Maybe it will cause you to do something different. This can be a very rich and fruitful practice that can transform our habitual ways of interacting with others.
There are many lojong slogans, all incredibly potent at softening our hearts and minds. I think the best book on lojong is Chogyam Trungpa's book, "Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness". If you have a favorite slogan you find useful in your own parenting, please share it in comments!