My wise and beautiful friend Sarah once told me that the key to a happy relationship is feeling appreciated.
Someone told it to Oprah, she said, so it must be true. I adore Oprah and I believe she only listens to people with very good advice, except for the people who told her to start selling chai tea at Starbucks, which is ridiculous.
But back to being appreciated. Doesn't that make sense? The idea that feeling appreciated makes you happier and more invested in your relationships? It's a lovely sort of self-fulfilling practice: Your splendor is recognized; you continue to be splendorous. Everyone wins.
This does not work with children.
I recently surprised my kids with a trip to Sanibel Island. I booked the trip weeks before I told them about it, waiting for just the right moment to spring the happy news that they'd soon be skipping school, hopping a flight to Florida and spending three glorious days on the beach with the world's greatest mom. (Except I didn't say "world's greatest mom," because then they would think my sister-in-law was taking them to Florida.)
Here's how that went.
"Can we go to Disney?"
No. Different part of Florida.
No. We're not going to a theme park, you guys. Just a beach.
"What if there's a tsunami?"
There won't be.
"What if there's a typhoon?"
There won't be a typhoon either.
"Will there be bees?"
I don't know. No. Probably not.
"I'm not going if there are bees."
We can avoid the bees.
"Can we at least go to Legoland?"
This went on for 15 minutes, the wind slowly leaving my sails, before I decided to cut off the conversation and bask in their appreciation a different day.
Several weeks later we took the trip and had a splendid time. We swam and ran and cartwheeled and collected shells and lounged on hammocks. There were no tsunamis, typhoons or bees.
This was a decidedly different trip than the one in March, when we spent two long days at a water park. The crowds were thick and loud, the waves were artificial, and instead of a hammock, an arcade beckoned outside our hotel room.
Arcades are the worst. My kids spent an hour pounding on flashing machines, hoping to amass enough tickets for a beach ball that would cost $1.39 at Walgreens but requires 7,000 tickets at a water park arcade.
"But I want the beach ball!"
You need 6,800 more tickets.
"But there's nothing good for 200 tickets!"
What do you mean? You can get plastic handcuffs! Or an unsharpened pencil!
Many tears were shed on that short trip. My kids were overstimulated, oversugared and underslept.
The food was awful, and they hated their paltry pile of stupid souvenirs.
Naturally, they begged to stay longer.
All of which brings me back to appreciation. When it comes to my kids, I've decided to bask in a different kind.
It's dawning on me that my job is to foster in them an appreciation not so much for me but for the world and all the lovely things in it.
That means leading them to places they might not choose — low-key vacation spots, challenging museum exhibits, venues that have neither Chuck nor Cheese in the name — and helping them play and grow in a whole bunch of settings.
And should they happen to toss an unprompted thank-you my way one of these days, that's peachy. But it won't be the mark by which our relationship is measured.
That I'll measure in moments of joy and richness of memories and how they regard the world and all their fellow humans — even the ones who peddle plastic handcuffs.
Join us for a 'Balancing Act' salon
Heidi Stevens will kick off a new series of in-person conversations about parenting, love and life at 7 p.m. June 19 at City Tavern in Chicago. She will join researcher Eli Finkel and couples counselor Jeff Hickey to talk about making time for your marriage in an increasingly hectic world.
For ticket information, go to heidistevens.eventbrite.com.