The Dark Side of Gratitude


balloonThe week before my third child was born, I posted a Facebook status that was more thank you note than update:

“Viola invited both of my kids over this afternoon; I am nodding off while getting a pedicure. Jeannette managed three kids at the playground while I went to the chiropractor and got a therapeutic massage. ‪#‎blessed‬ ‪#‎thankyouvillage‬”

Posting it, I swelled with gratitude (and fetus), feeling utterly supported by my mama network (and compression hose).

Then the comments rolled in. “Blessed you are!” remarked one friend. “Wow,” wrote another. Just like that, my mood darkened. I barely resisted the urge to reply: “Every other moment of the last six weeks, I’ve managed two kids and a household while barely able to walk, on feet that have been pedicured and massaged three times in the last five years. Plus, I’ve bent over backwards—when I still could bend—to help these folks in the past.” That my hackles rose at even the slightest insinuation of fortuitousness revealed a deep-seated fear.

The phenomenon recently resurfaced when a friend mentioned how encouraging her partner has been of her work editing a local magazine. I thought about my own husband’s unfailing support of my writing and wanted to respond, “We’re so lucky,” but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I’ve made it one of my life’s missions to promote his interests and pursuits, both professional and personal. His reciprocal commitment to my fulfillment is wonderful, and it’s rare, but it’s only fair. Calling it “lucky” seems like a diminution.

I realized that I’m able simultaneously to feel both thankful and deserving; but somehow by saying I’m grateful, I worry that I make the support seem gratuitous.


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