Thanksgiving Throwback: How to Make your Kids say Thank You. And Mean it. with Jaime Primak Sullivan
This Thanksgiving we’re throwing it back to the very first episode of Good Kids featuring writer/producer/podcast host Jaime Primak Sullivan. She reflects on an impulse decision she made years ago to trash her kids’ ice cream at a Dairy Queen in an effort to teach them gratitude and the importance of human connection. “The human connection for me is making a conscious decision to look at people and connect with them.”
You can follow Jaime Primak Sullivan on Instagram @jaimepsullivan, on Twitter @JaimePrimak, and on Facebook @jaimeprimaksullivan.
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Interested in learning more about Jaime? Check out the links below:
- Listen to Jaime’s podcast, Tell Me What to Do with Jaime Primak Sullivan: http://smarturl.it/tmwtd.
- Watch Jaime’s daily digital series #cawfeetawk on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jaimeprimaksullivan.
- Learn more about Jaime’s latest project, a psychological horror film starring Ryan Destiny and Heather Graham: https://deadline.com/2020/11/ryan-destiny-heather-graham-oracle-will-packer-productions-1234611442/.
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[00:47] Hey, guys. It’s Jaime Primak Sullivan and you’re listening to Good Kids. I have three kids. My oldest is 11-and-a-half. My middle is 10-and-a-half. My youngest will be 9 next month.
[01:01] And a couple of years ago, I took my kids out for ice cream. You know, it’s a treat. Long day, it’s summertime, we’re out at the pool, we’re going to the zoo. We’re doing all those activities that can push kids sort of to their brink of attention span and sort of behavior. And like any parent, I have started working with my children on say please, say thank you from the time they were little, right? That’s what you do when you’re teaching them to speak. You hand them something and you say thank you. And you wait for them to get old enough to say it back. I was no different than any other mother. In fact, I think I was more inclined to push them harder on manners because I’m not from the South. I’m from New Jersey and I live in Birmingham, Alabama. And there is a certain cachet to Southern manners. So I felt more social pressure to make sure that my children were well-mannered because I felt like there were a lot more eyeballs on me. And not to mention the fact that I had my own show on Bravo, which, you know, attracted a whole different level of attention.
[02:04] We get to Dairy Queen, which is all the rage, and the kids are ecstatic. We go in. There’s a young girl working behind the counter, couldn’t have been more than 16. And the kids start shouting things, right, very excited. So at the time, they were younger. I think my youngest was five-and-a-half or six. And so maybe we had six, eight and nine going at the time. Certainly old enough to know to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ So we go in there shouting, they’re a screaming their orders. And this young girl is doing her best to kind of get it all squared away. I pay. She’s working with her helper back there to get the ice cream orders. And I see the ice cream start to come over the counter. And I see little hands everywhere, just hands snatching ice cream. Nobody makes eye contact. Nobody says thank you. And all three kids run out the door of the Dairy Queen onto like the little patio that they have. And I’m standing there completely dumbfounded. And this young girl looks at me and I’m not sure if she’s looking at me like with pity, like, ‘holy crap, lady, you have a lot of kids. That was a lot.’ Or if she’s looking at me like, ‘who raised these kids?’
[03:16] I was so mortified and disappointed in that moment that everything that I felt that I had done right — the constant reinforcement of, ‘what do you say? Thank you. Look at him in the eye. Say thank you. What do you say, please? When you say, thank you, what’s the magic word?’ You know, everything that every other parent has done — went right out the window, went right out the Dairy Queen door. And I just felt honestly defeated in that moment. I felt like all of my work had fallen on deaf ears.
[03:55] And I wondered, would they become good people? Are they good people or are they just, like, little shits who have been given too much and expect more even when much is given?
[04:09] I just was like, no, this is not how we’re doing things. That is not who I am raising. So I walk out onto the patio where they are, you know, literally in their Eddie Murphy glory, enjoying their ice cream. Just sort of like, ‘I got my ice cream,’ like they’re totally in it. Right. And so I walk up to them very calmly and I take Olivia’s ice cream out of her hand. And she kind of looks at me because she’s not sure what’s happening. And then I take my son’s and then I take my youngest child, and I look at them and they look at me and they’re not sure, am I going to eat it? Am I going to tease them? They’re just kind of covered in ice cream, very rambunctious.
[04:52] And I walk over to the garbage and I throw it in the garbage. To which they immediately come unglued. ‘I wasn’t finished! Mom, that was my ice cream!’ And I very calmly — because I believed in that moment, truly, that it was a teachable moment. And had I gotten angry, and had I raised my voice, it all would have gone out the window, because they would have shut down. So I got down on their level and I said, ‘listen to me. There is a way in which I expect you to see people. We talk about the human connection at home. We go to a Catholic school. We understand what is expected of us. You didn’t even look that young lady in the face. You didn’t say please. You didn’t say thank you. You snatched your ice cream out of her hand and ran out the door. That is just not acceptable to me. And of course, they were ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I want my ice cream.’ And I said it’s it’s not about you being sorry.
[05:58] It’s about you understanding that we will see people. Because one day you may have a job like that. You may be the young girl working at an ice cream counter. And a family will come in and they won’t even look at you. They will look past you. They will look through you. And it will hurt you, because that is not how we or why we were created. And I explained to them that when I was 16-and-a-half, and my father had cancer, I was working at a movie theater. And I remember feeling utterly alone. And people would come in and just take tickets and grab — you know, and I just felt like, did anybody see me? Was I visible? And I was not going to raise children who didn’t see people, even if it meant that I had to throw their ice cream away.
[06:50] The human connection for me is making the conscious decision to look at people and connect with them. I was taught the human connection — you know. I was raised Jewish. My father was a Jew from Brooklyn. My mother was an Italian from Manhattan. And both those cultures are very family-centric. So we were raised family-first. You greet everybody, you look everybody in the face. You hug everybody. You know, there’s a greeting for everybody. And my mother was very big on that. There was no slack with her on, you know, if an elder in our family gave us something, you didn’t say, thank you. You know, you could get wrecked on your knuckles with a wooden spoon. You just didn’t do it.
[09:05] So, you know, I pile up my very sad children into the car and I say ‘this isn’t so much a punishment as it is a lesson.’ We ride home in sort of a sad silence. And I feel terrible. I feel guilty. I feel sad that I’ve fallen short, that we’re even in this situation in the first place. And then I’m second guessing myself. Was I too mean, was I too hard on them? Are they too little? And so I went to Facebook, which is where my coffee-talk community lives. And I said, ‘hey, guys, I want to share something with you, because my youngest child told me that I am the meanest mom in the world and I’m feeling it right now.’ And so I wrote the story out.
[09:48] I had zero expectation that that story would go viral. I had no idea that it would make it to Fox News or The View. I had no idea that Wendy Williams would talk about it or Howard Stern. But it was everywhere. And I think it is because at the crux of who we are, even in a society where we can’t get along about religion or politics or whether Bruce is the boss or Bon Jovi’s the greatest ‘90s hair band of all time. The one thing we do agree on is we don’t want to raise assholes. And at the end of the day, there were some people online who said ‘she was too harsh, she wasted money.’ And I thought to myself, is four dollars and sixty cents not worth a truly valuable lesson in the human connection? And I think that what I learned from that experience is, at the end of the day, what my children really remember, they laugh now about the ice cream in the garbage. But what they remember is you cannot look through people, you cannot see through people. And they know that I was criticized about it. And people brought it up to them at school, like your mom threw your ice cream away. And they were kind of embarrassed by that. But even in their embarrassment about it, they knew they were wrong.
[11:06] And that, to me, is the win, right? Because that, to me, proves that my kids are not assholes. They were kids who made bad decisions. They were corrected. And they now course-correct, right? They like self-correct. So a lot of times they correct each other. We went out to Cheesecake Factory for my birthday — there’s a theme here, apparently all we do is eat dessert in this family. But we did. We went out to Cheesecake Factory for my birthday. And when they brought the food, I mean, every time the woman came to bring anything — water, extra napkins, anything — my children are like, ‘thank you!’ And maybe it’s a little insincere. It may be now habitual, but I don’t care. I honestly don’t care. With maturity will come sincerity. Like anything else, manners are a habit. You repeat it so that they repeat it. And eventually they will start to say it from a place that really that comes naturally to them.
[12:05] Some of the comments online were a little hurtful. You know, it’s never easy to have people judge your parenting because at the end of the day, it’s the one thing I think we’re most insecure about. There’s no manual, no one tells you if you’re doing a good job. I think at the end of the day, you tuck your kids in — and if I if you’re anything like me, you feel guilty about, you know, one part of the job. I don’t know. I swear, I have three, and I sometimes cry myself to sleep because I can’t remember if I even spoke to my middle child the whole day. You know, they all demand so many different types of things from you, and you can’t ever fall down on the job.
[12:44] So it’s like that day in Dairy Queen. I could I have let it go? Yeah, probably. Would they still probably end up being great people? Sure. But it’s, like, it’s my job. So the criticism hurt. I shed a few tears. Because you never want people to tell you that you’re a bad parent. But then I realized that it didn’t matter what they thought because they’re not raising my kids. And one day my kids are going to encounter their kids on the playground or at the park or at a party or the prom or a bar or whatever. And do you want my kids to be assholes when they meet your kids in the world?
[13:29] What is a bad kid? You know, I feel like I’m a little philosophical. Like certainly I could take a humorous approach here and tell you all the shitty things kids can do to make them bad kids. Right. But I think at the end of the day, children really are products of their environment. Right. What are they seeing? Right. Mean moms raised mean girls. We know that. There’s no question about that. We see it in schools every day.
[13:54] Bad kids to me are kids who either are not provided the right tools or not taught how to use the tools they are given. And they go out into the world and they hurt other people, and they leave kids out, and they bully, and they single out, and they shame, and they steal, and they just do shitty things. But, you know, hurt people hurt. And typically bad kids are kids that are struggling, you know. And that makes me sad. Because a lot of times once we see a bad kid and they get that bad kid label, that’s it. Everybody writes them off. Right? Who’s pouring into that kid anymore? Nobody. Who wants to go to their birthday party anymore? Nobody. Who’s inviting them to sit with them at lunch? Nobody. Because they’re the bad kid. And then what?
[14:47] When trying to raise good children, you can’t get distracted by wanting to be their friend. It is so hard to not want to be your child’s friend. It just is. It is human nature to want your kids to like you. We are inherently creatures that want to be liked. That’s just the truth. And it doesn’t stop at your children. You’ve got these babies who need you for everything, and they start to become independent and start to have opinions about what they like and what they don’t like. And we certainly don’t want to be the thing they don’t like. We want to be our kids’ friend. And I think where we start to struggle is add a full time job, add a struggling marriage, add extra 10 pounds, add all of these things where you don’t necessarily feel great in your own life and the thought of your kid not thinking you’re cool becomes just too much for you. And parenting is fucking exhausting. It is exhausting to follow through.
[15:38] Following through as a parent is the most exhausting thing in the world. When you make idle threats to your children, it decreases their respect for you. So you have to follow through. If you say, like. ‘if you disrespect me one more time, I’m taking your iPad for the weekend.’ Now you fucked yourself because the truth is now you get no time. Because now your kid’s following you around the house for 48 hours going, ‘oh, I’m so bored, play with me! Can I have my iPad?’ You’re just like, ‘shut up!’
[16:12] But at the end of the day, if you want to raise good kids, you can’t try to be their friend. So you’re gonna have some weekends where you literally want to chew your own eyeballs because you have to follow through. That’s why every time my husband’s like, ‘before you make an idle threat, run it past me. Because if it’s gonna debilitate my life, and ruin my weekend, I need to know.’ I’m like, ‘fair enough.’ But we’re on the same page. Like, we can’t focus on being their friends. Yes. I want my kids to think I’m cool, but at the end of the day, it’s OK if they don’t. Because I need them to be good people. Even if it fucks up my whole weekend. I’m Jaime Primak Sullivan and this is Good Kids. You can catch me each morning on Facebook with my daily digital series for women, Cawfee Talk, focused on the human connection, social responsibility and kindness.
[17:01] Good Kids is produced and edited by Samantha Gattsek. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Our music is by Dan Milan. Ad sales and distribution is by Westwood One. You can find more about us at LemonadaMedia.com or on all the social platforms at @LemonadaMedia. If you like what you heard, share the gospel with everyone you know and rate and review us on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts.