Are you experiencing an appreciation deficit?

by Amy  - May 9, 2023

Are you experiencing an appreciation deficit?

These can pop up in several different situations. These can happen in a work environment and also at home with stepparents and parents. I’ve even seen this come up between siblings. 

An appreciation deficit is when you have the perception that you are not getting the appreciation you should be getting. You could replace the word appreciation with gratitude and it works as well. 

This is the experience of feeling like you do a lot of things for other people and you are not valued or appreciated for what you do.

You might say things like … “I do so much an nobody ever says thank you.” 

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In families, appreciation deficits show up around holidays. 

It’s as if on holidays that’s when people should acknowledge all the things that are done the entire rest of the year. 

If that sounds like nonsense it’s because it is nonsense (in my opinion).

As if flowers and a homemade card is enough to repay 18 years of making sure you were fed. It doesn’t equate and it’s a terrible standard to expect of anybody. 

On both sides. Stepparents and parents should not be expected to live in a state of unappreciated servitude and family members should not be expected to demonstrate their love and appreciation through gifts a few times a year. 

The problem of the idea of reciprocity

Once upon a time I was taught about the concept of reciprocity. I was told that if I do something for you like give you a gift this plants a natural idea in your head that you should do something for me in return. 

Except it’s not a real thing. Human’s do not instinctively do this for each other. 

You might if you want to but otherwise you won’t. Especially if you think that the reason the person is doing that thing is because it’s their job. 

I recently was on an airplane and the flight attendant served me drinks and snacks … I did not feel like I owed them anything in return. 

I’m writing this blog post for you to read. People who teach the idea of reciprocity might tell you that somewhere in your mind you will feel more like buying a product of mine in the future. I think that’s poppycock. I’m putting it out here for you to read. If you someday decide to buy something from me that will be because that thing appears to you to be worth it to you. 

Cultural training and socialization creates the appreciation deficit for stepparents and parents

We teach our children that it is the role of the adults in their family…mostly the women … to take care of children and the home. 

We teach them that this is the job of those individuals. So when you are an adult and you do that job by taking care of the home, cooking the meals, packing the lunches, giving the baths, kissing the boo-boos, hiring the tutors, driving to and from activities… well this is what is expected. 

We also teach adults that the way to demonstrate appreciation is through gifts on holidays. Not everybody gets this message. This is a message delivered by companies who sell the gifts. We call this commercialization. Advertisements or commercials teach us this through media. This is a false lesson because a gift of flowers or a homemade card on a holiday is not really a genuine sign of appreciation. It’s a commercial token. 

I recently saw a parenting coach suggesting that mom’s make a list of what they wanted for Mother’s Day. I was given this advice many years ago and I tried it. I made a list and then I got some of those things but not others and I felt kind of weird about it on the day. The next year I tried it again. I made a list and then I actually just got 

What you can do if you feel under appreciated

The actual solution for the appreciation deficit is to be sufficiently self motivated to do the things that you are doing. When you are doing work for the benefit of others it is a good idea to be very clear on what you need for support and what you may expect in return. Where possible it’s best to know this before you begin.

In a job this i would be a clearly defined job description and payment terms. 

Being a stepparent or a parent is not a job. It’s a role, it’s an identity it’s a commitment or an obligation. We can work to clearly define what the expectations are and what support is needed. The support is the appreciation and it happens in real time. For the mother of a young baby that might be help during the night to make sure mom gets sleep or somebody else making the meals. For a stepparent this might be including them in the conversation about the upcoming weekly family schedule. For a parent who works outside the home this might be childcare during the day.

The error that most of us make in this exchange is the idea that it’s somebody else’s job to make us feel appreciated. When realistically this works a little better if we are clear up front what support we require to be able to do the work that is expected of us. When that support is not present the only person who can advocate for us is ourself. When you become aware of the deficit you may be tempted to look to others to fill it up for you. My experience is that most often doesn’t work. If you want some help let me know.

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Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created

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