Gratitude is often wielded as a weapon. A weapon tipped in the familiar poison of guilt. Our children demonstrate some kind of bratty behavior, become oversaturated with stuff and simultaneously demand more, and we point in the general direction of the Third World and bark something about starving kids and no shoes.
Jeez, Mom, all we want is another set of Legos and we have to hear about those kids again.
The boys are seven and five. Iris just turned two. The concept of gratitude is too obscure to nail down just yet, but sharing is not. Sharing is our line to gratitude. Sharing and an acknowledgment of abundance.
Not guilt. Somehow, we have to avoid the line that borders guilt. But how?
“Teaching gratitude is not sticking a coin in a slot and pressing a button.
You have to model gratitude.”
That is my husband. I married him ten years ago this month. I married him because he is funny and kind and straightforward. I never could have fully imagined the father he would turn out to be: loving, patient, and immensely smart.
He has systematically taught our children to work hard and be confident, largely through modeling those traits. Taking the time to point out our own stumbling blocks so that our kids can see us working through them is a mindful way of life for us. It’s not uncommon to hear one of the boys say, “Did you see that? I didn’t quit.” That is not a cute anecdote; that’s evidence of character building.
I am a smart parent. I am nothing compared to or without my husband.
Gratitude, however, is a tough character bit to teach.
So we teach gratitude by being gracious. And making sure our children see us doing it. Whenever possible, we enable them to take the lead.
We don’t do anything in particular around the holidays. Not overtly, anyway. Our demonstrable moments of gratitude happen year-long, often through exercises in abundance.
Lately, we’ve been weighing value and options. We have a brand new Lego set and we want another one. Even though we just finished building the first one that cost $100. So, we could buy another one for $60 or… what do you think we could buy Aldo with that money?
Aldo is a child we recently sponsored in Indonesia. Hear Grey tell it, in all of his five-year-old wisdom, and Aldo lives in a tree in a jungle, scared out of his mind of jaguars, and definitely with no shoes.
Okay, I may have gone overboard in describing Aldo’s daily life to the kids.
But. What could buy us three hours of sort-of fun could buy Aldo’s family clean water for a lifetime through a water filter. That would mean less worms in his stomach, by one short person’s account.
We don’t always land on Aldo’s side. Sometimes he has to fend for himself against those jaguars. Legos are incredibly cool, and that’s fine. It really is. But $5 Happy Meals do start to add up when you have someone else to work for, another perspective to consider. Eventually, you start to change how you perceive the value around you. You start to recognize your own abundance and move forward with an increased sense of confidence and capability.
But Aldo is one of those kids really far away. It helps to occasionally work closer to home.
That happens largely in the playroom. We stand in the playroom, asses the physical evidence of what happens when you have no sense of what is “enough,” and then we plop down the boxes. The boys know the drill: We have too many toys. There are tons of kids without any toys or at least without any good toys. Let’s share.
As parents, we have to lead with gratitude and confidence in our boys to lead in a spirit of abundance. If we don’t, if we trudge ahead with a sour attitude, they respond in kind.
If we make it about how our own kids are ungrateful and spoiled and don’t care enough about their stuff? They fill the boxes with broken and despondent muck. We’ve made them feel like crap. They fill the boxes with crap.
If we make it about how they are good kids, deserving kids, there are no bounds to their gratitude and desire to please kids that go without no matter how good they are. They share their bounty. Happily. Proudly.
The boys have never resisted when we’ve approached the project with grace. In fact, when we walk through where we are going to donate the toys and what kinds of kids might receive them, the boys tend to donate their best stuff. I’m usually the one going back and taking out their favorite toys because I can’t bear to donate our sentimental favorites.
And that’s fine, too.
We can’t fight the jaguars every single day. Sometimes Aldo has to fend for himself and sometimes one Lego set doesn’t have to be enough. We work hard. It’s okay to create abundance.
It’s that sense of blessed abundance that empowers us to give. In fact, sometimes a “fake it til you make it” approach works to create abundance, paying it forward with faith. We teach our kids gratitude by teaching them to share, to create a sense of enough to share, and to give boldly with confidence.
How do you teach your kids gratitude? Do you ramp up your efforts during the holidays?
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