It was the eighth pair of dirty socks I had discovered on the living room floor that week. I am so done with dirty laundry! My kids don’t appreciate anything I do. The Laundry Fairy just waves her magic wand and clean clothes appear in their dressers, like magic! They complained about their dinner, too. They are never happy, it seems, with the food I prepare. They’re never content. My kids are better at giving me attitude than gratitude!
It’s not an unusual problem. Our children do not leap from the womb with grateful, thankful hearts. They are born to take, not give. The giving, and the gratitude — that’s up to us to teach. But how?
Contentment Is Contagious
Confession. I’m a grumbler. Inwardly, and sometimes, outwardly. I grumble about feeling unappreciated. I grouse about the repetitive nature of motherhood. Sometimes — dare I admit it? — I even…mope. When it comes to my life of late, I’m seeing half empty. I grumble about how ungrateful my kids are, and yet…who is the one who’s being ungrateful?
These little people of ours are born ungrateful, but they are also born imitators. When I make a concerted effort to be more grateful, in a more open, obvious habit, it leaks out onto my kids.
Ever noticed how many of your mannerisms your tiny tots have picked up? They’ll pick up your good habits, as well as the bad. Begin by making gratitude a habit for yourself. You can start off by thanking them! Thank them for who they are, and for the joy they bring to your life. Thank them when they do remember to do a daily chore or task. (Definitely thank them when they DON’T leave dirty socks on the floor!)
Turn It Around
When my two boys start going at each other — which happens often — I stop the bickering and insist they tell their sibling five things they appreciate about the other. I love how this simple act changes their entire demeanor. They go from fighting stance to soft and squishy. Even the tone and volume of their voices change! When you see your kids spinning out over an issue, help them find something in the situation for which they can be thankful. It might be challenging, but this takes the focus off of what went wrong, and helps kids to start looking for what’s going right.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Make Gratitude A Family Habit
Use family time to share what you are all thankful for. Our family often uses this as a dinner table conversation starter: What are three things you’re thankful for today? Especially as we draw near the holidays and gift-giving insanity, this habit will help take the focus off of what they want, and places it squarely upon what they already have.
It’s Not What You Don’t Have
Give your kids the opportunity and the gift of understanding that the life we live here in the United States is not how most of the world is living. Most of us are blessed to have closets full of clothes to wear, a car (or two) in the driveway, and the comfort of knowing there will be food on the table tomorrow. Even families who struggle paycheck to paycheck are wealthy in the eyes of many around the world. When your kids are old enough, consider helping them understand this disparity. Everything we have is something to be thankful for — from potable water to fresh produce grown right down the road. Clothes to wear when it gets cold, shoes (and often more than one pair) to keep our feet dry in bad weather. These things we so easily take for granted are blessings, and when we take the time to count them together, it changes the fabric of our family from complaining to contented.
Check out organizations like Heifer International, Kiva Micro Loans, World Vision, International Justice Mission, or Preemptive Love Coalition for ways your entire family can get involved helping others around the globe.
Above all, don’t give up. Gratitude is a discipline. It must be learned, and practiced, to become a habit. Our job as a parent is not to raise a happy child, but rather, to raise a contented adult.