Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude

Over the summer, I spent a lot of time with our girls. A lot of time. With school out, we were constantly together. During all that togetherness, I began to detect more than a hint of “entitlement” and “spoiled” vibes coming from my two oldest children (one in particular). If there is one thing I am very set on in my parenting goals, it’s that my children NOT feel entitled to anything above basic human rights and respect. i.e. NOT material items. I feel like one of the best ways to discourage a feeling of entitlement is to encourage feelings of gratitude. Simply being thankful for what we have. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. All that jazz.

I’ve made a few changes to my parenting style to help support this goal of raising non-greedy-brats. First, I started to occasionally mention the “have-nots” in the world. The children who don’t have lots of toys to play with. The children who don’t have any toys. The people who don’t have fresh fruits and veggies to eat with their dinners. The people who may not have the money to buy any dinner at all. Or a home to sleep in. You get the idea.

I made sure to frame those conversations in a way that, rather than instilling guilt for “having,” was more focused on feeling thankful for having and thinking of ways we might be able to help others who have less.

The second thing I changed was our dinner conversation. After a particularly ungrateful day, we all sat down to dinner and I announced that our new routine was going to be going around the table at dinner each evening and sharing three things:

  1. One thing we are thankful for
  2. One nice thing we did for someone else that day
  3. One nice thing someone did for us that day

This was, admittedly, a moment of reactionary parenting rather than any great forethought, however it has turned out pretty well. Both the girls love reminding us that we need to share these things each night, and you can see them swell with pride anytime Zach or I describe one of their actions as the “nice thing done for us” for the day. Eleanor especially seems to have taken it to heart, and comes up with the sweetest things to announce that she’s thankful for. Heartmelting things like “getting to snuggle in bed with Daddy” and insightful things like “having our home that we live in.” When she says those things, suddenly I’m the one swelling with pride.

Zoey struggles a bit more with coming up with what she is thankful for. I think she has a hard time differentiating that from the “nice thing somebody did for her.” She has always struggled a bit more with social nuances like that, but that is part of the reason we are doing this. To help her learn those subtleties and be able to recognize all the things people do for her, the things she has to be thankful for.

Then, every once in awhile out of the blue, she stuns me with something beautiful. For example, a few weeks ago, Zoey came up to me and said, “Mom, I really appreciate that you stay home so much with us and we get to spend so much time with you.”

(cue mopping up of mommy puddle on the floor. Because I seriously melted into mush on the spot).

Every now and then, as a parent, you get one of those completely reaffirming moments like that one and it’s as if all the difficult, trying and infuriating moments of the day just vanish. Like magic.

It’s amazing what just a little gratitude can do.


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