The bread cubes are drying, the turkey is in the freezer and the pumpkin pie is sitting on my counter. Thanksgiving is just a few days away and we’re looking forward to a weekend of family, friend and great food.
I’ve been thinking more about it this year, though. More about the root of the holiday. It’s not particularly hard to figure out — it’s right there in the name. THANKS GIVING. This is a holiday of gratitude.
We have a lot to be grateful for. We have all of our basic needs met — food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, clothes in our closet and people to love. We also have toys, books, vehicles, phones, comfortable beds and so much more. We have freedom to be who we want to be, the ability to travel and our choice of activities and hobbies to participate in. We have all the we could possibly ask for.
Yet, my kids are still asking for more. As much as I’ve taught them their manners, I haven’t quite gotten the whole gratitude thing through their heads yet.
There’s a hard line to walk as a parent. You WANT to give your kids everything. You love doting on them, slipping them a Kinder Surprise every now and then , and don’t see a problem with letting them pick out a new hot wheels car at the grocery store when they’re sitting in the cart.
But, you also want them to understand the beauty and worth of a gift (whether given or something in their lives that not all are so fortunate to have). You want them to be grateful for the things they have, which largely comes from not having everything.
Growing up, both my husband and I learned gratitude. We both came from homes where we had everything we needed, but not a lot of extras. We were able to play soccer, but we didn’t go to Disneyland because of it. We had lots of things to play with, but we were told no when we asked for something new at the store. We looked forward to birthdays and Christmas and our thank-yous were genuine because gifts were special. They were exclusive to these holidays. We were reminded of our good fortune whenever we didn’t finish a meal. We were made to volunteer at the food bank or goodwill. We were acutely aware of just how much we really did have.
Those values (family, hard work, financial responsibility, gratitude) have stuck with us to this day and they are things that we want to pass down to our children. In fact, the idea of gratitude has been proven to help children in many ways. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal showed that children who understand the concept of gratitude are more likely to do better in school and less likely to experience depression.
But, you know what? It’s hard. I’ve fallen in to the gratitude trap that is in large part a result of our lifestyles now. We complain about things like getting regular soda instead of diet soda or our phones dying halfway through the day. We get angry at customer service people when they can’t find the item we want. We send food back (that will go in the garbage) when it comes with pickles that we could simply pick off. We walk around with our noses in our phones and get anxiety when we have to participate in a face-to-face conversation with someone. We leave jobs because they’re a little harder than we thought they might be. We take traffic jams personally when they make us late. We mumble thanks and run off rather than looking someone in the eye, smiling and saying thank-you like we mean it.
So, I’m trying to dig myself out of the gratitude trap. I’m keeping a gratitude journal. Working harder at being more present. Trying to volunteer more. Be less wasteful. And teach my kids through action.
Let’s face it — two toddlers aren’t ready for some of these lessons yet. They have chores and piggy banks, but the concept of money is still pretty above their heads. So even when they use their own money to buy something, it might be exciting but they’re not truly understanding the value of money. Nor do they know how much we make or why we don’t just buy everything. They know to say thank-you when they’re given something, but they kind of think it’s just what you do. Kind of like how you greet people. And it’s not fair to burden them with these adult concepts quite yet.
Instead, we are focused on instilling gratitude in them through two things: food, play and modelling gratitude.
For food, we are involving them. We had a garden this year, and my three-year-old got a hands on lesson on the work and care that goes in to growing the food we enjoy. So when it came time to eat our harvest, she wanted to make sure every last morsel was enjoyed. This lesson carries through when she helps me with food prep now. I am able to tell her that someone else worked hard to make this food for us and that we need to be very grateful for it and use it all. With the hands-on experience, she gets it. She is quite happy to eat her carrots now.
For play, we are working on minimalizing, sharing and role play. We have less toys so they have the opportunity to appreciate what they have more. We don’t buy them anything they ask for. We allow them to use money from their own piggy bank when they really want something.
Most of all, we model gratitude to them. We say thank-you and we mean it. We serve others when and where we can. We try to be kind with our words. We appreciate what we have. We fix things when they’re broken. We try to live with less. I ask my daughter about what kinds of things I can write in my gratitude journal and let her draw a picture in it.
When she says thank-you for that, it melts my heart.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.