From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
It’s hard to teach our children about giving and gratitude in everyday life, but when the busy holiday season arrives, we can find some special ways to express gratitude for what we have. Spend time this month teaching kids that an attitude of gratitude and giving feels good.
My daughter has always been annoyingly observant.
This means, first of all, that you cannot have “for grown-up ears only” conversations around her, make promises (or threats) you don’t intend to keep, or expect her to simply forget about the slightly traumatizing or embarrassing event from last week. (I know. Typical, right?)
But it also means that as a two-year-old, she recognized the insanity of the suburban grocery store situation.
One day after picking her up from the babysitter, I said, “Okay, Annalyn, we’re going to go to the store now.”
As we drove down the highway, she asked, “What store?” and I answered, “HyVee.”
All was well – until we pulled into the parking lot and started walking toward the store.
Toddling along, holding my hand, she looked up and shouted, “NO! No, Mommy! This is the wrong HyVee!”
She was just two years old, but already she was realizing that in this suburban setting, we can find a grocery store on just about every corner.
Of course, as she was also learning, not all grocery stores are created equal.
For example, the big box store where we usually buy groceries is a smaller version of the big box store a few more miles down the road.
When it was first converted to a superstore with groceries, I was super excited.
Driving fewer miles to buy groceries was a definite plus, but I was also relieved to shop in a store slightly smaller than the Atlanta airport.
Until I couldn’t find the right peanut butter. Or deodorant. Or soy milk.
See, it turns out that we traded miles of walking for a smaller selection.
That makes sense, of course, and isn’t the end of the world by any measure.
But you wouldn’t have known that from my initial reaction.
“What the heck? How could they have all these other salsas but not the one I want? What is wrong with this store? Stupid store.”
Talk about first-world problems!
And…talk about setting a bad example!
We live in a small house in an old, deteriorating neighborhood.
Nearly every room in our home is broken in some way, and my car drives like it’s one gear shift away from a failed transmission.
Every holiday, date night, birthday party and new outfit stresses out my budget and me.
And we carry a much higher balance on our credit card than I like to admit.
However, by the standards of a huge majority of people in this world, we are wealthy.
Not just comfortable, but rich.
How, then, do I teach my young kids a healthy perspective on all our blessings, as well as a grateful and giving heart?
We do it by talking about having a grateful heart, reading stories about thankfulness and sharing, praying before meals and thanking God for all He’s given us every night before bed.
We send thank you notes for gifts, and when it’s appropriate, I point out how much more we have than others – and how that means we must share with others. (Okay, fine, sometimes it’s more frustration than an appropriate teachable moment. But can you blame me, when I hear the words, “Is that all?” for the umpteenth time in one back-to-school shopping trip?)
But we also fight the occasional case of the gimmes (often prompted by the arrival of an American Girl catalog…SIGH…!) by giving our time and resources to help others.
The holidays bring up lots of opportunities to help others in a special way, but giving back is something we can do in our own lives, in every season:
We can make meals and deliver them.
We can order pizza or pick up chicken and deliver it.
We can send a thank you note.
We can send a gift card or a gas card.
We can proofread her resume – and explain LinkedIn.
We can take baby clothes to a friend.
We can pick up a Sonic slush on the way.
We can keep extra gloves and granola bars in the car for those in need.
We can sit and visit and listen and laugh (and maybe cry, too).
We can pack up the kitchen and the boxes and the truck.
We can unpack the truck and the boxes and the kitchen.
We can order another pizza or fill up her freezer.
Helping friends in a real, tangible way is important to me.
And just as important is teaching my children that this is what we do.
We don’t just talk about it or feel bad about it; we don’t just toss out platitudes or empty promises.
When we hear about a lost job, a scary diagnosis, another round of the flu, a last-minute move, a no-good, very bad, terrible day, we can do something.
We can help.
We can give out of our abundance; we can love.
And somehow, between a not-quite-daily gratitude journal and sponsored kids and thank you notes and meals dropped off for a sick friend, my girls seem to be learning a little bit about giving and gratitude.
At least until they find the next overpriced toy catalog in the mail…
How do you teach your kids about giving and gratitude?
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