Mom to Mom: Teaching Gratitude
Teaching gratitude to my children is harder than I imagined it would be. From the birth of my firstborn, I always wanted to make sure my children gave enough to our community but also gave appropriate thanks to family and friends. It’s been hard to if I’m doing the right thing, or even if I’m teaching them enough, and I continue to struggle with it today.
One of the worst – and perhaps most embarrassing – experiences of being a mom was the day one of my sons turned 3. He has always been fascinated by wheels and anything that moves – cars, trains, motorcycles, etc. My parents found what they thought would be the perfect present – a shiny red little Harley Davidson bicycle complete with flames on the side, a speedometer, and training wheels. Just the thing to keep up with his older brother and sister!
But when my parents wheeled the bike into the room, their faces gleaming with happiness, my son’s reaction was one none of us expected. “NO! NOT THAT! NOT A BIKE! I WANT A CAR! NOT A BIKE,” he screamed. I wanted to crawl under the table and never come out. Not only was it embarrassing, but I felt like everyone in the room was questioning my parenting style. ‘Don’t you know how to teach appreciation?’ I’m sure some of them wondered.
We have tried teaching our kids to be thankful for a roof over their heads, food to eat, and toys to play with. Every year, we participate in something called Hearts and Hands through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Several times a year, the organization sets aside a morning specifically to allow families with younger children to do something for those who are struggling to get by in community. We have sorted laundry detergent and stapled free bus tickets to hand out. We’ve also decorated cookies and even put up Christmas decorations in the dining hall for the holiday season. My daughter and I have also been participating in Feed My Starving Children for the past four years. One more thing the kids really enjoy doing is picking out a present from the Giving Tree at our church. We take them shopping so they can pick out a present to give to a child who is less fortunate. Still, I wonder if this is enough.
When I am at the store and they are begging me to buy something, I wonder how I can teach more about gratitude. I used to pride myself in the fact that my daughter never asked for anything when we went to the store. Those days are long gone, and now it seems I simply cannot take three out of four of my kids to the store with me. I imagine my youngest will hit this stage eventually, so I am trying to prepare myself for the inevitable.
As for the bike, it sat in our garage for a full year before our son would ride it. But now, we can’t get him off of it. And now he thanks his grandparents not only for the cool bike, but for giving him the ability to get outside and have something to play with.
We have plans to volunteer the morning of Thanksgiving this year, which has become a tradition. As we gather around the table later that afternoon, we will not be around any extended family – it will only be us. But we will be thankful that we have each other, and we will talk as a family about how we can bring more gratitude into our lives.
Mom to Mom is a column written by Mary Parra, an Ahwatukee mother of four and a local journalist.