The guy in the grocery store line wanted to know how moms teach their kids “the way of the Force.” (He saw my Star Wars shirt.) How about starting with gratitude? Here are seven great strategies even Obi Wan would approve of.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
Recently, when on the checkout line in the supermarket, I caught an older gentleman staring intently at me. I was wearing my “Every great mother teaches her children the ways of the Force” shirt. When I caught his eye he said, “The Force…like Obi Wan.”
“That’s right!” I said.
“I wouldn’t want to be raising kids now.” he said.
Well, that was all I needed to hear. I have an annoying condition called “Runningoffathemouth” that prevents me from being silent if provided an opportunity to sound off. Frankly, I’m not sure how I still have any friends…
So, I ascended my soap box and said something about how raising kids in any time period has its challenges; that it’s never easy. He expressed his concern about what parents are up against with the culture being so contrary to anything wholesome. True enough, I said, but the tone and boundaries a family sets, the context and values that are modeled are up to the parents to provide. The way we treat one another and those outside of our family will become the standard of how our children behave when they are away from us. We have the most significant impact on the worldview our children will adopt, and we give them a foundation…and truth, justice and the American way!
(Cue the breeze blowing my cape behind me.)
When I finally stopped talking he said, thoughtfully, “I guess it did get a lot better when I realized that I was the parent and they weren’t.” True fact. Psychologists and parenting experts keep making the point that we are not supposed to be our children’s friends. They need, and we need, a distinction about who is in charge.
That doesn’t necessitate a dictatorship—we can learn so much from listening to our children and hearing how they are affected by their circumstances—but they need to know where the buck stops.
This meme appeared on a friend’s Facebook timeline. When I saw it, I thought, “Yeah. If you’re waiting around for your children to appreciate you, you will wait until long beyond your death.”
Because, guess what? Children need to be taught gratitude. This is one of the most important values that we can teach our kids, and if we do, it will go so very, very far in how they interact with the world when we are not there holding their hands.
Grateful children, children who appreciate, are respectful children. They understand their own value, the value of others, of creation and all things.
Our world bombards kids (and adults) with all kinds of excess, instant gratification, waste, and self-centered thinking—there’s no denying that. These can lead to an almost built-in lack of appreciation and care in people. So, how do we combat it?
Teach the way of gratitude, Jedi mom.
Seven simple ways to teach gratitude
Here are some simple ways that families can intentionally incorporate this value in daily life:
1) When you pray, begin with thanks.
Especially when you are preparing to ask God for something, it’s important to remind ourselves that God only gives us good gifts, only gives us the best of everything God has to offer, and that we are never ignored or dismissed. Taking this attitude right off the bat sets up the openness to receiving the answer to that prayer—whatever it will be.
2) Say “thank you” a lot.
Don’t take kindnesses for granted—even routine ones. One habit that my husband has instilled in my sons is thanking me for dinner every night—even when we get take-out! They know that it’s sort of a requirement of parenthood to feed them, but that an effort was made—with great love—to provide that necessity for them. Now, they thank whoever feeds them, whether we’re there or not.
3) Give them chores.
Let them know what work and contributing to the welfare of your home feel like. Even little guys can help. This provides a sense of pride (the good kind), an understanding that elves don’t show up at night to tidy up, do the dishes, take out the garbage, etc.—an experience of responsibility and the feeling of being needed. It’s the foundation of stewardship—offering them an effective model of what it means to “belong.”
4) Give charitably together.
When you are making donations as part of your tithe, include the kids. Talk about what charities you like to support—what sort of work they do, why that work is important, what impact it has on the poor, what conditions the poor live in—and let them help decide what you will give. For example, you might decide to give to a charity that helps people in abject poverty to start a business, or obtain articles that will help them to be more self-sufficient. Let the kids look at the catalogue with you, tell them your budget and decide together how you would like to help improve another family’s life. When you are giving to a food pantry, take them shopping with you. Let them see what food costs and how hard it can be for some families to provide for themselves. Donate clothing (if not to another family with smaller children) to charity. Go through your closets when seasons change and see what no longer fits, or what you just don’t wear and give them away. Donate toys and books. When the kids are going to be getting more (like near birthdays or Christmas) have them pick a few that they could give up for someone less fortunate.
5) Do service together.
Visit the sick or shut-ins. They LOVE seeing kids and it helps the children to know that you can help others no matter how small they are. One of my favorite ministries was taking my kids (since they were infants) with me to bring Communion to the home-bound. They were like extra grandparents to the kids, and extra grandkids to the recipients. They were ministering just by being cute. Participate in a community clean up—any age can do that! There are loads of options—let the kids help decide, too. It will foster interest in giving to others, an awareness of how blessed they are, and what a blessing they can be.
6) Spend time together.
And when you do, talk about what it means to you to have this opportunity—how blessed you feel to be a part of this family and how much you love spending time together. Let them know that you are grateful, too.
7) Try not to complain, and re-direct their complaining.
A lot of learned ingratitude comes from the complaining that we do. Try to catch it and limit it in yourself. Adopt a sense of gratitude and ask God to help you be grateful, even when you’re not feeling it. When the kids complain, help them to see the other side of whatever it is. I will never stop hearing in my head that “Children are starving in China” when I am about to waste food. It’s a funny thing that most kids my age have in common, and it holds me accountable. There is no harm in reminding kids caught in a loop of ingratitude how lucky they are. But, give the good solid reasons for knowing it—not with an aim to guilt, but with an aim to see the good in what they do have.