“Mom, I can’t decide if I’m more thankful for my family or this brownie.”
“Well, I’m mainly thankful for Benedict Cumberbatch.”
“I’m thankful I didn’t fail my chemistry exam this week.”
“Pasta. No, rice! Okay, both.”
“Guys, I’m really, really thankful that the Seahawks won!!”
That’s a smattering of what you might hear on a given night around the dinner table at my house. Eating together is a high priority for us; it happens about four to five nights a week, depending on class, sports, work, and church schedules. Three years ago, we started implementing “Dinner Thankfuls” (so named by my children) while we’re all eating. Everyone has to offer something. It can be serious or light, spiritual or fun, cheesy or matter-of-fact. Xbox games, Jesus, french fries, Amy Poehler, living in Cowtown, football, new shoes, a BFF . . . all fair game.
If your house is like mine, there is grumbling, bickering, and fatalism present in conversation every day. My kids are pretty great, and though I’m not an unbiased source of information, I’m proud of them. I like them. But I don’t like everything they do or say, any more than I like everything I do or say. A few years ago, when I realized I wanted to cultivate more of an attitude of thankfulness in our family, I was at a loss about where to start.
Well, the truth is that I kept getting tripped up by the truth that I can’t make my kids be thankful. I can’t force them to be content in their circumstances. Training them to obey, do their chores, or finish their homework isn’t the same as changing their hearts. That job is too big for me, and, frankly, isn’t my job at all. Part of my job IS to model good behavior and good habits. In reality, children learn so much more from what they see than what they hear.
One day, I ran across some writing from Aristotle in which he advised that if there is a virtue you wished you possessed, the first course of action is to act as if you already possess it. I’m fairly certain Aristotle didn’t believe the action itself possessed magical properties, but he understood the concept of doing leading to feeling.
I’m not advocating formulas for parenting here, people! As much as I’d like it, I can’t tell you that if you just do These Three Important Things, then your kids will turn out perfectly. But, sometimes, it’s just the little things, the baby steps, that can beget change. So, my goal was to create an atmosphere where my kids had to focus on something good, even at the end of a hard day. Some days, the “thankfuls” flow easily. On others, it’s like pulling teeth. But, in the discipline is such reward.
My kids now look forward to it, often jockeying to go first so that no one else steals their submission before they can say it. (Yes, I know . . . another virtue to work on!) Over the years, it has helped to see what is important to each of us, good and bad, and it gives me a window into the hearts and souls of my kids. My own perspective has been changed by hearing what they are thankful for, and they are often good examples to me when I struggle to come up with something to say.
When my husband and I talk about our goals for our children, we don’t waste emotion on hoping they always agree with us, parent the way we did, or make the same choices. But we do want them to be lovers of others, lifetime learners, kind, confident, responsible, joyful, and thankful. I’m not always great about working on all of those, generally majoring on one trait while neglecting another. What looks like failure is just regression, and I keep trying.
Thankfulness isn’t a season or a holiday. It’s a response to daily life. When we encounter things we are most certainly NOT thankful for, we draw on the great wealth of things for which we can most certainly give thanks. We plan to have a festive Thanksgiving around here, by the way. Cooking up a storm, eating too much, watching football, and catching up with family are all on the menu. But, I’m so glad that in our home, the thanksgiving won’t end on the fourth Thursday of November.
So, how about you, mamas? Any ideas, tips, or wisdom for helping children to develop thankfulness? I’d love to know!