“What you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Teaching my children would be so much easier if I could just speak words of profound truth into their eager minds and ever-listening ears, and thereby equip them with a vast array of wisdom. But that’s not how it works. What matters so much more is not what I say but what I do in front of my kids and how I live my life with my kids.
Thanksgiving is coming up. It is such a wonderful time of the year. I am excited to gather the family around the table, feast together, and recount our blessings. In thinking about all of this, I am reminded that I cannot teach thankfulness to my children without first modeling it.
Entitlement doesn’t start with our kids. It starts with us.
I think I am generally thankful and cheerful, but I often fail. My patience wears thin. I show attitudes of discontent. My kids hear me complain that the barista didn’t get my drink right. They see me longingly flipping through Pottery Barn catalogues. We have so much compared to the majority of the world, but entitlement insidiously seeps in, even with the best of intentions.
It’s tough to model thankfulness sometimes!
Attitudes of entitlement saturate our culture. I want to combat these attitudes and instill hearts of gratefulness in my children. In order to do this, I have to first start with myself. The hardest part of teaching is trying to daily live-out the thing being taught.
It would be so convenient if I could just ask my kids to write something in a gratefulness journal each day—or if I was feeling extra-creative, I could collect twigs and make a gratefulness tree, having them meticulously fill out maple leaf cut-outs each day to hang on our tree—and then call it good. But it’s not that easy.
Gratefulness starts with me. Before my kids will learn it, I must learn it too.
Here are some things I am thinking about when it comes to my attempt to model thankfulness:
How do my spending choices reflect my values? My kids often come shopping with me and see firsthand how our money is spent. Christ identified with the lowly. Do my choices in spending reflect this?
What attitudes of entitlement do I show in front of my kids? Do I complain about inconveniences like traffic? Do I make a stink about getting bad service at a restaurant? Do I criticize myself or others in front of my kids?
Do I act grouchy when I have to serve or help my kids? Am I seizing every opportunity to serve others, modeling myself after Christ who took on the form of a servant? When my heart is right in truly serving other people, there is no room for complaints because my focus will be on others. Of course, it’s often harder to serve my own kids than to serve the broader community!
Do I thank my kids for their contributions and service? When my kids serve their siblings or do extra work around the house, am I praising them? It is so important to praise character and show a heart of gratefulness for the things they do to help.
I want my kids to see me praying with a thankful heart, serving others, writing thank you notes, and showing generosity that can only stem from a grateful spirit.
I hope to teach gratitude by living it—even though I will surely stumble and fail—during this Thanksgiving season and beyond.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; second image courtesy of Amy Koons.