Does it ever seem as though your children are “gimme” machines? As though they are constantly coming to you with their wants? As though there isn’t an end to the list of what new gadgets or programs they would like to buy or things that they would like to do because their friends get to do them?
Do you find yourself saying, “Ask Santa.” Or “Put it on your list for your birthday.” Or “Save up your allowance.” Or “When do you stop asking for stuff?” or “Think of all the children in Africa – they don’t have nearly the stuff you do. You need to think of someone besides yourself.”
And yet, are we good role models? Granted, being a parent means a lifetime of giving of oneself, if we are really honest with ourselves. But beyond the obvious, are we good models of being grateful for what we have? What would happen if we made a list of everything we have, of all we appreciate, of all the things we really enjoy doing?
One parent was complaining about all the stress in her life, about how much she had to do, about all of the demands placed on her, about wanting some time for herself. A friend asked her to brainstorm all of the things she loved to do or would like to be doing. Here’s her list of “love to do’s”:
- Being out of doors
- Going for walks or bike rides
- Doing crafts
- Decorating the house
- Living in a comfortable, welcoming house
- Hanging out with friends
- Creating and listening to music
- “Giving back” at church or other political or service organizations
- Hanging out with her kids
- Eating out at good restaurants
- Seeing Broadway or other theatre shows
- Doing all of the above with her kids
When she stopped and thought about her list, she realized that she did many of these activities regularly, had the opportunity to do most of them, and that the only thing preventing her from doing others was the time she spent reading junk novels and watching television. Sure, lack of money prevented her from as much travel or theatre or eating out as she would like to do. And sure, taking care of kids limited time to do other activities on the list. But mostly she realized that she should be grateful about
- Knowing what she loved to do
- Having opportunities daily to do some of these things
- Having many “loves,” and
- Having kids to do so many things with
In fact, it seemed that most of her angst was about the competition among all of her desires, for instance, wanting to be a good mom, wanting to get out of the house, not wanting to lose opportunities to do all of the things she loved. In the same way, although sometimes her kids’ “gimmes” were about material things, other times they were about wanting to do some activities that made them happy. And sometimes they too experienced the pull between things they needed to do and things they wanted to do. Sometimes they felt frustrated that they weren’t getting to do very many of the wants on their lists.
So, what would happen if we developed an “attitude of gratitude,” and encouraged our children to do the same? Perhaps we could say to ourselves and to them:
- Isn’t it great that you have so many interests!
- Wow, what a terrific thing that you have so many different friends with so many different activities and interests and toys!
- Let’s count the activities we have done this year, and be grateful for the opportunities. Then we can decide what we would like to do in the coming year.
- Let’s make a list of everything we like to do, and commit to doing one of them each day; and then being thankful for the opportunity.
- What are you grateful for today?
- Who would you like to invite over to do something special today? Perhaps that friend could bring ______________(name the activity or possession) so you can play with it.
- Isn’t it great that you have people to share with so everyone doesn’t have to have the same toys?
- There will never be time to do everything or money enough to buy everything your friends have, so let’s think about what we really want to do or buy now, and prioritize the other activities or things.
Before our children get over the “gimmes,” we probably need to figure out how to be good role models for gratitude. We will most likely need to set a good example about what we most value, and live within the boundaries of these values. And we will clearly have to get beyond our own struggles with wanting what everyone else wants, and with failing to be grateful.