I'm increasingly more aware of just how ungrateful we are. It crosses all barriers - as a nation, as individuals, as children, adults, male, female, black, white, etc. It's an ever increasing epidemic plaguing our children, our marriages, and our society as a whole.
I've often wondered how I'll teach Anna and Eli about being grateful for what they have. And here are my thoughts on this. My two year old already says thank you on a regular basis. Why? Because I think it's crucial that she learns early on the value of appreciating what she has and what is done for her. My 12 month old is already uttering the sounds of thank you. And no, we're not running a dictatorship around here. We merely expect Anna and Eli to not only be grateful, but respectful. Be it Anna asking for a fork or her sippy cup, she says thank you when we give it to her.... on her own. We occasionally have to prompt her to say it, but for the most part she's already learned that she needs to say it. And while she most likely doesn't yet comprehend the meaning behind it, she does understand the need for it. Likewise, she says please when she wants something. To me, saying please is a way of saying "Hey I don't merely expect you to give me something because I said so." It's a polite way of requesting something. It's also a good way of teaching children that just because they say please doesn't always mean they'll get what they're asking for. It's a hard lesson to teach children - especially when they think that please means they automatically get something - ie. a cookie..... or 10. But it's necessary, even crucial to teach them please and thank you. Otherwise we end up with the problem society at large has.... a bunch of ungrateful punks running around demanding things and thinking the world revolves around them.
I see children all the time throwing tantrums because something isn't just how they wanted it or they wanted more than what they got or think they deserve something every time you go somewhere (just visit the toy section of your local Walmart if you don't believe me). It reminds me of a story my dad once told me about a guy he worked with. This man had bought his daughter a new car for her 16th birthday. When he showed it to her, her response was "I wanted a red one." So he drove the car back and returned it and told her she could buy her own. A tough lesson to learn about being grateful - but I guarantee you, it's a lesson she never forgot. I can already predict that Anna and Eli aren't going to like my punishments when they get older but hope that I don't have to use them too often. Here are a few I have in store for those, hopefully rare, moments:
Returning items and making them go with me to return them
Writing essays on needs verses wants and why they should be grateful
Donating toys, clothing, and other items to those in need
Volunteering at a shelter or other charity organization
And of course these have to be age appropriate but returning things generally fits all age groups and would make your point very clear. I don't say these things because I want to be mean to my kids, I say them because I care enough about them to teach them how to be productive citizens - not arrogant young adults who expect everyone to cater to them. Let's not kid ourselves - we are NOT doing our children any favors by catering to their every whim - it only hurts them in the long run.... and then all the rest of us for having to put up with them.
Please don't mistake me for saying that kids never deserve anything - they do. We occasionally buy Anna and Eli toys or stickers or take them for ice cream. The message I want my readers to take from this is that saying "no"is okay and expecting your kids to say "please" and "thank you" is also okay. Likewise it's also okay to go to the store and not visit the toy aisle. It's a matter of teaching them to be content, grateful, and appreciative of what they have.
But it doesn't just stop with children. The attitude of ungratefulness is also plaguing our marriages and families. I unfortunately witness this all too often in my office... marriages dissolving before my very eyes and the attitude of selfishness is always present. Husbands and wives are failing to see the importance in validating what the other does - be it working a job they don't like, working odd shifts, doing the dishes and laundry, cooking dinner, mowing the yard, taking the trash out, bathing the kids, etc. We're so ungrateful that all we care about is ourselves. And I'm not talking about some fake facade of "Oh thank you for this and thank you for that." While saying "Thank you" is nice, it's the overall attitude of thankfulness that is more important. Where have we gone wrong that we can't even appreciate the things that are done for us? It makes absolutely no sense to me.
It's the little things that matter - yet all too often we overlook them. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big thank you card person. And while I've slacked off a bit since having the kids, I'm trying to get back into the swing of sending them out more regularly. How long does it take to write a little note card saying "Hey, thanks for inviting us over last night. Dinner was great. We're so blessed to have you as friends."?? Not very long at all. Yet it immediately portrays your attitude of thankfulness - for being invited over, for dinner, for the friendships you have. They can be sent for any number of things - gifts, calls, prayers, flowers, dinner, or just to say you're thinking about someone.
I can't express how much I would love to see our society begin shifting back to actually caring about manners and being thankful for what they have and what others do for them. More importantly, it's our job as parents to do our part in not perpetuating the problem. It's a hard job, but one that I find is at the top of my list when it comes to raising my children.
If any of you have ideas or suggestions on how you combat the "give me, give me, give me" mentality, please send them my way!