Teaching gratitude

Kylie Orr
Kylie Orr 

Calling my children ungrateful would be extreme. However, it would be fair to say they have not yet mastered the art of gratitude.

To cut them a miniscule amount of slack, they are only six, four, and one. The one year old needs some significant work, but we have time. The six- and four-year olds are almost lost causes.

Gratitude is a gift for life. To be grateful for the small stuff, means you don’t spend your entire existence wishing and wanting for more. Nothing is a greater magnifier of the need for gratitude, than parenthood.

Remember as a kid, asking for an ice cream right after your parents had taken you somewhere special? Like the movies or out for dinner? When it was met with a no, and perhaps you huffed or sulked a little, the lecture was imminent. The one about “we’ve just taken you to XYZ, spent hard earned cash, and our entire day has been devoted to you, and yet you still ask for more? MORE?” Ok, so perhaps my memory is not acutely accurate and some embellishment of the facts have shrouded the truth. Throw in a little bit of Oliver and the details are shady. But you get the gist.

I found myself in déjà vu land in a true case of parenting revenge.

If my six year old had his way, he would have a school lunch order every day, even on weekends. Instead, he is allowed a lunch order on special days – his birthday, the last day of each term and on the odd occasion his mother cannot be bothered facing one more cut lunch.

I decided last Friday I would throw him a freebie and offered him a lunch order, as a gift of generosity. One condition: he would not get his usual lunch item, plus feral sugary drink (what exactly is blue lemonade?), plus sugary snack. He could have lunch and the blue poison and bring a piece of fruit from home.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” he sighed, slumping his shoulders.

I adopted the mother-stare.

I hope you’re not complaining about my offer.”

But I really wanted an Anzac biscuit,” he replied.

We have Anzac biscuits here, you can take one of those.”

But I don’t like those ones,” he continued.

So I pulled the pin on the lunch order. He got a vegemite sandwich, an apple and a free lecture about gratitude.

I explained that when someone offers you something, you simply say thank you. You may hope with all your might there is something additional in the offer, but by lordy, you hope quietly. It is both poor manners and ungrateful to keep asking for more.

Through the sobs, he nodded in apparent understanding.

Not ten minutes later as I passed him the money he could spend at the Mother’s Day stall, he asked how much was there.

Five dollars,” I said.

Oh, but I really wanted seven.”

PARDON? Sorry, did we not just go over this? Here I was thinking I had thrown him a pretty hard curve ball, a harsh lesson for a six year old but one that would be learnt quickly. No, it went in one ear, and then out the nose with snot and sobs.

The thought did dawn on me that perhaps having this discussion on the day he was selecting a present for me for Mother’s Day was a tactical error. Seeing as I’d just spouted off about gratitude, I would be more than grateful with whatever he brought home. As long as it wasn’t the paper bag from the lunch order he managed to swap that Mother’s Day stall money for!

I know my children are young, but gratitude is an imperative life lesson. Many adults still have trouble showing it. Ever met someone who is eternally looking for something more? Bigger house? Better car? Different job? Following dreams is one thing, being continually discontented and unappreciative of what you have and what you have achieved are sure signs of someone lacking gratitude. In my mind, without gratitude, you cannot achieve happiness.

How on earth do we teach our children this integral value? Will they just learn by example? We all say what we want most for our children is happiness, but surely gratitude is an important part of this? What do you think?

I know my children are young, but gratitude is an imperative life lesson.

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