Okay, so we blew it. That’s what one reader told us in an e-mail. We’ll call him Joe (and of course, as we all know, this is not his real name). And maybe Joe’s right. If we want our children, young or older, to be grateful for what they have and for what mom and dad have sacrificed to provide them, Joe said, then as parents we need to model the gratitude we expect from them. Joe said if your children are taught to be thankful when they’re young, it will carry over to their teenage years. So … yep, maybe we blew it somewhere along the way.
When we met with other dads and discussed this particular subject, however, nearly all of them expressed the same feeling. I guess even adults have to grow up as they get older. And maybe that process differs with all of us. We are darned proud of now-grown children. They have done well, and there is now evidence that they see and understand that we all stand on the drooping shoulders of others before us. Anyway, Joe, thank you.
Talk it and Walk It
This is a great segue into another email we received from a mom who asked for suggestions on how parents can instill a sense of gratitude in their children. Referencing Joe again, parents do need to model the behavior they expect from their sons and daughters. You have to talk the talk — and also walk it. That’s difficult for us when we deal daily with an ungrateful boss or neighbor or client or creditor and yet are expected to model behavior that we seldom experience ourselves. Gratitude takes effort and energy!
Acknowledge the gift and giver
It’s a good habit to acknowledge the gifts that you have received, whether they are tangible items wrapped in fancy paper or skills and abilities that comprise your DNA. Allow your children — whatever their ages — to see, hear, feel and celebrate your gratitude for all that you receive.
Go climb a tree
Explore your family tree. When Tom and his brother drilled down into their family, they discovered they are who they are, in large part, because of the characteristics of their father, grandfather and his father. Tom is proud of that heritage, and he is grateful. But they waited until they were much older to start this exploration. We would suggest taking that journey as soon as you can. There is a wealth of gratitude in discovering those many pairs of shoulders that came before. (Tom’s daughters have drilled down only far enough to discover that they inherited their obsession for organization, order and impatience from their dad. Their appreciation is not yet evident.)
Home is where the hugs are
Most of all, however, mom and dad, we believe you should express thanks for your kids to your kids. Many dads especially find it awkward to reveal their tender side. Under that thick skin and tough exterior bubbles a pool of hugs and kisses and words of encouragement, pride and love. Teenagers need to hear that they are loved and appreciated for who they are, just as they are — and they need to hear it at home. Sometimes they seldom hear it anywhere else.