After a remarkably stress-free and soul-inspiring vacation in the Olympic Peninsula, my family of four settled back into reality, which for us is defined by a combination of preschool, daycare and two working parents. I work from home on Mondays and recently incorporated my five-year old into my workday.
He has his own small desk and an assortment of colored paper, pens, markers, scissors, stamps, etc. For a little while he does okay working independently beside me. However, soon enough he is wriggling and anxious for my undivided attention.
At midday I take a couple of hours “off” to spend outdoors with my son so we can both burn off a little energy before spending the afternoon indoors. On this particular day, nothing satisfied him. Not the dozens and dozens of books in our home. Not the hundred or so Legos that he typically adores. Not the puzzles, superhero figures, plastic dinosaurs, scorpions and spiders nor the plentiful assortment of recently acquired birthday gifts.
I want a new toy!
These are boring!
All my friends have way more toys than I do!
Have I set the stage for a less than awesome afternoon?
Frustrated after receiving multiple angry responses to suggestions for his entertainment, I looked at him, tipped my head, and proceeded to lecture.
We do not live in a toy store. This is our home. We have much less than some families, I concede. But taking a global perspective, we have far, far more than many families that stretch from coast to coast in the United States, and across the sea, and throughout the hemispheres.
I continue. “Your words are not grateful, it’s important that we be grateful for all that we have, there are many children who have absolutely no toys, books, etc…. they play with rocks and sticks… if they’re lucky.”
Blah blah blah until the last bit when my son looks up me unexpectedly.
I like to play with rocks and sticks, he commented patiently.
He wasn’t getting it.
I proceeded to fill a garbage bag with a number of underused toys and books still in decent condition, and as I did so, I explained that we were going somewhere to give these items away – hopefully to children who did not have them.
I sensed both his skepticism and his interest. I wasn’t placing anything of great value (to him, anyway) in the bag. He wondered exactly who would receive these toys and books.
We drove to a neighborhood store that accepted gently used items for resale. We lugged the bag out of the trunk and gave it to a kind gentleman monitoring drop-offs.
We went home.
I swear not twenty minutes went by before he asked if we could get a new toy “the next time” we went to the store.
My pulse quickened.
Did we not just have this conversation?
I do not intend to raise spoiled children, and mostly I think my husband and I are succeeding. But maybe we’re not. In the presence of privilege – and we are members of a privileged community – I am mindful of the manner in which we consume, purchase, deliver, and gift.
That night before dinner I instructed everyone to wait before lifting a spoon to their lips. We do not typically say grace before meals, but I asked each member of the family (even the two-year-old) to share one thing for which they are grateful before we begin the meal.
It took the eldest a few minutes, but he finally says: I am grateful for pizza and salad.
My two-year-old is grateful for his leche (we think, because he’s still finding his words).
My husband is grateful for two healthy, happy boys.
I am grateful for being able to cultivate gratitude in our growing family – a colorful mix of boys and parents and dog and jobs and activity and stillness and questions and surprises.
I want to plant seeds of giving deep in the earth and deep in their souls. I want my boys to learn that it is not just ok to receive gracefully, but also learn to give, and give fully, and give even when it hurts.
We shall see if the seeds take root, and how our garden evolves.
How do you teach your children gratitude and giving?
This is an original guest post to World Moms Blog by Sara Padilla of Oregon, USA. Sara is a writer, blogger and public health professional based in Portland, Oregon. Her two sons (ages five and two) inspire creative parenting and writing. Sara blogs at Sunshine and Salad. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading and sleeping.
Photo credit to the author.