I grew up watching the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder as an eccentric candy maker who invites five children to his candy factory for an exclusive tour and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Four of the five children are miserably spoiled brats who are not remotely thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, blatantly disobey the rules, and wreak havoc everywhere. As a young child, I remember being shocked by their ungrateful behavior.
Unfortunately, ingratitude isn’t limited to the big screen (or my grainy 21-inch childhood TV). Ingratitude and entitlement are everywhere, permeating our own homes and hearts. And while everyone has reason as a recipient of God’s common grace to be thankful, God’s people have more reason than anyone, for we have been brought from death to life. We want to communicate how blessed we are to our children, and we want them to be grateful, too. But what does that look like, practically?
The oldest of my three children is seven years old. I’m still a newbie at this mothering gig. But in my brief stint as a mom, I have found a few things that are helping to instill gratitude in my children. Let me preface this by saying that they are not always grateful. Sometimes, they are complete ingrates. So am I. But I have seen tremendous growth as we have implemented strategies learned from godly counsel, Scripture, and good old-fashioned trial and error.
The first thing we have done is to give our kids less. This might seem counterintuitive. Certainly, the more blessed one is, the easier it is to see and appreciate one’s blessings, right? Not in my experience. It is easier to be thankful for one special gift or experience than to appreciate a mountain of them, and excess almost always leads to a sense of entitlement. So, we don’t give piles of presents, and we ask our families to follow our lead in this. We do fun things as a family, but not every day. We make special events and special treats special. When we do enjoy something special, we find that it is easier for our kids to appreciate it.
We have also learned the principle that giving produces gratitude. Allowing our children to be givers encourages them to appreciate how they have also been recipients of good gifts. We look for opportunities to be generous together. For example, at Christmas we go through the Compassion International gift catalog and talk about the gifts. Why would a water filtration system or a chicken be a good gift for someone? Because things we take for granted—fresh water from the tap and eggs for breakfast—are not blessings everyone has. We talk about how much God has blessed us, and that it’s not because we are more deserving than anyone else. We explain that as God’s people, it is our duty and our delight to share our plenty with those who have need. Then, they choose a gift to give, and we give them chores so they can earn the money needed to buy that gift. We want them to be active participants who take ownership of the giving process, because giving really does produce gratitude for our own blessings. You can find many, many opportunities to encourage generosity in your children if you look around you.
Another way we work to instill gratitude is the time-honored tradition of counting our blessings. In our family, we like to make a thankfulness tree in November. We choose small branches from the yard, put them in a jar or vase, and attach paper leaves on which we’ve written blessings we appreciate. Each day, we add to the tree. The blessings my kids choose are often things I would never have considered, and I’m encouraged to be grateful, too.
Lastly, we look for opportunities in the everyday to give thanks. Are we suffering through a grocery store outing together? We can comment on how blessed we are to have enough money to buy food to eat. Is it raining outside when everyone wants to go out to play? We remind ourselves of the gift of both rain and shelter. Our entire lives are fraught with blessing. All we need to do is look for it and then give thanks for it.
We all want gratitude to be an everyday grace in our home, and as moms, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to cultivate it in our children’s hearts. Let’s be faithful in this work, because the One to whom we owe all our thanksgiving is worthy. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 118:29)
How do you work to foster gratitude in your home?