Wednesday, 11 June 2008


We are trying to find ways of building an intentional practice of gratitude into our lives. It sounds simple no? No. The root of the problem is that I simply don't have answers to some questions that seem fundamental to the question of how we are grateful.

Q1: I want the boys to be grateful for what they have, material, but mostly not, but I don't want them to feel afraid it could all be taken away, or to deny feeling 'unlucky' sometimes - does that make any sense?
Its wanting to avoid the 'you don't know how lucky you are sonny boy' type sentiment... and from that an idea that, as children the non-material (and some material) things they have, for which one would maybe want to be grateful, are actually fine for them to take for granted. Children should have love, a home, good food and friends, and not have to think about it, let alone feel that they need to earn it. These are Rights. Universal, undeniable.

Q2: I don't want to develop and 'us and them, haves and have nots' world view. Gratitude need not to be rooted in 'I'm so grateful that its not me, that I'm not as badly off as them' The things we are grateful for are not based in luck, nor a product of our own merit or innate goodness above other who are struggling.

Q3: My own spirituality dictates that I need something that avoids what Marti calls 'worm theology' i.e we are nothing, we owe it all to god, our lives out of ours, and into gods hands.... If this is your place of faith I respect that. Its just not mine.

Q4: I like building family ritual, but can't stand rote and cheesy sentiment..

See how not easy this is turning out to be? Just pick a bloody grace, say it before meals and spare us this excruciatingly fuzzy diatribe, I hear you beg. Its been a item on my 48/480 list for 6 months now so obviously it requires more of my attention (but not yours - feel free to bow out quietly now :) .

I said in last weeks post that I felt parenting was just a series of near misses. This much I know; I am deeply, profoundly grateful every day, and know that we live as we do by grace alone. Who's I'm not sure, but there it is.

As we bring these sweet children, full of joy and love into the world I struggle to keep at bay the fear, pain and sadness that seems to engulf so much of humanity. In the tiny of moments of silence between pre-school, groceries, questions, swings, train sets, e-mail, tidying up, bathing, feeding and.. well, life with smalls the desire, no, necessity to curl up in a ball around my children is almost insurmountable. That we have been give these lives, and these experiences of parenthood to hold in trust is nothing but grace.

I am grateful, and I want my children to know that the world is bigger, that we are linked to those in pain, that our privilege has had some cost, that people and places work to make our food... but without all the guilt mentioned above. Yeesh.

I read this week:

"I force myself to look at photographs of the grieving parents in China: it's a moral imperative, on the one hand, to bear witness to the pain of others; and it's a fear, on the other, that to turn away is an insult to grace." - Catherine Newman

This is what I believe.

Now how do I say it with my children, or should I at all???

Suggestions welcome.


Louise said...

I think the best you can do is lead by example. Point out the marvelous things in your life and express your feelings for them to your children. Show them that you feel grateful for having them, good health, nice food etc etc without going into too much confusing detail.
Give them time every day to think of something that made them happy and something that made them sad or angry. Let them express their feelings safely.
As they get older, you can expand your talks to include the wider world and global issues and with the foundations you build now, they will learn empathy, sympathy and gratitude.
Keep up those dinner table or bedtime discussions and your children will learn to bring their own thoughts, worries, fears and ideas to the conversation.

Barbara said...

I think you got it right Louise. Lead by example (easier said than done of course but always a good rule of thumb). As the kids get older you can also start to do things like on special occasions (ex. birthday and christmas), when they have lots to be thankful for, start some rituals/traditions (whatever you want to call them) like shopping for a gift not for your own child but to be donated to a less fortunate child, perhaps a gift your own child would like, as a way of reminding them of how lucky they are to have the things they have, without inflicting guilt but rather inspiring the idea of community and generosity. Not always easy concepts with young children who have a limited understanding of empathy but something I'd like to try with Claire none the less.

I also don't think you have to be preaching to be thankful for having nice things. I think our kids are still little to understand the bigger world that is outside their experience so starting with being content and thankful with what they have is easier than trying to make them understand what others don't have. That may be something for when they are older. Hmm...good food for thought this discussion.

Louise said...

Donating gifts to hospitals at Christmas is a nice way of showing children how to give as we as receive! I am thinking of doing this with mine when they are a bit older.

Sheila said...

WOW - another entry I can completely relate to. We live in a city that struggles with homelessness, and we live close enough to the downtown core that in the warmer weather our parks and playgrounds have men and women sleeping in them.

How to I explain homelessness to my three year old?

I also struggle a bit with mealtime graces - we're atheist, so I don't want to be saying a prayer, but I have similar thoughts to you Kate about instilling a sense of real gratitude for what we have. For now, we say thank you to the cook after being excused from the table.

And is it terrible of me to enjoy the reactions to this when we are guests? It is pretty cute when my almost two year old toddles unprompted over to a friend at a BBQ and says "Thank You Hamburger."

I like your conversation ideas, Louise. I think the most important thing is to be grateful ourselves, and I tell myself the rest will follow.