As good dads, we strive to give our kids the best we can offer. But somehow, especially in the past, few decades, giving our kids “the best” has triggered some unintentional consequences. And one of those consequences is the production of a generation of young people who vehemently struggle with gratefulness. Now, before you think I am about to launch into a tirade regarding the millennial demonstrations we have seen occurring post-presidential election, hold up. When I think of a lack of gratefulness in the generation behind me, all I have to do is blame my own. Case in point, I have a very nice vehicle. When I first purchased said vehicle, I was thrilled. But, as time and my car have rolled on, I catch myself looking around at other very nice vehicles. You get where I’m going. So, how do we dads, who are possibly a little spoiled ourselves, create environments in our homes in which we can raise children possessing a grateful attitude? As always: we model it.
Modeling an attitude, a lifestyle even, of gratefulness can happen on both minute and massive scales. When children are very young, simply hearing the adults in their lives consistently and sincerely saying, “thank you,” is huge. This may not be earth-shattering advice, but all one has to do is go out in public for the day and consciously count the “thank-yous” to be surprised.
My wife, a middle school teacher, loves to treat her class. However, she says that anytime she gives out treats, she mentally tracks the expressions of gratitude. The last time she tracked, out of 115 students, seven said, “Thank you.” Seven. She says she doesn’t give anything to get a “thanks,” but that it is sad and disconcerting that students – and humans in general – have lost the fine art of thanking. The much needed art of being grateful and living lives of gratitude.
As children grow, there are numerous community opportunities, through our schools, non-profits, and religious organizations in which we can continue this modeling of gratefulness. When our sons were in elementary school, we often spent Thanksgiving Day serving homeless members of our town a special, holiday meal at a local hotel ballroom. One of our fondest memories as parents is that of our youngest, then around age six or seven, cheerfully carrying cups of pudding to downtrodden, displaced people, then pulling a chair up right beside them to chat their ears off regarding his busy and fascinating first grade life. It not only made him grateful for the home he had, but it fostered in him the ability to see all humans as fellow humans.
Into their teens and college years, we supported and encouraged our boys’ travel and service with campus groups, ministry organizations, and ROTC military outreaches. We’ve lost count of the combined excursions, but never the count of life-changing, gratitude-inducing, human-kindness-in-action moments they have produced within our now-grown children. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s great, Kev. But, my kids are really young.” Or, quite possibly, “I’d love to see my kids have experiences like that, but money and opportunity are scarce.” You need not look further than your elderly neighbor’s un-mowed lawn, or the person who opens the door for you and your little one to walk through. Grab your mower, have your kid pull weeds, and simply say “thanks,” in front of them once in a while. Or better yet, all the time. Remember, your kids are watching.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons