I try not to put words in my children’s mouths, try to be patient and give them ample time to speak their truths. I try hard not to ask a question, wait just a few seconds and then answer for them. As a teacher I’ve learned the importance of wait time. Silence does not mean the child doesn’t know the answer. They need time to think, to process. I can’t imagine if every time I was asked a question or my opinion someone shouted out the answer for me. Why would I speak? And yet there is a place in this same realm where I fall short. There is this one phrase, “thank you,” which I often speak or remind my children to speak before they could possibly process their own gratitude. Why? Am I worried people will think I have rude or ungrateful children? Am I worried they will grow up to be selfish or without appreciation? The truth is…maybe.
I don’t think my children are any of these things right now. They are children learning how to navigate themselves, our family, society, but perhaps that is my unconscious excuse. I need to make sure they learn and always say thank you, because how many times have I handed a teenager — or worse, an adult — something, gone out of my way for someone, held open a door, only to be met with a glance, a grunt, or worse…nothing. I don’t do nice things for people because I like to hear the words “thank you”, but there is something about not hearing them, not being appreciated, that stings.
The larger issue is not the phrase, but the sentiment itself — gratitude, appreciation, not taking kindness for granted. I don’t want my children to expect or demand, and maybe even more than that, I don’t want my children to neglect to notice the good things people are doing for each other every day.
Our family stopped watching the news and most TV years ago because it was only telling part of the story. Not only were pieces of whatever story was being told often left out in a clear attempt to sway our understanding, but the good news stories were simply not there. Humanity, love, compassion, appreciation, gratitude — they live in this world more than their counterparts, and yet so often these stories are not the ones being shared. Why? My fear is because people have become so wrapped up in their lives, in what they don’t have, want, and what is wrong that they aren’t noticing the good. I’ve spent days without noticing, seeking, and being in conversation about the joys in everyday life. They were horrible days. Do things always go smoothly? Is my life without hardship or pain? Of course not, but to live only in what is missing or wrong, is just not a place I want to be, nor one I want my children to grow up thinking is the norm.
Saying “Thank You,” however, is not the answer, especially if it is forced and becomes rote, so I’ve been thinking of other ways to foster this sense of awareness and appreciation. I try to be a good model, notice and speak about the joys in our life, and voice my gratitude. I try to keep my comments about what people are doing wrong (mostly driving) to myself. As the kids are getting older, our family is making a big deal out of making things for each other for holidays or just because in hopes of getting them excited about giving and noticing how excited the other person is to be giving. We’re writing letters, thank you notes, and saying what we loved most about our days at dinner. We have this little wooden pumpkin I painted years ago that used to be brought out only in the fall and for Thanksgiving. On it we’ve written the things our family is the most thankful for each year: specific friends, new jobs, favorite foods or toys. It’s a look into the best parts of our years together, and just recently I’ve realized it’s too important to be kept in a box for most of the year. Our gratitude is spoken, written, visual, and present.
We’re not keeping our children in a box, away from all the hard things in life either, but we’re trying really hard to make sure the joys of life are talked about a lot and appreciated. Still, we can only lay the path, so I’m going to start hanging back, letting the kids feel their gratitude, see the good, and say “Thank You” or give thanks because they truly feel the need to do so. I’m going to trust they will because like so many of the things I’ve worried about and wished for in my short life as Mama, I know once the path is cleared for them, they walk just fine.
Kelly Sage writes about simple living and the joy of doing so on her blog Sagetribe. After nine years of teaching middle and high school English, Kelly has decided to homeschool and put more energy into her love of writing. She facilitates writing circles at Writing for a Change in Bloomington, IN., loves to be outside, and put good food on the family table.