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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fostering Gratitude

Lately I’ve been feeling annoyed with my children for not being grateful for all they have. I’m pretty sure that I can’t force them to be appreciative and that it’s not helpful to lecture them on the children I taught when I was in the Peace Corps in Africa (“They were lucky to have one pencil, let alone buy three new packs every school year!”) Still, figuring out how to respond isn’t always clear.

I suppose this is on my mind because we just spent a ridiculous amount of money going to Six Flags as an extremely belated birthday present. The child in question had originally wanted an expensive electronic devise. My husband and I agreed that we didn’t want to buy something most likely to be used for violent video games, so we came up with the idea of giving an experience rather than a thing. The experience was supposed to be at Dorney Park, which includes lots of water slides, which everyone in our family enjoys. The child in question was thrilled with this idea and agreed to wait (this was last April) until the weather was warm enough for water slides. Unfortunately a busy summer combined with other complications postponed the trip, so that when we finally got around to planning it in September, we realized that the water slides were closed for the summer. To make a long story short, we agreed to go to Six Flags, which is more expensive and includes the sort of roller-coasters that most forty-six-year-old mothers find unappetizing. After having to postpone a week due to rain, the child in question brought a friend and had a fantastic time and even convinced my husband to go on a ride that looped upside down and twisted a few times. (Dad kept his eyes closed.) Everything was so overpriced, I felt like I was walked around the park sprinkling twenty dollar bills the way a flower girl sprinkles rose petals. Still, we finally came through on the birthday present and had beautiful weather, so I was grateful.

Is it unfair of me to point out that said child never said thank you and in fact started asking for an expensive electronic devise the next day?

God must have known I needed some professional help this morning because just as I was starting this rant, my friend Tamar Chansky showed up in the coffee shop where I’m working. I’ve been meaning to blog about her new book Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, which includes a section on fostering gratitude in your children. Tamar writes:

Be patient: Just as a sincere apology is worth more than a forced one, it is better to wait for the spontaneous words of true appreciation and concern than to have your child pull a muscle trying to manufacture them on the spot…Researchers have found, perhaps not surprisingly, that forcing gratitude does not yield positive results. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California found that people who wrote in a gratitude journal once a week were happier than those who wrote three times a week; making it a regular practice but not a chore made the difference.

I found this last bit particularly interesting because our family shares things we are grateful for during our nightly prayer time ritual, and often the expressions do feel rote. The belated-birthday-child usually says, “The four Fs,” which refers to Friends, Family, Food, and Fun, as a matter of habit.

As in most aspects of parenting, I suppose I should focus on leading by example, being grateful myself, rather than trying to force gratitude out of my children. Maybe it would help to think of parenting as a giant roller-coaster ride, full of excitement and occasional screams. That it makes you dizzy is just part of the fun. Right?


Blogger naturalmom said...

Great post Eileen, with lots to think about.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are planting seeds, but there's no way to know when they will blossom or what color the flower will be. I'm also reminded of the parable of the woman with the yeast.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

It's very hard to be so patient, though. When we gave life to them and see them acting like ungrateful little consumer monkeys (my kids, not yours), it is very hard not to be driven quite around the bend. I do agree that it can't be forced - it is just hard.

P.S. - I never can figure out why the theme parks in other states are called Six Flags, too. You didn't really have six flags over your state like Texas did, did you?

9:04 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

I agree that patience is both essential and difficult.

As for Six Flags, maybe it started in Texas. Don't know.

12:07 PM  

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