How to Teach Gratitude
Written by Sarah Soderlund, M.A./C.H.
As a mother of two young boys, I’ll be the first to admit that I miss something I’ve never known: the village. In today’s world, the nuclear family is becoming less and less of a valued commodity and more of a hassle. Older generations spend their remaining years among strangers in a nursing home while young parents are often living miles, states, countries away from family.
The written thank you letter is biodegrading into our past and speaking out to strangers is becoming more and more stressful…
Sure, technology helps us keep in touch with daily texts, emails or even face-time with family, but the continued physical support of a loved one being present is something I know I could use. Someone with loving interest in my children, their grandchildren, to teach the deeper issues that our society is dealing with, because I at times feel vacant at how. As a parent, you learn that parenting is much less what you say and almost completely what you do, and therefore, you must consider how you are teaching gratitude.
Are you taking a moment to send thanks? The written thank you letter is biodegrading into our past and speaking out to strangers is becoming more and more stressful–less about connection and more about political correctness. Due in part to my spouses’ different religious beliefs, our family does not attend a regular church atmosphere wherein there is a community of people to talk openly about gratitude, and I was worried that basic manners were just not enough. The psychologist in me was berating the mother inside to do more to teach my sons how to be humble. But how? I contemplated how my father had taught me how to be humble and his missteps have led to some guilt about money. I was walking on mental eggshells, and as all Virgos do, overthinking it. I cried, called out, asked my fellow mothers, and started watching others.
Insert the “Universe.” My morning meditation met me in a quiet sunspot on the carpet. A rare silence was about the apartment as the boys were still asleep. I did my best to quiet my mind and remembered my time working with Project Uplift Inc. in Kansas City, MO. “That’s it,” I thought. “I want to take every opportunity to create kindness today.”
I rolled down my window. “Have you eaten today?”
I was a bit nervous that I might have just inserted myself into my own eclectic Mrs. Truman Show, and that much like Jim Carrey, I would turn into a “yes ma’am.” As per the usual morning routine, the family walk led us to a new, bright coffee shop down the way. I took a few photos, spoke up about my quest for the day, and the owner asked if I could have some use for yesterday’s sandwiches. I grinned. My boys and I took the roast beef and brie sandwich wrapped in plastic.
Car seats clicked, not a mile down the road, and I approach a homeless man on the corner holding his declared cardboard message: anything helps. I rolled down my window. “Have you eaten today?” He nodded to me, darted through the coming traffic and leaned into my window. He was missing most of his teeth but greeted me with a smile. I didn’t have cash on me, but I had those sandwiches and cookies we had just purchased, still wrapped. He declared that it had been about three days since his last meal. I handed him all he could carry without question. My boys watched from the car seats behind me and told the man, “Enjoy, sir!” I hadn’t even rolled my window all the way up yet before looking over to see the man crouched behind his sign inhaling the food as if he was starved. Tears swelled at my eyelids, and I waved.
My boys asked me why I gave him our picnic lunch sandwiches, and I was happy to explain that he needed them much more than we did.
A million questions ensued, but I answered each one honestly and candidly.
Even though my sons are only five and three, I explained that many people in and around our city, the world, are homeless. They do not have a room of their own, a safe space, a hot shower after a day working or even food.
My oldest son was shocked. “They don’t have a home?” A million questions ensued, but I answered each one honestly and candidly. After a few moments of silence, I then asked if it was okay that we gave that man our lunch. It was quiet. “I wish we had more sandwiches, Mom, so that we could go give out more food to people who are hungry.” I was so full of pride, I was nearly a blubbery mess all over again. I looked back over my shoulder and explained how proud I was that my sons understood gratitude, kindness, and that being humble is a virtue.
I may not be wrecking this whole parenting thing after all.