When I set out to identify 52 characteristics I wanted to work on this year with my boys, I struggled to figure out which one would be first. I had a pretty easy time making a full list; my friends and family have given me dozens of ideas and I could have probably selected one at random to begin with; however, I thought about it and the one that kept coming to my mind was “thankfulness.” It is important to teach our kids to be thankful.
You see, I wish I could say that I am thankful for everything in my life. That would not be completely true. I have historically fallen into the trap that there is always something else I want, something else I should accomplish; something else I need, whatever. I have an idea about why this came to be; however, I have found that I need to be reminded almost daily to be thankful for what I have, who I have in my life, and what I get to do every day as a member of the human race. Much like everyone I knew growing up, we were poor. That being said, I don’t regret the way we grew up one bit. My mother and father worked very hard for us and constantly fought month to month to provide a safe environment for us. Mom was basically a one-woman show most of our lives at night. Dad worked the afternoon shift with Sundays and Mondays off; therefore, he wasn’t available to parent or spend good quality time with us. The sacrifices our parents made for us enabled all of us to become very successful, relatively balanced, all leading full lives. One common theme I remember as a young man focused on “keeping up with the Jone’s.” I am pretty sure that expression isn’t in favor any longer; however, it simply meant for us, we need to keep thinking about what we didn’t have. Mom and Dad were very focused on preventing us from struggling like they had. This intense drive to ‘move forward’
This past week, my wife and I got the opportunity to go and look through 12,000 pictures at my mother and father-in-law’s house. I have never done this before, but what an amazing opportunity to walk through someone’s life, captured in photos. This evening ended up being one of the best dates I have ever had with my wife.
Before you say, “Julian sure has a very low bar,” let me explain. Laurie has always said she wants our boys to learn to ‘want’ more. Let me clarify. She finds value in longing for something, having to have patience for something, to not just immediately ‘get’ what they want. I come from the school of thought that honors the need to not spoil a child; however, I have also been victim to getting the boys things when they don’t need them. I don’t have a serious spending issue; however, I do think I can learn a lot from the observations I made on our date.
So, Laurie’s families photo albums started before her parents were married, with some great pictures in black and white, the marriage, the first child, second child, third, and then the cutest child (Laurie); however, what struck me throughout the process was this slow movement of progress. Laurie’s parents decided to build a house by themselves, moving into the house before it was finished. They lived in the basement before the house was done, they slept on cots when they had one bedroom done, and they moved into bedrooms when they had a little furniture. Today, their house is beautiful; however, when I see what they taught Laurie about being thankful for what you have, I am in awe. For me, I wished I could see myself moving into a house before it was finished OR building a house from scratch in phases; however, thankfully, my wife has a much more paced perspective on life.
We want our kids to be thankful. To encourage this behavior, here are some potential ideas to try:
Take the time to show our kids how to make thank you part of every day. Say thank you to your spouse, partner, friend, grocery store clerk, grandmother, grandfather, etc. Watch what your kids do.
Ask our kids ‘what are they celebrating’ or ‘thankful’ for at least one time per day. I stole this from my minister, Jed Mullinex. It is awesome. I use this at work. You would think I am asking for a loan or something. It started as a way to get to know the group I was sitting with; however, ended up being something that has caught on. I encourage you to use it next time you are in a meeting and want to get to know the group a little deeper.
Use facetime / Skype / etc. with someone who has given you something that you are thankful for and reach out.
Help your kids identify what things ‘you’ are thankful for, given them insight into what values you have and want to encourage. I usually do this during prayer (which we try to do at each meal and in the evenings) when our boys started, they were thankful for ‘their toys, the time they got to play with their toys, the toy they saw someone playing with, and their grandma and grandpa.” Over time, that has changed to ‘I am thankful for my brother, my mom and dad, our family, our blessings, and grandma and grandpa.’
Volunteer at church with your kids; help them donate time to a charity; or spend some time with them helping a neighbor who may be in need. (Sweep their walkway, mow their lawn, get their mail, make them dinner. Our pastor spends a great deal of time talking about the power of just an invitation. “Come over for dinner”, “Come have a glass of wine with us”, “Let me help you with ….” I teach 5th-grade Sunday school. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this process. God is working miracles in their lives and I look at them as good role models for my boys when they are this age. That being said, the first part, the “5th-grade” portion of my Sunday mornings are always interesting. They are a mile a minute; they are talkative; they are excited to be around other young men their age, and they are growing in their faith. Better than all of that, they are teaching me every week. I have been stunned by the amount of perspective these young men have and I continue to grow from this investment in them and the church!
Randomly let your kids pay for someone at a toll-gate, a drive through, grocery store, etc. It is best to not see their reaction! One of the most memorable stories of my young adulthood was my brother Dave, a great father in his own right, telling me a story involving clown noses. Yep, the red, spongy clown noses you can find at a party supply house. He would purposely pay for someone’s toll gate and then drive away. Most of the time, the person who Dave had paid for would try to catch up with him to see ‘who on earth is crazy enough to spend a $1.25 on me?’ When the car would catch up to my brother, he would be looking away and then slowly turn around towards them with the clown nose on and wave like a happy person. So, he spread joy by doing a random act of kindness + he gave a little bit of joy to someone who might have needed it that day.
Actively thank a soldier in front of your kids. It seems like this is a no-brainer; however, I am always surprised when a soldier pays for his / her own meal in public. Step up and simply say, ‘this one’s on me.’ For your kids, it is a lasting impression; for the soldiers, it is a nice thing; and for those who are watching; it might encourage them to be more thankful in the future.
In Lennay Chapman’s book “Secrets to a Rockin Life” she created a game called “The Gratitude Game.” With your family sitting in a circle, starting off saying, “I am grateful for [fill in the blank]. That person has five seconds to come up with something for which they are thankful, whether it be their favorite stuffed animal, food or activity. As soon as the first person finishes, the person to the left goes. “The key is to say what you are grateful for without repeating, and without pausing for more than five seconds,” says the author. Great idea.
Remind your kids to say thank you each time someone cooks for them. If is you, have your spouse / partner / friend model the appropriate behavior. When Laurie or I do something for the boys, we work very hard to encourage them to be thankful, even if it is a small thing. What this has led the boys to do is to thank everyone when we are out. They thank the cashier at the grocery store, the mail person, the waitstaff at a restaurant, and their doctor. You name it, they thank it.
Robert Nickell, founder and author of DaddyScrubs.com, suggests putting a white board up in the house and encouraging your kids to write down something they are thankful every day. Why not take a picture of it and create an awesome photo for the family room?
From Tips from a Typical Mom, she suggests a worksheet of 100 squares and a package of stickers. Start your kids out by putting a sticker on the chart each time they say thank you for something.
Thankfulness isn’t something that happens without a conscious effort. Small, little steps can be taken each day to instill thankfulness. Remember, being thankful is the best teacher for your kids.
If you are a busy father like I am, EVERYTHING goes on my calendar. So, in that spirit, I have created a generic calendar you can subscribe to (add the items that make sense, don’t add those which you aren’t interested in doing,..you get it. You’re a smart Dad).
This link will have a series of suggested activities you can take, add to your calendar and work into your schedule with the kids. CLICK HERE FOR THE CALENDAR LINK
I wish you all the best this week. Be prepared for a guest contribution from TheUnexpectedDAD.
PLEASE take the time to share this with father friends of yours. In the busy world of internet traffic, finding men or women who might be interested in this 52-week adventure is important and your helping spread the word is extremely appreciated.
Julian and the GetConnectDAD family.
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thes 5:18
For those of you who are religious, I wanted to include a couple of resources for you, just in case you would like to tell a story to your kids that focus on thankfulness.
From the article found at Stories from the Bible to highlight thankfulness.
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:12-19 ESV
God deserves our thankfulness and we should tell him we are thankful. These ten men came before Jesus with the hope of healing. All of them walked away cleansed but only one turned back to praise God and thank Jesus for his healing. Jesus makes it a point to call out the other nine to show the importance of our gratitude. Use this story to share with your child that God is faithful to provide our needs as well as extra blessings. He deserves to hear our thanksgiving often through praise and prayer. Consider making it a daily activity at the dinner table or while driving in the car to list 3 things for which they are thankful. Regularly expressing our thanks to the Father is one of our best weapons against all of life’s battles.
Related verse: Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 107:1
An incomplete list of verses that focus on thankfulness for your contemplation.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!
Prayer for This Weeks Message
Thank you for loving me and my family when we are imperfect. Thank you for working behind the scenes when I wasn’t listening. Thank you for this blessing we call family. Help me to be the father you model for us and show me ways to teach my kids the true meaning of thankfulness. Please open my kids hearts to your work in their lives and let them show thankfulness to all those around them.
I ask these things in Jesus’s name, Amen”
Many thanks to Dr. Stephen H. Mack, Paul (The Unexpected Father), Josh McDowell, and Laurie, my wonderful wife, for providing feedback prior to publication this week.