Families grow stronger when parents teach their children to be grateful for what they receive - whether it is little or much. Parents can be instrumental in determining the attitudes of children toward material goods as well as services received. Parents can lovingly assist their children to move from a "gimme" attitude to a grateful attitude.
Gratitude has been described as "an uplifting, exalting attitude. You can probably say from experience that you are happier when you have gratitude in your heart. You cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when you are grateful." (See True to the Faith, pp 78-79.)
Ingratitude was part of the foundation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rich college students were not satisfied with what they had been given by their parents, and they thought the banks, government, or society should give them more. One of their demands was for their thousands of dollars worth of student loans to be forgiven. When they left their occupied parks and other places, they left messes for "someone else" to clean up. They are selfish, self-centered people who will keep demanding more. People who feel entitled to more and more simply cannot be satisfied with any amount.
When I was a newlywed, I worked at an Air Force base while my husband was finishing his engineering degree. We lived in a small basement apartment in the home of one of the men in my office. The family included four young children and belonged to our church. Late on Christmas Eve, our landlady knocked on our door and asked us if we wanted to come up to see their Christmas before the children opened everything the next morning. When my husband and I went upstairs, I was shocked at the amount of presents in the living room. I saw in that room more Christmas gifts than I have ever seen in a home in my entire life! In addition to the piles of wrapped gifts surrounding the tree, there were four different places on chairs/sofas where the mother had lovingly laid out numerous outfits for each child. All I could think was "WOW!" When I later asked the landlady about her Christmas, she indicated that there was unhappiness because some desired items were not there.
On my first day back at work after Christmas, the members of my carpool were discussing Christmas. We all had wonderful Christmas experiences except one lady. She named all the items that she had purchased and prepared for her teenage daughter. I don't remember all that she listed, but I do remember that she named a complete ski outfit (skis, boots, poles, jacket, pants, sweater, hat, gloves, etc), many other clothing items, and several jewelry items including a watch. In spite of all the gifts, the teenager was not happy because she didn't get something that she really wanted; because she was unhappy, she made her entire family miserable.
I remembered these two experiences when I had children of my own and determined that I was not going to turn my children into spoiled brats. I wanted Christmas to be more of a spiritual experience than a material one so I emphasized Christ, His birth and His mission to earth. I did not use Christmas as a time to fill all the needs for the year but provided items throughout the year as they were needed - soccer balls in the summer, hockey skates in the winter, school clothes in the fall, vacation clothes in the summer, etc. I intentionally limited the gifts at Christmas to three basic items plus stocking stuffers: a book, an item of clothing, and a toy or item appropriate for their ages. I tried to make these gifts as special as I could. One year I made Raggedy Ann type dolls for my two daughters, individualized to look like their owners. Another year I made each child their favorite Care Bear.
We limited gifts in other ways also. Instead of having each child give gifts to all their siblings, I had them draw names, and each child became responsible to choose a gift for one sibling. In addition to saving family funds (6 gifts compared to 36 gifts), this procedure also cut down on the amount of time needed to open gifts as well as the number of toys left lying around the house. As the children grew older, they became aware that "Santa emptied his sleigh" at some houses but not at ours, but I didn't let other families' choices influence what we did.
To make Christmas morning even more meaningful, we each opened one gift at a time beginning with the youngest person in attendance and moving to the eldest. This procedure was followed last year when 24 of us were together for Christmas. By putting the limelight on one person at a time, we all had the opportunity to see the gifts given to each person, and we all received everyone's attention when it was our turn. Knowing that some individual families could afford more expensive gifts than other families, we asked that all families limit the number of gifts they brought for their children, opening any other gifts in the privacy of their own homes.
Each family will have their own traditions and ways of doing things. The important principle to remember is that children need to be taught to be grateful. Gratitude is not an attribute that comes naturally; it must be taught and modeled. Parents can best teach gratitude to their children in the home through family activities and traditions. Parents will strengthen their families when they help their children to develop attitudes of gratitude.
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