Monday, February 24, 2014

The Gratitude Project | 'Unspoiling' Our Children

My two children are currently ages 9 and 7. As a mom that grew up with little to nothing and scraped and saved and starting working at age 14, I am determined to not have spoiled children. Of course, the term ‘spoiled’ is relative. I do want them to feel confident in their next meal and that they have clothes to wear to school. I want them to know that I will be there to pick them up. I want them to know they will have love, no matter what, which is something I can’t say I always had growing up. There was a lot questioning and uncertainty for me as a kid, so I am determined to let my children take those basic and necessary needs for granted.

PROBLEM: However, my older daughter is a spender and a ‘what’s next’ personality type and the younger has reached the age that she notices what other kids have and what she does not. After months of hearing “I want” or “My friend [insert name here] has [insert whatever you can think of here], can you get it for me?” and so on, I noticed my tension would increase with the word ‘want’ or idea that what they had wasn’t enough.

I needed to then examine why this was happening and why I would get so bothered by this, somewhat common, issue. Yes, I want my children to strive for more in life than the minimum and I want them to work for what they want but this just wasn’t the area where they should be focusing. I could just give the speech about the starving kids in Africa, America, China, Israel -wherever, that most of us heard at some point in our childhoods, but that never really resonated to me as a kid because it didn’t seem real, so why bother?

I realized that I was bothered mostly by the fact that the idea of ‘more’ was a never ending want. I found myself giving a little speech about how ‘things’ don’t make you happy. About my concern that if ‘things’ were their focus for fulfillment, then I worry about the possibility of real happiness in their future and adult lives. While this may have slightly meant something to my older daughter, it still didn’t get the point across that there was a lack of appreciation for what both of my children actually had, which was the crux of the message. I want them to recognize how great their lives really are now, in the present. I don’t want them to need to look forward to getting something new or need an outside source to provide happiness (more on this subject in a later post). So I am trying a different approach.

EXPERIMENT: Beginning about three weeks ago, in early February, I made a ‘rule’. The rule was that for every time they asked for something or said “I want…” etc., they had to give a ‘gratitude’ for something that they DO have. No repeats. The ‘gratitudes’ must be thoughtful, specific and sincere.

For the record, we are ALL participating in this project in our house, not just the children.

Now when we hear, “I want the Lego Friends [insert latest thing here].” we hear, “I am grateful that we have food to eat every day.”

“Mommy, can we have ice cream?” followed by, “I am so happy we have so many toys to play with at home.”

“Mommy, can I play on my tablet?” followed by, “I am grateful that I am allowed to have a tablet now.”

Even, “I am grateful we live in a neighborhood where we can walk to school and restaurants and have friends.” As I look down at my daughter proudly and a little surprised by her awareness and ability to articulate something so wonderful, I then hear, “Can we get a cat?” Hmmm…

Also, sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no, this is not a barter or payment system.
I am hoping a Pavlovian response will ultimately arrive. That they will have a mental check of what is good or plentiful before deciding that something else is ‘needed’.

Preliminary RESULTS: In three weeks of being consistent in this effort, I've not gotten an eye roll or whine about it yet. I am also excited to see how creative everyone can be to find new things for which they are grateful. The best is that the children have been creating a little abundance of ‘gratitudes’ to use the next time they need them which means they are noticing what they have more.

I must say that I am surprised at how happy both of my children are to take part in this project. It isn’t about me or my wants. It isn’t a commentary on that they are spoiled or they are doing something wrong. I believe it is a step in teaching them how to truly be happy. We have discussed that it is okay and natural to want things and that it is important that they see and take stock in what they have around them first. This project has opened opportunities to discuss matters that normally would come out as a lecture from me, which isn’t nearly as effective or meaningful.

The best ‘gratitude’ so far for me was, "I am grateful that you are doing this [gratitude project] so that we can be good people." I love that they see value in this effort. For that, I am grateful.

We will continue to do this but so far, it feels like a more gracious and aware state of being in our house and that was the goal. I will post an update again on this soon. J

With Many Thanks,
Chris


The Gratitude Project update - This Wonderful Thing Happened the Other Day

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P.S.  Dis`quis´i`tive: Relating to disquisition; fond of discussion or investigation; examining; inquisitive.

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11 comments:

  1. That is a terrific idea. We really need this at our house.

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    1. Thank you Melissa!

      It has made a big difference in my house. I plan to write a follow up post in April on how it has affected us overall. I have updated and put a few of my favorite 'gratitudes' on my Facebook page as well.

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  3. Love love love this!!! Part of the creed my girls say daily is "I am grateful for every good thing in my life" but sometimes I wonder if they realize just how many good things they really have! My older four (well, three really, I was pregnant at the time) lost their father unexpectedly years ago, so they have more of a sense of being grateful for the intangibles, especially the amazing man who is now their daddy. But I think that my younger two definitely need to have more of a focus on what "every good thing" really means! This idea is absolutely golden and I can't wait to discuss it with my hubby! Thanks so much for sharing! :D

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    1. (Lara, it looks like my response to you only registered as a comment. I wanted to make sure you received it. Take Care.)

      Thank YOU Lara. I am truly grateful for your kind words. It sounds like you have overcome a lot and are a wonderful strong force for your children. I would love to hear how it works for you, if you try it and feel like sharing.

      Your story humbly reminds me of the letter I just wrote to my daughters about their father. I'll share that as well, just in case you didn't see it and may be interested. It is also part of my personal 'gratitude project'. :-)

      http://disquisitivemama.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-letter-to-my-daughters-about-their.html

      Wishing you only the best,
      Chris

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  4. Thank YOU Lara. I am truly grateful for your kind words. It sounds like you have overcome a lot and are a wonderful strong force for your children. I would love to hear how it works for you, if you try it and feel like sharing.

    Your story humbly reminds me of the letter I just wrote to my daughters about their father. I'll share that as well, just in case you didn't see it and may be interested. It is also part of my personal 'gratitude project'. :-)

    http://disquisitivemama.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-letter-to-my-daughters-about-their.html

    Wishing you only the best,
    Chris

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  5. Chris,

    My husband and I have a wonderful little almost-2-year-old and we've looked for all sorts of ways to ensure that we aren't spoiling him while still showering him with all the experiences, tools, and fun things that we want him to have. We came up with a budgeting spin-off from the one my parents used for me where he puts part of his money away for college, part for spending on whatever he wants, and part into a "house tax". When we're in the store and he asks for a box of "Doobydoo...nack?" or a box of markers, sometimes the answer is no but others the answer is "Yes, and your house tax money helped us be able to buy this!" Sometimes it's used for charitable endeavors to emphasize the importance of giving back - tangible things like choosing a child's name off the Christmas tree. We also think method this will leave him less shocked than we both were the first time we received a paycheck and saw how much the government took from it.

    "The Dude" (as he thinks he is named) does not receive a blanket allowance but rather a small reward for each chore he completes, which increases if he does so without being asked. At his age this is pennies exchanged for pouring a scoop of dog food into the bowl at designated times or taking his plate to the kitchen sink after dinner, but we feel there's a good foundation being established.

    One of the things I struggle with most is the desire to buy him a little present when he comes shopping with me, which is quite often as we both enjoy it. Sure, the present can be taken away if he's misbehaving, but I've struggled with how to keep him from feeling it's something he's entitled to while still allowing myself the joy of saying yes when he's been good. Your gratitude project is the perfect answer.

    I look forward to reading more of your ideas, keep up the good work! This parenting thing is rewarding but it sure does challenge our strategizers at times.

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    1. Theresa,

      Thank you for sharing. You sound very creative! I love hearing the different ways of teaching our little ones the big lessons and skills. Your little boy is one lucky ‘Dude’ to have such a thoughtful mom.
      Thank you also for the feedback and encouragement. I love connecting with wonderful moms. Hearing from you has made my day brighter.

      All the Best,
      Chris

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  6. I just now have seen this, or your blog for that matter. I love this idea. I think I need to use this. My younger daughter right now is so caught up in what her friends have and wanting to keep up with the Joneses, which is so not our way of thinking. It is driving me nuts. We have discussions all the time about it isn't about keeping up with the Joneses and material things don't make you happy. That you can have all the things you want and still be unhappy. We are always telling her she needs to appreciate what she does have, and there are people in this world who have less than she and are happy. Part of my problem I think stems from school too, and their mentality and the way they do things. I fight it. School doesn't like me much because of it. Example.. yearbook order forms.. kids fill out starting in Jr. high homeroom and add on all kinds of add-ons to their order then the parents are billed. Order forms are not allowed to go home and be discussed with the parents. I refuse. School and Jostens have gotten phone calls, because each is pointing fingers at the other for the way it is done. School book fairs. Kids come home with a long list of books they want that the school helps the younger grades fill out and a note to send a check. There are all kinds of scenarios like that in our school system. Daughter gets a yearbook if she saves and pays for half. Book fair "orders" and Scholastic book club orders are never sent in (I remember when it was one.. now there are 6 order forms stapled together. Excessive!). Believe me. My kids are far from deprived of books. We have a decent amount. We also utilize the library.

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    1. Welcome Michelle - so glad you are here.

      It sounds like there are some problems with the way they handle some of these things in your school system. We've had a few issues, that's when parent voices need to be heard.

      Bravo for saying something and not going with it, as well as, paying attention! It is really low when companies take advantage of distracted, stressed parents and use children to increase their sales. Creating competition between kids only feeds consumerism and it's just gross to me.

      My children also have to use their own money for any book fairs. It's a great opportunity for them to see how inflated the prices are for those items and how they can shop around for a better price.

      Thank you for staying strong! Your daughter is learning from you and, no doubt, will be better for it.

      All the Best,
      Chris

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