As my kids get older, I worry obsessively about them taking things for granted. We all become accustomed to what we are given in life. My kids are blessed with happily married parents, good schools, activities, and the luxury of travel. They have much more than either I or my husband enjoyed as a child. As I strive to expose them to as much as possible, my mind continuously circles back to the fact that they need to understand that they are lucky and appreciate all the work that goes into what they enjoy. Fearing that they will end up as entitled coach potatoes, I have taken to narrating to them — down to the most minute detail — all that my husband and I do to make their lives happen. That’s the subject of today’s Reflection Thursday piece … I’m anxious to hear what you other parents do and think, so please weigh in below … and a huge thanks so much for reading….
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How to Explain Things to a Child
In a particular moment, one thing kids don’t tap into is the background story. Young kids react quickly to a situation and live to a large extent in the moment. That is part of the beauty and innocence of childhood: if they’re downing a huge ice cream bar, they utterly enjoy it, not pondering the fact that it’s the third one of the day and maybe they’ve overdone it, such as would an adult. If someone grabs their crayon, they cry out injustice and grab it back, not contemplating that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Your child might awaken in the morning and pull some fresh clean clothes out of his closet, don them and skip off, not even thinking about how those clothes went from dirty to clean and then folded into his closet (leaving out the Shout stain removal process here, but you other parents get my drift!).
Perhaps setting food on the table is one of the largest examples of this we parents see. My kids do not automatically connect the dots and realize what goes into providing them with a healthy meal. They sit down to some nice brown rice, chicken and steamed vegetables, anticipating their fresh fruit salad and milk afterwards, and probably think “oh, rice and chicken, and fruit again!! Why can’t we have ice cream today?” What they don’t think about is all that went into that meal.
This reaction drives me up the metaphorical wall. Lately, I’ve decided that narrating the entire process of how that meal gets served to them (and bringing them along to participate as much as possible) helps them to appreciate more.
So here’s a recent lecture they got. Let me know how you think I did! (Quick background: we are away for several weeks in Spain visiting family and friends).
The grocery shopping story: “Mommy had quite a time getting this food today. First, I walked for about 20 minutes to find the grocery store. Since the milk and fruit was so heavy, I couldn’t carry it home. They had a delivery service, requiring me to fill out a form in Catalan. This lovely cashier helped me to do that (took about 20 minutes), and I walked home. I then waited at home for 3 hours for the food to arrive before making dinner. During that time, I folded the laundry and worked on the blog.”
Suddenly, my kids are listening. “Oh Mommy, thanks.”
“Then, I peeled all the fruit and put it in a tupperware in the fridge so it wouldn’t get cold — that took about 30 minutes. The rice and chicken, another 30.”
“Thanks, Mommy” they then said, and Beckett gave me a hug.
Walking through or narrating all that goes into mothering or fathering can prove tedious for us parents. Think how different it is to how we adults communicate amongst ourselves, when summarizing your day is key lest you bore your listeners to tears. But for my kids, this play by play helps them visualize and understand how much goes into what I try to provide for them.
Teaching Kids About Money
Another thing I’m trying to narrate to my kids is how much work goes into paying for the things they enjoy with the goal of having them understand the value of money. With very little family in the U.S and a large extended family in Europe, we have been fortunate to be able to visit Europe several times, and I worry that my kids are taking it all for granted. So I narrate some of that too. Your riveting discussion goes something like this:
“Why do you think we are able to take this amazing trip?, I ask. “You are out there on a tour bus or manning a tennis racket but Daddy is in his office from 8am-9pm working to pay for all of it.” Sounds a bit harsh, but shouldn’t they know this?
Or I ask questions: “Do you think Daddy got to go to camp when he was little?” “No”, they respond.
“When did Daddy first leave the country?,” I ask. “When he was 22,” they say. “Do you think you guys are lucky?” “Yes,” they say.
The other day I went even further back in time. “Your Grandpa Herb and your Great-grandpa Jack never went to camp. They never had a swimming lesson, and they never picked up a tennis racket. Neither had the luxury of finishing High School because one had to go the war, and the other had to go to work to pay for his family to have food. Do you think that was hard? “Yes,” my 5 kiddos replied, in unison. For a few moments at least, I didn’t hear any comments about the lack of ice cream.
I’m hoping these little comments and stories are helping my kids to step out of the immediacy of their situation and realize the background of their lives. I’m hoping these stories and reminders will help them understand and appreciate how lucky they are, versus complaining about not having more.
Why Daily Chores for Kids Matter
Since it’s summer and we have a bit more time on my hands, I’m also asking my kids to help out more around the house, both because I need the help and because I want them to understand how much work goes into running a family. On a good day, my boys clean the kitchen, make their beds, get their laundry into the washer, and hang their towels in the bathroom. (Next up will be wiping off the gobs of toothpaste stuck to the bathroom sink, and folding laundry and basic cooking.)
Traditionally in my house, the chore of cleaning the kitchen after breakfast occasions a brawl about who’s up at bat. “No, I did the dishes yesterday,” said one boy this morning. “I swept, so it’s not my turn today,” said another. Smoke twirled of out of my ears.
“There are no turns,” I said. “You help out because we are part of a community and we need to take care of our things. If the dishes aren’t clean, we won’t have anything to eat off of at dinner time.” Because every morning was a fight about who did what, I instituted a new system just this morning: after breakfast and dinner, all three boys are in the kitchen, working as a team, and none is allowed to leave until the work is done.
Invariably, I’m in there every few minutes in my nightgown showing them how to sweep, how to scrub a pot for the 100th time, and how to wipe down a counter without spilling the bread crumbs onto the floor, and by the end of it all, my head aches and my coffee is cold. Who would have know it takes 50 some odd lessons to teach a child to sweep? Mine still sweep up the little bits and then run for the dust-pan, maybe because that’s the fun part?
But I’m feeling that they have to be better off for having cleaned the kitchen from start to finish.
If I can explain to my kids why they have what they have, and ask them to participate in the work supporting their daily lives, hopefully they will grow up more grateful for what they have. Hopefully too they will see that good things don’t just happen; rather, hard work enables us to procure things to enjoy.
This is, in any case, what I’m hoping for.