I often see articles pop up around Thanksgiving about “teaching gratitude” to our children. I love the idea of practicing gratitude with our children – because with practice, of course, everything grows – but I think, as cliché as it sounds, my toddler son has really taught me what living with a sense of gratitude is all about.
Kaspar appreciates everything. And he reminds me to do so, too. Whenever my mind wanders to the past or wonders (/worries) about the future, Kaspar interrupts me – quite literally – to point out a caterpillar making its way across the sidewalk, or to ask me to read his favorite books to him, so he can savor them all over again. He very much basks in the ‘now,’ you know? Not looking for what’s missing, or what could be, or what was, he enjoys things exactly as they are.
Besides using chemical-free products in my home, exploring green diapering options or wearing my kiddo around, ‘Natural’ parenting extends – more significantly – for me, into my approach to parenting itself. I see my job as helping my son to discover and embrace who he is – naturally – rather than trying to mold him into someone I think he should be. The secret bonus to this approach is that by watching him learn and grow, and become himself, without interfering, I’m constantly amazed at the innate seeds of empathy, kindness and gratitude that exist within us. And by us, I mean people. All of us here on Earth. (I know, that's deep. But I'm serious.)
I see Kaspar stop and smell the flowers – again literally – and love the experience so much that he urges whoever’s closest to smell the flowers, too. He smiles when his friends are smiling, and, when another child cries, he’s genuinely concerned. Sure, toddlers can act like little cave-people, who grab and yell and throw tantrums when things don’t go their way. But they’re also, most of the time, incredibly, unexpectedly… evolved (if not ‘civilized’) when it comes to some of our species’ more promising qualities.
Gratitude ranks high among these qualities, I think, because it leads directly to acts of kindness. When we’re grateful for what we have, we feel we have enough to share. Thanksgiving is about sharing a meal with close friends and family, but also with those acquaintences or co-workers (or whomever) we might hardly know at all, but who happen not to have another place to go for a holiday dinner. In the same spirit, many families volunteer together on Thanksgiving, providing meals for the homeless, or taking part in other acts of goodwill. Although this holiday’s back-story isn’t exactly awesome (in a nutshell: Native Americans welcomed the pilgrims, and helped these newcomers grow crops and survive here on the Native Americans’ land. To celebrate their kinship, they all held a feast. Which was promptly followed by several centuries of cultural genocide, broken treaties and copious abuses, which continue to this day… The end.)... a national day of gratitude really is (awesome). I can get behind that, for sure. And then I have Kaspar here, interrupting me constantly, to remind me to be grateful and appreciative – of everything – every day. All the time.
As our children inherit this country (sketchy back-story and all) and this world, appreciating and encouraging their sense of gratitude will ensure a more peaceful, healthful future. Their gratitude for our planet – beginning with its caterpillars -- will grow into decisions they’ll make to preserve and protect it, so it reclaims and retains its natural beauty and abundance. Their appreciation of life’s gifts – material and otherwise – will lead to their sharing those gifts with others, and ultimately to a more kind and caring world community. This year, I’m grateful to Kaspar for reminding me how much I have to be thankful for (everything!), reminding me what good beings we are (naturally), and for showing me what gratitude in action really looks like.
From our family to yours, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I'm toasting our kids and their crazy kinds of wisdom.
What are you thankful for? What are you giving? How do you encourage your kids to practice gratitude? (I highly recommend this book.)