Friday Gratitude with My Son’s Father

Today’s dose of gratitude comes from My Son’s Father(MSF). MSF is quickly making a name for himself with his awesome Lego skills:

As a father of two young children, I can totally relate to MSF’s post. Kids tend to be selfish creatures, so instilling a mindset of gratitude isn’t easy. I like MSF’s approach so much that I’m trying it in my own household.

Take it away MSF!

Gratitude is a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. However, when you don’t use it, atrophy sets in. When that happens, less desirable mindsets can lay claim to your perspective.

Sometime last year I noticed this happening with my two boys. A few of their comments betrayed a less than impressive outlook: they were becoming ungrateful. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also heard a hint of entitlement.

Entitlement? Not in my house!

Action needed to be taken, so I began mentally preparing a twelve-point lecture about how good they have it (the tone of which was eerily similar to Mrs. BITA’s letter to herself). After a two hour lecture they’d surely see the error of their ways, right?

Okay, so a 6 & 7 year old might not respond to this approach. Really, no matter what their age, they wouldn’t respond to this approach. But something had to be done.

As fate would have it, around this time I had a conversation with a friend about gratitude and appreciation. Specifically we were discussing our unique ability to train our brains to see the world from an appreciative point of view.

That’s when my friend shared that he’d been taking 5 minutes each morning to practice gratitude. For five minutes, he would reflect upon the things in his life that he was grateful for. And with that, an idea was born.

The very next morning, I added a new agenda item to the morning routine with my kids. After breakfast was eaten, showers were taken, teeth were brushed, and backpacks were packed, I sat my boys down. I explained that each morning we’d take a few minutes before leaving the house to each share something we are appreciative of.

And for the past 8 months or so, four mornings out of the week (my wife takes them in on the 5th morning), my boys and I have been practicing gratitude.

The Results

As you might imagine the results have been mixed.

Initially they were enthusiastic about this new addition to the routine. However, after the newness wore off, so did the excitement. It became a battle to get them to express gratitude for anything.

I wrestled with forcing them to come up with something to be appreciative of, but that just didn’t feel like it was in the spirit of the exercise. So each morning, I let them decide. If they have something they want to be grateful for that day, great; if not, that’s fine too. Some days they don’t want to participate, but most mornings they come up with something.

Then there is the obstacle of dealing with 6 & 7-year-olds. Many mornings this practice devolves into a giggling fit. And most mornings they are simply appreciative for whatever they happen to be looking at.

I’m appreciative of…” looks around the room and spots a toy basketball “…basketballs.

Not exactly inspiring, but neither is lifting a 5-pound weight. However, if you do it enough times, the muscle will get stronger.

I have to admit that I occasionally do get behind the lectern and point out to them that many kids don’t have “basketballs” (or whatever other toy they identified that day) to play with. I try to keep the message short and simple, but I have seen their eyes gloss over once or twice.

Then there was the week that they were both grateful for “air to breath” for the whole week. It amused me the first day, but by the end of the week I was ready to be done.

Occasionally I’d get a moment that told me that this exercise wasn’t futile. Sometimes it was sweet: “I’m appreciative of having a daddy that loves me”. Awwww.

Other times it was unexpectedly profound: “I’m appreciative of being able to go to a school where I can learn”. That was a particularly proud morning.

What about the Entitlement?

The outcome that mattered most to me was ridding them of any emerging sense of entitlement. On that front, I’d say mission accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, they still have their moments of acting like kids, but overall they are far less demanding and assumptive and generally more respectful and appreciative.

I’m not sure I can credit the practice of gratitude completely for this shift, but it has certainly helped. It has been a daily reminder that they have it pretty good and all those things they had been taking for granted are not guaranteed. I hope they will continue to build their gratitude muscle long after they’ve outgrown these pow wows with their dad.

Unexpected Results

While this exercise was started as a tool to teach my boys to live with gratitude, it may have had just as big of an impact on me.

It forced me to take five minutes out of a chaotic morning routine to focus on the things that matter. My frustrations with cajoling my kids through our morning activities disappear when we stopped and focus on what we appreciate.

Too often throughout our time together, I found myself “correcting” their undesirable behaviors. However, once we started this practice of appreciation, I became more encouraging of their positive behaviors: “I’m appreciative of how well you listened this morning.”

It is also a great reminder to myself of just how fortunate I am-for my kids, for having a job that allows me to spend as much time with them as I do, and for having an amazing partner in my wife.

The list literally goes on and on. I challenge myself to come up with at least one new thing to be appreciative of each morning. It keeps the practice fresh and prevents it from becoming a cliché.

This has easily become the best part of my morning. Even when my boys are being silly, I find myself being appreciative rather than annoyed. If the worst thing in my life is a house filled with laughter, my life is pretty great. And now that I’m being intentional about it, I’m reminded of just how great my life is, each and every morning.

Thanks so much for the post today MSF! I’ll let you know how my experiment goes.

If anyone would like to write their own gratitude post, hit me up!

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34 Responses to Friday Gratitude with My Son’s Father

  1. I love this!!! My son is only 19 months but when he gets older I’d love to make him reflect on what he is grateful for. Heck for that matter, I need to do this now. I often get too caught up in my own life and don’t take the time to reflect around me. I definitely need to sit down for five minutes like My Son’s Father. I think I’m going to log off my computer and do that now.
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Dealing with Buyer’s RemorseMy Profile

  2. This is an awesome idea! My son is just turning two and he could totally still get the idea. Maybe not every day, but I like the fact that you do ask every day to build that thought process.
    Question do you tell them what you appreciate each day?

    • I think 2 is a great time, the sooner you start building that appreciation muscle the better. Yes, I do tell them what I’m appreciative of, I think it helps point out to them all the different things we have in our life to be grateful for. Great question!

  3. Matthew in Michigan says:

    This is a great thing to practice with children as well as us adults. We have been doing this for about a year with our kids, however we do it before bedtime, and we do” 1 favorite thing” or” 1 thing we are thankful for” each day. You’re right, sometimes they are genuine and thoughtful, other times not so much.:) It is a good reminder of how well we have it versus dwelling on what we don’t have.

  4. That is a really good idea. We were having problems with our son saying “NO WAY DADA!” anytime he didn’t like something (even if i wasn’t involved or home :S ). It was really starting to get to me.
    Finally, my wife stepped in and said, “No thank you, dad.”
    He would use that in a hash tone for a few days but finally he would actually start being kinder. Eventually, he just stopped staying either entirely.

    There is definitely power in words and hearing good words can change a lot.
    Budget On a Stick recently posted…I got a pay raise and had a plan for it months before I got it…in a good wayMy Profile

    • Absolutely, words are very powerful. Your story reminded me of when my oldest was first learning to speak. He used to call my wife Mama and Dada. He refused to acknowledge my relation to him. It was pretty funny at first, but started giving me a complex after a while. Fortunately he grew out of it!

  5. Brian says:

    Great stuff MSF! Having two silly boys are something to be grateful for. This is a great practice for everyone of any age. We often lose sight of what we should be appreciative of in our daily routines.
    Brian recently posted…Trim 2.0: More Money Saving ToolsMy Profile

  6. We do something similar with our two boys, 5 and 2. Each night when they say their prayers they get to ad one or two things they are greatful for. Like you we sometimes get some silly answers, but I do see the wheels turning for the five year old, so we keep it up.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Declining Bond Price Impact at Maturity Versus Sold TodayMy Profile

    • It’s a great practice. I wish we’d started earlier, but I think we got them at an age where they are able to be more reflective, which is great.

  7. Hahaha, kiddos have a knack for flipping things around, don’t they? 😉 I really love this idea, though. It’s tough with little kids, but over time I think they’ll get “better” at it. Now that I’m grown, I look back on my childhood and appreciate plenty of things that I didn’t appreciate at the time. Keep on going strong. 🙂
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…Should I Eat That?My Profile

    • Thanks for the encouragement! It can feel pretty pointless, but then they’ll come up with something quiet meaningful and it makes it all worth while.

  8. The profound moment is great, makes all the basketball comments worth it.

    This is a great exercise and I like how your behavior started to change too. Something I’ll remember for when my kids are older.
    Owen @ PlanEasy recently posted…First-Time Home Buyer? Boost Your Down Payment!My Profile

  9. I don’t have any kids myself, but I still liked reading this. We live in a world where we have everything at our fingertips, so I love how you’re taking an active approach to combatting entitlement when the boys are young.

    MSF, you sound like a great dad 🙂
    The Luxe Strategist recently posted…How I Survived a Relationship with a FrugalistaMy Profile

  10. Joe says:

    Wow, that’s really great. I should try this with my kid too. He’s not very responsive to these kind of things, but who knows. The best time for us probably would be bed time. The rest of the day is just too chaotic…

    • Sounds like bedtime is pretty popular. I think it’s about consistency. There have certainly been days and even weeks where our boys weren’t very receptive, but I just kept at it and they came back around.

  11. Great idea! I really need to start doing this.

    I journal in the morning and evening (5 minute journal) but I also think this has a lot of value. I often stress out too much on work and life, and just taking the time to sit back and reflect on good things is something I have to push myself to do.

    • I think journaling is such a powerful tool to use. Maybe just adding an appreciation list to your process would do the trick, two birds one journal shaped stone!

  12. RocDoc says:

    I just loved this idea. I don’t have kids but I’m going to try this out with my husband. Sometimes it’s too easy for both of us to take our wonderful North American lives for granted. Feeling appreciative makes you happier.

    • We do have so much to be grateful for, it certainly isn’t hard to find something to be appreciative of. Sometimes my kids will say “There isn’t anything to be appreciative of.” To which I guffaw heartily and inform them they have far more to be appreciative of then they even realize.

  13. I found myself in a similar situation. About a year ago my first daughter started using a lot not so good and healthy words, in my opinion though, in her vocabulary. The words were: deserve more, have to have and so on.

    We even bought a book “14000 things to be happy about”, thanks Mr.1500 🙂
    It din’t work for us, and I had to do something drastic, I tool my daughter to a hospice to help me to volunteer. The next week I took her to the city to help me with serving a dinner for homeless people.

    Day by day her vocabulary started changing, from I am perspective to we are , from entitled tone to serving and grateful.

    Maybe someday in the feature she will have to take a couple of council sessions because of what I’ve done. But as of now, being 9 years old, she is thankful for a lot of things. Even a fidget spinner she bought with her own money, that she had work for almost 2 weeks.
    Friendly Russian recently posted…Pay yourself first! What do you mean?My Profile

    • I think volunteering with your kids in tow can be very powerful. I remember all the volunteer activities my parents took me on when I was growing up. I didn’t love them at the time, but am grateful for them now and can see how it helped shape me. Awesome suggestion!

  14. Great stuff MSF! We did something similar to this around the dinner table when my kids were growing up. Each day we all would name one thing we were grateful for that day. It was inspired by a movie…with Bruce Willis, I believe.

    • That’s a great idea. Dinner is still a bit chaotic in our house, but I look forward to being able to have some good conversations with them around the dinner table as they get a little older. Great idea!

  15. This is very sweet. It’s easy to lose the “now” when you’re focused on other things. I wanna try something like this if I have my own kids someday. I would test it out on the nephew but they’re too tiny for words 😉

  16. Eddy says:

    What patience you have!!

  17. Andy Hill says:

    A smart exercise to help combat the entitlement. My wife and I are constantly thinking about how we can help our kids understand they have an incredible life. I’m going to start looking into volunteer opportunities that my 5-year old can do with me. Giving your time and money is a great way combat the “me-me-me” mentality.

  18. Great guest post MSF! I love your parenting style with your boys. I can see us implementing some of the same things with our son. He’s only 2.5 right now so we haven’t had any issues with gratitude and entitlement, but we do try to point things out to him to the best of our ability and his understanding. **side note: I literally laughed out loud when you said that all week your kids were grateful for air to breathe. Lol. Gotta love them! I could so see my son doing that.

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