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Do Your Kids a Favor: Deprive Them.


My grandmother had a big black shoe.

I can’t recall which foot it was on, but it was custom-made with an extra-large sole. Even with this special shoe, she limped and teetered when she walked. Eventually she steadied her imbalanced figure with a walker.

When she was young, she had been diagnosed with polio. I didn’t quite get it, but I also never thought of her as handicapped until I later realized that she was.

The prominent, and most obvious thing to me about my grandmother was her full spirit. She was filled up and capped off with gratitude. Every. Single. Day. She never kept a gratitude journal. She didn’t read any books on how to nurture gratitude in a self-absorbed culture. She didn't go to bed and name to my grandfather the top three things she was most grateful for. Though none of those practices are hollow, I do wonder why we have to work so hard at something that had come so naturally to her.

Is there a calculation to cultivate gratitude?

When we repeat, “You need to be thankful for this food; a lot of people don’t have food to eat tonight.” Do we sit back and watch gratitude churn up from deep inside our kids?

The sprouting seedling of gratitude is not all that complex. When someone has suffered a particular lack: transportation, shelter, job, infertility, sleep, ease of walking, water...there is a springing up of thanksgiving that comes rather instantaneously when those things are had.

My grandmother would never excuse herself from praying every night on her knees. She knew it was a holy act to bend down to pray and crank herself back up. She never complained about being tired, uncomfortable or mistreated. To struggle with walking made every other challenge small. To get around with her big shoe, and a walker at times, was reason enough to be thankful. She knew many didn’t even have that. When life is disagreeable, when resources are lacking, when food is scarce, when backs are pain-stricken, when work is hard to come by, we begin to see basic things, as wonderful things. Gratitude comes without work or thought. It just surfaces.

A grateful heart is attractive. Humility beats through its veins. Without question, I am sure every parent wants this quality in their children. The attractiveness of a child who knows new shoes are significant. A teenager who lights up with appreciation in response to her mom making dinner for her friends who came to study. An awareness that so many good things are intersecting with life every day, all the time. This is a cure for the blues, entitlement, edgy demands, rude disappointment...in the end, we all need less.

Mark, my brother, had a talk with my gift-giving mom:

“We don’t want the girls to get so many presents at Christmas, mom. I know you love to give gifts, but we don’t want them to miss the value of what they get. And we don't want gifts to distract them from what we are teaching them to celebrate.”

What I noticed, besides that my mom still found a way to sneak in some gifts, was that the ONE gift each girl got on Christmas day, was enjoyed all year long. Its value stretched on.

We live in a country with Amazon Prime and drive-thru Chick-fil-A. We do not have to wait too often for things we want or need. As parents, if you want to cultivate children who appreciate both the large and small things, you will have to fight the temptation of indulgent living. Delayed gratification is a reward to one’s internal development. Too often we want our kids to be deprived of nothing, to have every full opportunity that other kids have. We feel badly if they experience lack. It’s ironic; however, since we all know the truth: “less is more.”

“More,” in all the right ways.

My grandmother thought it a wonderful blessing that she could walk. She wasn’t bitter or defeated. She was grateful. When you evaluate your children, do you see gratitude rising up? Do you see it in yourself? Creativity and thoughtfulness will help. Find some ways to deprive your family, to deprive yourself, so that each of you can flourish in the most glorious ways.

Here are a few of my own brainstorming ideas:

  1. Cut back this Christmas, and for the next 50 years that you celebrate.

  2. Have your children use some of their own money when purchasing things they want or even need.

  3. Give your children a monthly allowance where they must manage the funds for their toiletries as well as their Amazon treats.

  4. Be the authority over technology in your home. IPads, iPhones and computers become a ball and chain around our kids’ ankles. Apologize if you let technology slip out of your control, and re-establish your authority. Technology can have the most extreme impact on the moods of our children.

  5. Pay attention to your kids who are especially drawn to material goods. Find different ways to connect with them other than shopping, and reward them in ways that don’t feed this potential stronghold over them.

  6. If you give your child some money, know that you can still put some boundaries on how it is spent. If you see an area of stronghold, communicate that they can spend this money on anything but… ‘Video games,” or more clothes, or a phone...etc.

  7. Have your kids cook a meal once a week for the family. You can help them at first!

  8. Try to live your life in some contexts where you are around a mixture of socioeconomic backgrounds.

  9. When your child has a first car, think through this. It shouldn’t be a show. It shouldn’t be worth what they can’t afford to handle. It shouldn’t be that the rest of their lives will never afford them a car of that value. My parents told us, “We will never buy you a car that is nicer than what your teachers drive." I've since thanked them.

  10. Evaluate the influence the culture is having on you and pray for discernment. Some of the ways we live our lives have become so normal and acceptable that we forget to consider if they are healthy for our souls or the souls of our children.