Over the last few weeks, I think it has finally hit home for Cheri and I that there will soon be a new litter person in our lives.
A little person who cannot express himself except by crying. A little person who has needs and wants and cannot meet any of them for himself.
As we have read some books and said some prayers, we know that there is one phase of childhood that is going to really bristle us. It’s going to bug us and stress us.
It’s the “me” phase. Actually, I should say it’s the “ME ME ME” phase; the time when a child believes that he is the only person in the world, the only person who has needs and wants, when he believes that everyone else exists to fulfill his desires.
I know that despite my parents’ best efforts, I went through the same phase. I was sort of a selfish kid, especially when it came to my brother. I did not think of others. And now it really bugs me to think of my own kid being that way.
As we celebrate our last Thanksgiving before becoming parents, we know we want one thing: we want to raise a grateful kid.
It might be harder than I anticipate.
Have Yourself a Crappy Little Christmas
Jimmy Kimmel has a couple of hilarious challenges that he gives to parents each year. The first challenge is to tell your kids that you ate all of their Halloween candy, and film their reactions. Most kids react predictably (and hilariously), with very few being “okay” with this uncharacteristic act of selfishness on the part of Mom or Dad.
But the other challenge is to give your kids a really crappy Christmas present and film their reaction.
It’s hilarious, but, I admit, also horrifying.
Have none of these kids ever received a lousy present from an aunt or grandparent? Have none of them ever been coached on receiving a gift with grace, no matter what it is? Some of these kids are far too old to have such visceral reactions. They throw fits. They threaten violence. A couple of them get profane with their parents. (Hint: If your kid throws profanities at you over a Christmas gift, you missed something important a while ago.) These kids act like they’ve just been thrown in a gulag. They are completely without gratitude.
I am sure I acted that way once…once, when I was two or three. Not eight or ten. I guarantee, we will be giving our kid some lousy Christmas gifts along the way.
Is Raising a Child a Hostage Negotiation?
As we have read and prayed about becoming parents, there has been one word that has become inescapable to us:
In practically every book, every blog, every article we read, kids demand things, and parents are at their beck and call. From the look of things, Cheri and I can look forward to a few years of barely being able to eat dinner because our children will be constantly demanding.
I know I am sounding naïve to all of you who are already parents. But when I was a child, I was not allowed to demand. Demands got me nowhere. Tantrums fell on deaf ears. I face a classroom full of children every day, and I do not allow them to make demands.
“I need more paint.”
“You need more paint, what?”
“I need more white paint.”
“You need more white paint, what?”
“I need more white paint, please.”
“You may have more white paint.”
I go through this exchange dozens, if not hundreds of times every year because as time consuming as it is, it is better than being an adult who is bossed around by children. I am in charge. I decide what happens. And if a child needs something, he will be polite and show gratitude when he receives it. But our culture assumes that all children are naturally and irrevocably demanding, far past the age of infancy and far past the well-being of the parents.
Gratitude Is Not a Natural State, But It Can Be Taught
Apparently, children being demanding, like most things, is not a universal rule, but a cultural trait. I watched 20 two-year-olds in Africa eat quietly and neatly together. French children do not throw tantrums in the middle of a public store.
Do you know why?
Because African children are taught patience and gratitude. French parents let their babies cry for a minute or two before they answer their “demands.” I’m not saying that French parents or African parents have everything right. But it validates my theory that we can have grateful, gracious kids.
I want my son to know that he has a lot to be thankful for, thankful that he was born into a home where he will have enough to eat, where his neighborhood is not being torn apart by violence, where his parents can tell him he can do anything he wants when he grows up, and believe it.
I want my son to not be so consumed with new demands that he is unable to be thankful for what he already has.
I want my son to know contentment, and not be stuck in the swirl of constant desire that mass-marketing creates for children.
I want my son to know empathy for others who have less. I want him to feel generous toward people who are unlike him.
There is just too much that happens in the world for me to raise an ungrateful child.
What do you think? Is it possible or a pipe dream? I will see all of you after the holiday. I’ll be spending Black Friday at home, not shopping.