It seems to be a lost art.
When I was a child, I believed all parents taught their children proper etiquette, especially table manners.
You know- don't put your elbows on the table, don't talk with your mouth full, close your mouth when you chew (no one wants to see your food being mashed up!), and, if possible, keep one hand in your lap with your napkin- unless eating a burger or sandwich, which requires two hands.
We were taught how to properly set the table, how to answer the phone, and how to be gracious hosts in addition to learning the whole "please and thank you's".
For the most part, these manners weren't specifically grilled into us- they were actively played out by my parents. Of course, some things we had to be reminded of, but much of what we picked up was because our parents put forth a great example.
And isn't that key, folks? How can we demand manners and proper etiquette from our children if we ourselves are failing to consistently portray such behavior?
When my husband and I went on one of our first dates, I was appalled by his behavior towards the waitress. Every request came across more like a demand, and he never thanked her. I don't believe he did it intentionally, but he came across as negative and ungrateful.
I confronted him on the issue, and he changed his behavior- even more so once he became a waiter, which was his main job in the first year or so of our marriage.
We want to teach our children to be polite- but we need to recognize that lessons in manners start at birth, even before they can walk and talk. And, most of all, the lessons start with our own portrayal of good manners.
I believe gratefulness is the one of the first manners that we should teach. It will stretch into all areas of life.
Being thankful goes far beyond saying please and thank you- although that is an important aspect of it. It's in how we react to people, whether we smile or not, and whether we are really truly saying it because we mean it, or because we have to.
Almost every parent has probably told their child, at least once if not a hundred times, "Tell so-n-so you're sorry." Cue your son or daughter turning to the offended child and muttering, "Harumph, sorry." Everyone in the world knows your child is not really apologetic.
Gratefulness does not come naturally to us. Oh sure, we may be quite happy and thankful when someone does something absolutely fantastic for us, but what about those simple things? And, how long does our thankfulness last? Is a good deed forgotten in a few minutes or hours or by the end of the week?
Isn't it interesting that we can keep lengthy internal logs of wrongs committed by others, but we so quickly forget the kindnesses they have done on our behalf?
Gratefulness starts in the home. Children need to understand that please and thank you are always in order, and parents are the ones who have to show that to them.
In order for my children to fully comprehend the sacrifice my husband makes and the importance of the duty he fulfills, I thank my husband for working hard at his job, even when he doesn't feel like it. In turn, my husband also thanks me for caring for the home and our children. Once I heard a person say to their spouse, "Why should I thank you for doing something you're suppose to do?" There was a lack of gratefulness in this person's spirit- and we often suffer from the same ailment.
We should express our thankfulness when our spouse and children do the things they are expected to do. This not only encourages proper behavior, but it shows them we are grateful for their time and effort.
I don't know about you- but when I feel that people are thankful for the little, everyday things I've done, I feel motivated to go above and beyond. Our children often feel the same.
Why is it we are quick to pick them apart and scold them when they do their everyday tasks wrong (or in the wrong spirit), but we aren't as quick to praise and thank them when they do their everyday tasks correctly or in the right spirit?
We can show our gratefulness for others without a word. For example, wives, we show our husbands our thankfulness for their hard day's work when we have a meal prepared for them when they get home from work. An old fifties handbook for newly wedded wives tells women they should have a tidy home and a delicious dinner ready and waiting for their husbands and should also tidy up their own appearance as well. I am sure feminists would disagree, but this is a great way to show our gratefulness to our spouse. When we make an effort to, not only prepare a great meal, but look our best for our love, we are showing them we really care.
Our children notice these things; we may think they slip by unnoticed, but our kiddos are watching us carefully. My mom almost always had a meal ready (or nearly ready) when Dad arrived home from work, and she never allowed herself to look worn and weary. She was dressed nicely and always greeted Dad with a kiss when he walked through the door. Her love and respect for my dad were apparent- not because she told us, but because we saw it. We knew she was grateful for him because it showed in her actions.
Yes, there are times that we have to teach our children to be grateful. There have been times when my children have been given a gift and responded negatively (and believe me, I was incredibly embarrassed by their attitude!). Correction followed, as well as a lesson in being thankful for what we are given, even if it's not exactly what we desired.
As parents, especially stay-at-home-moms, we may come across this attitude a lot. You serve peanut butter on toast with a side of applesauce for breakfast and a child whines, "But I wanted cereal!" You buy them that rare Happy Meal one day as a treat and they whine that they didn't get the toy they wanted, or are upset because they didn't get to eat inside where they could play in the play area.
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17
There are times I find myself with a similar attitude. I see dishes piled in the sink, Mount Washmore waiting to be sorted and run through the washer and dryer cycles, bathrooms that need scrubbing, furniture that needs dusting, and a list of things to be tidied, and inwardly I sigh and whine, "I've got soooo much to do! I don't waaaannnaaaa!" That's when God reminds me to be grateful. "Look around you," he says. "You have dirty dishes because I have provided you with food to put on those dishes. You have laundry because I have provided you with clothes to wear. And, hey, you could have an outhouse, so be thankful for your flushing toilets. Be thankful for the things I have given you. As you scrub and tidy, be thankful that you have such lovely things to scrub and tidy. Instead of thinking about the mess your family has made, be grateful that you have a family of your own to clean up after."
Ouch, right? What can you say to that except, "You're right, God!"
If we want to teach our children to be thankful for what they have and what others do, we must have that spirit of gratefulness ourselves. If we mumble and grumble about the workload before us, if we complain about the things God has blessed us with, if we are constantly talking about wanting more or better- our children will soak up those attitudes as well.
When our daughter complained about a gift she received, I told her, "If you aren't thankful for what you've been given, then we'll stop opening gifts now, and you won't get anymore."
When we have a spirit of ungratefulness, we most definitely lose out on the blessing. God may even GIVE us blessings, but because of our ungratefulness, we mumble and grumble about them, instead of saying, "Thank you!"
Or, God may withhold blessings- for why should He continue to bless us when we aren't even thankful for the everyday little things He provides?
I once heard a story about a wealthy man who was complaining about some of the lower class of people. He talked about how working as a mechanic or a garbage man was so beneath him. "Such filthy people," he commented.
I actually don't remember the whole story, but I am reminded about the attitudes my parents had towards "such filthy people". Gratefulness. Aren't we glad that there are people who are willing to take away our trash, get underneath our vehicles and repair them, clean out nasty sewer pipes and fix toilets? As children, my brother and I wanted to be "cwash cruck man". First of all, we thought it was pretty cool that they could back down the whole street. Secondly, we were thinking about how awesome it would be if we could be one of the fellas that held on to the back and effortlessly emptied garbage cans into the truck.
(A little side note: My parents never made us feel like such jobs were beneath us. We were welcome to do whatever the LORD desired us to do- whether it was be a "cwash cruck man" or a doctor- they would have been proud of us either way.)
Back to my point- gratefulness starts in the home. It's in how we act, react, and speak. It's in our spirit and attitude. If we don't put forth gratefulness in our every day walk, our children won't either. We can't expect to talk the talk without walking the walk and "churn out" grateful, polite children.
And, in the process of teaching our children gratefulness, we will almost always find that God is teaching us a lesson in gratefulness as well.
Psalm 50:23 talks about offering up a "sacrifice of thankfulness". When I was a kid, I though that was the strangest wording. Sacrifice of thankfulness? What?
But now I understand- sometimes.... often, I suppose- it's not that easy to be thankful. Our flesh tends to lean towards unthankfulness. We want more, less, or different. I believe our thankfulness and our praise go hand in hand. We have heard of giving a sacrifice of praise. And, you've probably heard the Christian song that says, "I will praise you in this storm." We can be thankful and grateful for God's love and presence, even when things aren't exactly perfect in our lives- even when we are in the midst of a storm.