Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Teaching an attitude of gratitude

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Nov. 15, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell When my firstborn was a toddler, I gave him a ride on the carrousel. He clung to the pole, a huge smile on his face, and rode round and round. At the end, when he didn’t want to get off, as a treat, I gave him a second turn.

He didn’t want to get off after that, either. I had to pry his little fingers loose, and carry him away kicking and screaming. This wouldn’t be news to most parents, but it was a lesson for me. I realized a toddler isn’t mature enough to be grateful.

My kids have traded in the carrousel for the family car, but I still wrestle with guiding them toward a balance between enjoying life and enjoying a sense of entitlement.

When my teen wants a ride for the third time in a week, I might suggest taking the bus or staying home. The challenge is doing this in a way that doesn’t make me look like a mean old miser, but instead calls my teenager to appreciate the options she does have, and to be grateful.

Telling kids to be grateful doesn’t work. Demanding that they thank me, doesn’t teach them gratitude. Like most of parenting, it’s the day-in, day-out paying attention and making an effort that brings results.

I try to cultivate an attitude of abundance. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of scarcity that pervades our culture. When I find myself wanting something: a new pair of jeans, a new kitchen gadget, even a new kitchen, I try to stop and think about whether I really need it, or just want it because someone else has it.

I usually realize I already have everything I need. My life is abundant – not only with material things, but with relationships, worthwhile endeavors, and spiritual blessing. Knowing that we have enough helps us live with a spirit of generosity that teaches our children gratitude.

Here are some concrete activities that help children learn to be grateful:

• Take time each day to give thanks.
• Thank your children for specific things they do, and tell them often why you are grateful for them.
• Teach children to write ‘thank you’ notes for gifts and hospitality.
• Make time to enjoy the beauty of nature and talk about how the Earth is God’s gift to us.
• Assign children chores so they learn work is necessary to running a household, and can experience the feeling of making a meaningful contribution.
• Help an older neighbor or relative with yard work. Visit children in the hospital to play games or read. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or with an organization serving needy families during the holidays.
• Engage your children in a decision to share your money with those less fortunate.
• Watch movies or read books as a family that tell stories of real people who live valiantly with great hardship.
• Decide as a family to occasionally try walking instead of taking the car, giving up dessert for a month, or spending a day without using electronics. A little sacrifice causes us to miss things that we take for granted and helps us be a little more humble and grateful when the thing is restored.

Our Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving. That shows us the importance of gratitude as the people of God. One day a week we’re asked to pause the rush and routine of our lives, to pause and gain perspective.

The musician Arthur Schnabel once said, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.”

It takes an effort to slow the carrousel of life and realize the treats we’re given every day, but it’s an effort worth making, for us and for our children.

© 2007, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

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