How to balance a minimalist mindset with a culture of consumerism? How to teach our children gratitude without greed, appreciation without demand?
This is one of those issues that varies greatly from one family to the next. It can often be an extremely personal, and therefore extremely touchy topic to discuss, especially in groups of strangers. Where one mother might be overwhelmed with the amount of toys and clothes her child is gifted, and wishes for less – another mother might be reading and wishing that her child had that external love and attention from others, even if it meant more “stuff” coming in.
There really is no one right answer or magic solution, but overall I’ve found that a healthy mix of honesty, kindness and consistency makes a huge difference.
For me, minimalism, as with any lifestyle choice, is just that – a choice of mine and my husband’s for our family. It doesn’t automatically extend to everyone around me, nor should it. With our children, it’s important to us that their individual preferences are part of the equation as we parent and help grow their hearts. That said, as their parents, it’s also important to us that we guide them them in the way we think best, and gratitude is a priority for us.
Children learn quickly to expect what has been offered. If my child becomes used to everything being done for him at home, piles of gifts at every birthday and holiday, entertainment/outings every weekend, then that will naturally become an expectation of routine, rather than a gift to be grateful for.
Habits, big or small, are easier taught at a young age. We’ve made chores and helping out part of family life together, rather than a process once they reach a certain age. It takes me 10 times longer to do the laundry with a toddler, but it gets them in a habit of working together to take care of our home and belongings.
Gratitude – not just for things, but for work done and time spent. A child who has never helped clean, fold a laundry, or take out the garbage can hardly be expected to appreciate it being done for them. And while appreciation from a toddler isn’t expected, lack of gratitude in a teenager or young adult is not quite so easy to deal with. 😉
I’ve found something so simple as using the words “thoughtful,” “grateful,” “kind,” “generous” has made those concepts part of their every day vocabulary and behavior. “Thank you for clearing the table. That was thoughtful of you!” “I’m grateful to Grandma for inviting us over today!” “That was kind of Daddy to take you on a bike ride.” “It was generous of you to give her some of your snack.” Etc. Words matter to children, so much! When the words are backed up by consistent actions and expectations, the results are incredibly rewarding.
As a mother, it’s important to me that gratitude and kindness come first. There are approximately 8,000 ways of quietly maintaining family practices, none of which include denying family and friends the joy of giving. Children absorb those attitudes as fully as they do any good ones.
That said, excess is a very real problem in our modern world, and when it comes to kids and gifts – the excess can be simply overwhelming. This is where the whole my-house-my-rules thing comes into play. 😉
If there are people in your life who consistently disrespect the values of your family, ignore your requests as regards your children, or frequently give “guilt gifts” that come with expectations… it does fall on us as parents to put a foot down and deal with the problem. A friend or relative’s love of shopping does not mean your home needs to be overflowing with stuff and dragging down your heart – or your children’s!
Depending on your family dynamic, an honest conversation will usually help turn things around because most people genuinely just want to bring joy. They are just sometimes a little off-base from what actually does bring you joy. 😉 If honesty and direct conversations don’t help – well, that’s why donation drop-offs, shelters, etc. are such a wonderful option! You get to bring joy to others, and keep your own as well. <3
We happen to have families that respect our choices for our children, which definitely makes life easier. 😉 When there have been situations, whether holidays or birthdays, when the kids were gifted excessive amounts, some things were discreetly set aside or passed on to someone else to love. Gifts can and should bring joy, if not to your child, then to someone else!
Thoughtfulness plays a role on both ends of giving. Ideally, the gift is thoughtfully given (and therefore respects your family lifestyle), but on the other hand, squashing someone else’s joy of giving isn’t the way to go either. Making wishlists, emphasizing your child’s love of certain activities or places, requesting “experience gifts,” rather than toys, or, if you’re dealing with hardcore givers 😉 – simply but firmly reminding that you do not allow certain items in your home. Firm doesn’t mean unkind, but I absolutely believe that there are few things so unkind as dishonesty. Our loved ones want to give because they love us, they love our children. We owe it to our own hearts and our loved ones’ to be open about what brings us joy.
Let’s be honest, it’s fun giving to kids. It can be fun throwing parties! It can be fun baking their cakes and cookies, putting together surprises, and planning fun outings. The idea isn’t to suck the joy out of life with kids but to add joy by focusing on memories over packages and love over show.
In the end, what matters most to me is that their hearts are grateful for what is given in love and at peace in their own home.
How do you encourage gratitude in your family? Do you involve your kids in housework or assign chores? Do you try to minimize the wrapped-up gifts or go all out?