"Mo-o-om! Can I have something to eat?"
"Can we have a snack?"
I hear this about 500 times a day... or so it seems.
However, we've had our ups and downs as a family. And right now happens to be a "down". I'm not saying that we're going hungry, but we are trying to be frugal and budget conscious and also making sure we aren't wasting food (which translates to wasting money). That also means trying to use food we already have in our cupboards, instead of automatically running to the store for our favorite items.
So this evening, when I was preparing the ingredients for dinner, I noticed that we were almost out of our favorite Thai rice that we use in a lot of the meals we cook on a regular basis. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just use a different kind of rice." Which really wasn't a big deal because there were 3 other kinds of rice in our cupboard: Basmati, sweet rice and brown rice. I figured that the Basmati would be the most appealing to my kids, so I cooked up a pot to serve along with the small portion of Thai rice.
Then it happened.
"Mom! What is wrong with this rice?" A child burst out, referring to the Basmati rice on their plate.
"It's Basmati rice." I replied. "We ran out of Thai rice, so I had to use something else. And actually, Basmati is a really nice type of rice AND I put butter in it, so I don't know why you are complaining!" As you might gather, at this point I was feeling irritated!
"Butter!?!?" The child whined and then showed a face of extreme disgust.
"Okay" I responded not so calmly, "Then you may go to your room for supper if you are not grateful for the food we have to eat!" Except, since we are currently staying in a two bedroom basement suite (it's complicated) and this child doesn't have their own room, they just went to sit on their bed and sulk.
I had to shake my head at the preposterous nature of this moment. Like, really? Did my child just turn their nose up and reject a perfectly nutritious and delicious dinner because they were served the WRONG KIND OF RICE?!?!
We ended up having a little talk when I finished my dinner, although (with the age and stage of this child) it felt more like a lecture - and I tried to enlighten this child on how blessed our family actually is. Yes, we don't have a ton of money right now, and we didn't buy more Thai rice - but we have plenty of food in our fridge and cupboards and we are NOT going hungry! I referred to my husband's growing up years, where he not so fondly remembers times of eating lots of eggs and zucchini because their family could get it for free to supplement their meager stock of groceries in a home with four growing kids.
When I come to the heart of this situation, I realize that my desire is to see my kids exhibit grattitude - not just when things are good, but even in the midst of trials (like having the wrong kind of rice, or being served something you don't like at a friend's house).
My grumpy side would like to teach my kids a lesson: Maybe I could make them eat plain food for a while - like Kraft dinner and frozen pizzas and stuff that comes out a can - and then, when we finally have something homemade and delicious, they will be so thankful and grateful that I won't even have to prompt them! However, I don't think I could bear to punish my kids that way - especially when they have two culinarily creative parents.
So I'm looking for a solution. I'm tired of reminding them to say "thank you" all the time and I don't want to have to prod them to be grateful for the food that others make for them (even when they don't like it very much).
I'm looking for gratefulness to be a heart attitude, not a sign of a good upbringing or good manners. True gratitude comes from the heart; I don't want my kids to perform - or worse yet, roll their eyes and speak insincerely.
Maybe the place where it all starts is with me? Perhaps I should sincerely investigate my heart attitude, not just my actions? Sure, I act grateful when I'm invited out and someone makes me dinner (even if I don't like it). I know my manners... I've been raised properly. (Thanks, Ma!)
But I think it goes so much further than the "thank you" at dinnertime or when someone holds open the door for you at a store. Gratitude comes from a lifestyle of constant mindfulness that I am am getting far better than I deserve. Gratitude comes from recognition that life is a gift. Gratitude also acknowledges the value of those around you - their preciousness as a "fearfully and wonderfully made" human, to quote Psalm 139.
I wonder if I am showing true, heartfelt gratitude both around my children as well as towards my children? Maybe I think that I shouldn't have to thank them for doing their chores, cleaning up after themselves - or even for showing me affection. But if I begin to create an atmosphere that values and encourages these actions, I believe that not only will these actions become more commonplace, but they will also begin to adopt my posture of gratitude.
If I am quick to point out the positive of my children's behavior, then that behavior will be what is honored and upheld as desirable. But I'm not thinking about how this will merely make life easier for me - I'm not trying to use a formula to induce better behavior in my children. I have a feeling that this will actually result in my heart being more content and joyous. And that sounds like a really good thing.
I don't expect things to change overnight. I know that my kids are adaptable and as I pursue gratefulness, it sure to rub off on them. But for me, it's a journey...
I know that I'm still going to have days where someone doesn't like dinner and then refuses to eat. And in that situation, I'll do my best to remind them of our blessings and then send them to their room to find their "happy, grateful attitude".
And my kids will most certainly continue to whine incessantly at me "Mo-o-o-mmmm, I'm hungry!"
Thankfully, I still have one last trick up my sleeve - it's the kind of answer that annoying parents like me give to their kids in this situation:
"You're not hungry, you're bored!"
(Feel free to use that one, it's a freebie!)