We were late. Really late. It’s not how I had envisioned the day going at all. Work and last minute phone calls had delayed our departure and now we were racing against the clock and the miles to get there. I could feel the frustration and anxiety building up in my daughter as she glanced at the clock. Graciously she held silent, though my own voice was already saying what I knew I deserved in that moment.
5 minutes out from our destination the phone rang. Apparently all the girls had to be present before being allowed into the park, a fact that had escaped me in the initial email days before. I imagined the words “Worst Parent of the Year” were now becoming visible on my forehead for all to see.
As we approached the steps I could see kids and parents waiting anxiously. In that moment I wished I could shrink and disappear quietly under the crack in the stairs. My daughter tugged on her hair and shifted her backpack, anxiety evident in the way she carried herself forward.
“Worst Parent Ever” now flashed angrily in Neon from my forehead. Grabbing hold of the doors, I took a deep breath and we stepped inside.
When our girls were younger it seemed that the moments I failed as a Mom were small in comparison to my fails today as a Mom of teenagers. Back then it was forgetting about snack day at school or not cutting the ends off a sandwich just right. It was packing two left shoes and forgetting quarters to feed the ducks at the pond.
Today the stakes seem higher somehow. The fails holding more consequence as they test the bounds of relationship and trust. Grace for myself can be hard to come by these days.
Yet reflecting back on that day I realize that the title of “Worst Parent” was self imposed. Feelings hijacked truth and anxiety feasting on old lies and habits of needing to please.
Coming through the doors that day we meet anxiety head-on but we also meet grace. Grace silently passed from parent to parent knowing that we have all worn a self-imposed “Worst Parent of the Year Award” at some point.
Parenting is hard. We’re not always going to get it right. Often we will fall flat on our face, in front of our kids and sometimes in front of a whole group of folks.
It is in that moment, laying facedown in the mud, that we can choose to shrink and slip quietly under the crack in the stairs or slowly stand back up and find Grace waiting to help dust us off.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6
Our oldest daughter was just shy of two years old. We sat in my in-laws living room watching her amidst all the boxes, wrapping and bows. It was so much fun to see her having so much fun.
The last present was deposited into her chubby little arms. Her lips puckered pensively, trying to figure out where to open the package first. With one swift pull she ripped paper down the side. And there it was. A beautiful toy, shiny in all it’s newness.
She stared briefly up at us, back down to her new toy, and then this word……...More?
I was baffled. The child had everything her little heart could want. Piled around her were toys, clothes, coloring books and videos.
When she realized that “more” was not forthcoming she expressed herself as any child wanting more, does. She leaned back and pitched an absolute fit! Tears, snot, arms and legs were flying everywhere. It was not a pretty site.
After that year we decided a new strategy was in order. Not only in our gift giving but in the lessons we were (or were not) teaching our daughter. While a fit at two years old is never pretty, I certainly did not want to imagine the same fit at 12.
But it’s not just about teaching our children to be thankful at Thanksgiving time or grateful at Christmas time. It’s about teaching and instilling a spirit of Thankfulness all year long.
So how do we practically do that?
Here are three key ways we have worked with our children over the years to help instill a spirit of thankfulness.
Model Thankfulness – If we want our children to be thankful then we must model thankfulness. Find opportunities throughout the day and week to express things YOU are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be big things, even the smallest expression of thankfulness can be powerful.
Give Opportunities to Express Thankfulness – Give your children opportunities to express thankfulness. We do this in several ways:
Taking turns around the table to share one thing we are thankful for from our day.
While riding in the car asking them to share one thing they are thankful for from their day at school/co-op – Maybe a project went well or a friend encouraged them in some way.
Asking them WHO they are thankful for and why – this helps take the focus off themselves and helps them begin to think of others and the world around them.
Serve Others- Sometimes the greatest lessons in thankfulness is serving others. Something powerful happens when we teach our children to look past themselves and care for those around them, especially those who are going through a difficult or challenging season. Here are some things we have done as a family:
Make a meal for a family or individual walking through a difficult time and delivering it to their home.
Volunteer at your local soup kitchen or food pantry.
There are many ways to help instill thankfulness in our children but ultimately it comes down to us as parents and caregivers. We must lead the way consistently by modeling, giving opportunities and teaching our children to serve others around them.
As we gather around the table this month, let’s commit to making Thanksgiving more than one day on the calendar. Let’s commit to making it an every day celebration of Thankfulness.
Today we had the opportunity to serve beside some really awesome people at our local food pantry. These folks are truly dedicated to serving their community and the people in it, even if it means giving up part of their day. While it may not seem like a big deal to some, I know it makes all the difference in the world to the families that come to the food bank door on those early mornings.
Soon after moving to our new community our family started volunteering at the local food pantry.
As parents we want our girls to learn how to serve others, and serve them well. I want them to learn what it means to show God’s love to another in real and applicable ways and I want them to learn how to give back out of the blessings they have received.
But the biggest reason we wanted to serve at the Food Bank? We used to be the ones standing in that line.
Yes, us. My family. My husband and my children.
It has been a lot of years since that time in our lives. We had hit a hard place and despite the fact that my husband was working full time and I was doing all I could with three little ones, the ends did not always meet. We had a loving extended family that helped out as much as they could but their dollars were stretched as well.
It was an incredibly humbling experience and a time in my life that, while difficult, changed the way I viewed people, difficulty and true need. I came to know what it was like to feel the looks of pity, the sting of embarrassment and the snub of people who just didn’t understand.
But I also came to know the hard reality of many in this country. A reality for those that find themselves in a place they never expected to be.
And I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers who were willing to give of their time to help meet a need in my life. Who cared enough to look past my circumstances and instead to the person standing on the other side.
And it was for this reason that we wanted our girls to see and experience what it means to truly serve another. To not just see a random line of people needing a helping hand but learning to serve real people with real needs.
As we bundled up that morning I gently reminded my girls of why we were going to serve, taking the time to show them how to look each person in the eye, give a warm smile and a firm handshake. We reminded them to always be looking for ways to bless people whether it was loading their cart with produce or taking a bag of groceries to their car. Above all else we encouraged them to treat each person with the up most respect.
We have all seen the jokes that go around and the comments on Facebook that complain about those on welfare and food assistance programs, and to be sure the system is far from perfect. I know that just as well as anybody.
Maybe we make jokes and criticize that which we are afraid of? Maybe we fear something deeper, something more than just learning to relate to those who are different than us? Maybe we are afraid that it could be us someday?
And that is where I would challenge you today. That before you make a quick judgement about the people who stand in the food bank line, who darken the door of the welfare office, or stand at the register using their food stamps, consider this first –
That used to be me. For a very difficult season of our lives that was our family. My children, my husband.
It could be your family some day. I hope not. I pray that you will never taste what that truly feels like.
But if you do, I pray that you will look up to find a warm handshake and a welcome smile and someone to walk the journey with.
Because we all need people who are willing to take just a little bit of time to understand, to extend the hand of friendship, to love us where we are at and come beside us as we travel this journey.
You see, it’s not just a Food Bank Line. No, it is much more than that. It is you, it is me, it is our neighbors, our friends, our family.
So who is God calling you to serve today? You might just be surprised at the answer.