Photo Credit: Jeff Djevdet
Hold onto your hats, the hippy, counter-cultural Jen is about to rear her head. I won’t say ugly head, because I’m not sure it’s ugly. Thought provoking? Yes. Uncomfortable? Perhaps. Against the grain? Absolutely. But not ugly. I’ve come to appreciate the beauty found in the DIFFERENT. That swimming hard against the stream takes my breath away in the best and worst of ways.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve always been bothered by that elf. I’ve always felt a little bit like, “What’s the point?” And, “That’s a lot of work to coerce your kids into behaving for a month.” And, “Do I want to raise my kids to behave well and have integrity because someone is watching, or because it’s simply who they are in the marrow of their characters?” Don’t get me wrong, the elf is fun. The positions children find him in are clever, creative, and enjoyable. And also don’t believe for one second that I have always behaved in a manner that is “above” coercion, threats, and trickery to get children to behave. Likewise, I cannot guarantee you that I will never do it again. I’m
nearly only 18 months into the parenting thing, and I fully recognize that I am not “above” anything. However, I wish to do better. I remember sitting in my Pre-K classroom during my first five years of teaching, and using Santa as a threat. I very vividly recall walking up to my classroom telephone during a particularly difficult year, which was the particularly difficult December that drove me to teach overseas the following year, and picking up the telephone, “calling” Santa, and telling him not to bring _____ the Hannah Montana microphone she so desperately wanted because she didn’t know how to behave in school. But I sit here six years later and all I feel is ashamed. Yes, I was still learning how to teach, I was responding in a moment of exasperation, and certainly it was a difficult job, but did my teaching that day change my student’s way of thinking? Did it alter her character? Maybe, but if so it was to reinforce the idea of “be good, get good”. That child, and my own children, deserve more than that.
I am currently, and very uncomfortably, reading a pre-release copy of Kristen Welch’s new book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. Kristen is a wife, mama, author, and founder of Mercy House in Kenya and the Fair Trade Friday Club. Many of you have read articles I have linked from her site via Facebook. She is a Christian, but please don’t let that stop you from reading if you do not believe the same– this book is 100% applicable to those who believe and those who do not believe– to all of those who desire to raise children against the grain of cultural norms.
I began reading the book yesterday, and was struck by so many things, but particularly so by the following quote:
At a time of the year when our inboxes are littered with sale ads, when the television screams, “More, more, more!”, when our kids feel like they “deserve” a good Christmas because… well… because they’re kids and it’s Christmas, how do we fight against this innate feeling of entitlement? How do we show our kids that everything is a gift to be thankful for? That we give at Christmas out of joy, not obligation? That we give, but our number one priority is NOT that they be happy, but rather they be wise, giving, thankful, contributors to mankind?
To be honest, I haven’t figured it all out. I’m not sure what we will do, how we will ingrain these truths on our precious children’s minds. But here is one thing I do know:
If I want to teach these truths to my children, it MUST start with me. I must grow less entitled, and more grateful. I must fight against my pursuit of “more, more more”, my mentality of “I’ll be happy when…”, my hidden core belief that if I’m living the American dream that I’ve reached that “elusive destination”. I must develop a character where thankfulness is my response rather than comparison.
And I can tell you one thing for certain. It won’t start with an elf. Not in my house.