Teaching Gratitude is Harder Than I Thought

My family had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving in Mexico this year (a tradition on my side of the family every three years). It is a sizable expense for a family of eight but we are always so happy when we can manage it. The older our kids get, the more we know that these trips as a family are numbered.

I know our kids appreciate it to a certain extent (maybe as much as they are capable of). Our older ones know that this is not something everyone does. And yet, the day we came home from Mexico I heard, “I’m bored,” from one “temporarily” ungrateful child and I just about lost my mind. ONE SINGLE DAY after being in paradise and you’re bored? Already?

I was in middle school and my husband was an adult before we took our first plane rides. Trips that our kids go on now are ones we never would have dreamed of doing. Oftentimes they are a result of my husband’s extensive travel schedule for work (he accumulates plenty of points). We as adults appreciate every trip but sometimes I wonder if choosing to travel with our kids in this way sets them up for unrealistic expectations in the future. If my husband changed jobs, if our income level dropped, and someday, when our kids are grown and have to pay their own way, these trips are never guaranteed.




Obligatory selfie with Mom because she took you on this trip

My husband and I never went hungry but we did not have extra growing up. Neither of us had very nice clothes, cars or the latest toy or device. We didn’t go on many vacations (my husband went on zero because dairy farmers don’t take vacation) and if we needed a new pair of shoes or grew out of a bike we waited for Christmas or our birthdays. 

We have so much more than we could have dreamed because times have changed (like cell phones and the internet). And, we have extra, (maybe unnecessary) things because my husband and I never had them and can afford them now. We bought a hot tub this summer because we’ve always talked about getting one. Should we not get one so that we do not spoil our kids? We make these choices because we want to spend time as a family, but then I wonder about the long term effect of these choices. If we make them too comfortable, will they someday have the drive to work for things like we did? Will they ever appreciate what they have because this is all they know?

I’m not sure if we should purposely skip a trip or not buy the hot tub in the interest of keeping them grounded (if that is the best way to do so). I want my kids to have struggles because I believe that is how you grow but I want it to happen organically, not artificially because I’ve withheld something. And, plenty HAS happened in our family that has not been so easy.

We have seen hospitalizations, deaths and job loss. We’ve had kids struggle hard and had long roads to adoption that I do not often share publicly. Two years ago we had a very sick girl in the hospital. She was so sick, we didn’t know if we’d be bringing her home. And then, by some miracle we did. I have people in my life who didn’t get that with their kids and I feel a mixture of guilt and gratitude because of it. Bottom line, our family’s life has been anything but perfect. But, do they make that connection and really feel gratitude when things are good? Do they appreciate our health, or our ability to afford a nice trip or nice meal?

Can we teach our kids gratitude? The more I think about it, I do not believe that we can. At least not entirely. I am an adult and I don’t always get it right. How often do I fret over first world problems instead of keeping gratitude in my own heart? Maybe, this is a lifetime lesson for them, as it has been for me. Maybe, if I plant the seeds now, they will begin to become more aware, more grateful as they mature. Maybe, it’s not up to me to teach them all of it. And maybe, that will have to be enough.




Julie Jensen is a mom of five boys and one girl. She is a runner, biker, yoga instructor and socializer. That about sums it up. Believe it or not, she really does enjoy the soccer, cross country, swim team, track, dance classes, basketball, and theater her kids are involved in as long as she has another mom (or dad) to talk to during these events. Julie is starting a new adventure going back to school to get her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at Edgewood College. You can follow her on Instagram at @out_numbered_mama6


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here