How Parents Can Learn Gratitude as They Teach Their Kids

By Jessica Wolstenholm

When my kids were just 6 and 4 years old, I wanted to make sure we practiced some kind of actual thankfulness during the Thanksgiving holiday. I mean, that’s kinda the point, right? With Christmas easing out Thanksgiving in the stores (and even trying to sneak up on Halloween!), I thought it was important for the kids to slowly and deliberately celebrate the holiday as we do Christmas and even the lesser holidays earlier in the year.

So, I bought these cute little paper leaves from the dollar store and let the kids take Sharpies (yes, at 4 and 6!) to write on each leaf one thing they were thankful for. There were about 100 in a pack so I figured they wouldn’t use them all and maybe we could use the rest for decorations. Instead, they had the absolute best time writing any and everything they could think of to be be thankful about.

They also added pictures to their words – which was helpful as my 6 year old really couldn’t spell and my 4 year old couldn’t really write. They wrote down things like “bugs”, “milk”, “Papa’s beard” (which was accompanied by a drawing of something that looked like a cross between a black cloud and a deep dark hole) and “motorcycles”.

They refused to throw those leaves away after Thanksgiving, so we kept them in a little glass pumpkin and take it out every year to laugh about their handwriting and drawings. This is now one of their favorite traditions.

This year, I was laying on the couch (being very purposeful and parental) when my daughter read every single paper leaf (it had to be all 100!) to me. We laughed as she tried to decipher her own handwriting and wondered at why someone had written “the pool” in November.

I saw my own handwriting in there – and maybe even my prodding as there were a few leaves with “God”, “my Bible” and “Operation Christmas Child” among the rest. But one of the leaves caught my eye and my heart. I had written, “the days are long.”

You know that saying, right? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s how parenting is – you wonder if the day of changing diapers, wiping spit up, comforting a will-not-go-to-bed toddler will ever end. Even days of getting your elementary school kid to do their homework and dressed on time seems interminable. But those years! They fly by! My kids can’t possibly 10 and 8 now! Aren’t they still 4 and 6 and love to draw pictures of Papa’s beard?

I am thankful the days are long. I’m thankful I get to be my kids’ mom and see them grow. I’m thankful I get to help them tie their shoes and wipe their noses. But what I’m really thankful for is getting to lead them to Jesus and his greatness.

Psalm 145 is a song of praise from David. It’s the whole “great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” passage that we sang about in church when I was a girl. Verse 4 is the one that gets me as a mom, though:

 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (ESV)

Not only do I get to have the long days of raising my kids, I get to commend the works – the mighty acts! – of God to my children. The way my kids love reading their thankful leaves – I want to be eager to share God’s mighty acts, the wonderful works he’s done in my life.

My kids have taken this verse and made it true in their own small generation – they are reminding themselves year after year of the goodness of God. I am determined to do the same!

I want them to see God’s hand, not just in their day to day life, but in the generation before them – throughout the long days and short years. I want my children to see and know the great God story of which our entire family is a part!

Family Time Idea: This Thanksgiving, sit down over leftover pumpkin pie and turkey sandwiches (or whatever!) to tell your kids of a time God did a miracle or work in your life before they were born. Maybe the story of how you came to know Him or how He spoke to you as a teenager. Show them how God has been working from generation to generation!