‘Give Thanks to the Lord’: Raising a Grateful Family
COMMENTARY: How to Raise Children Who Express Gratitude, One Family Tradition at a Time
Raising a grateful family is a challenge in modern culture but well worth the effort. As I reflect on how we’ve strived to do this over our 20 years of parenting eight children, it is through finding little ways to teach big lessons and being consistent with them, through constant conversation and by staying on mission as a family that we keep gratitude at our core.
Our family’s mission is hospitality. We open our home to friends and strangers. Knowing the difference between hospitality and entertaining means we welcome and share what we have been given rather than focusing on what we have.
Within our diocese we have started a tradition of hosting a pre-Thanksgiving meal for the seminarians, religious and missionaries. We have gone from feeding 25 hungry people to more than 125.
Our family sees this as a way to thank those who spend their days and nights serving others and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. The abundant return is the gift of attending ordinations and vows, showing my family the joy of living out the Gospel life.
Being the mother of many children, I am so very thankful for St. Thérèse’s model of doing small things with great love. From that inspiration, I have been able to teach big concepts, such as gratitude, with small but consistent family traditions.
Since the birth of our first son, we have hung a “Grateful Tree” on our wall; it has pockets on the leaves where we place notes highlighting things we are grateful for over the year. On Thanksgiving, we gather those up, read them and offer our true, thankful hearts to the Lord. My younger children take this job seriously and often fill the tree with more papers than there are slots. I love that their hearts are so attuned to the little things that they are overflowing with gratitude.
Our family is also a big fan of family talks, often with hot cocoa in hand. Nothing is really off the table, and trust is built over these discussions and — sometimes — debates. I am grateful that in that circle of trust, we can take a light topic and go deeper.
One family discussion began with the common reflection: “What if you woke up today with only what you gave thanks for the day before?” It’s startling in its simplicity and calls us to recognize the simple but also to ponder the more meaningful.
Clearly, we should have our basic needs — food, clothes, shelter — met, but then we begin to think about the value of more meaningful things. I remember one of our family seasons of doing ministry. I remember how we would often find groups of homeless people huddled together — because community matters. Relationships matter. The value of these intangibles cannot be measured other than by the joy and comfort it brings those who are giving and those who are receiving. These acts of service bring these concepts of gratitude to the forefront of our hearts, imprinting on them memories of simplicity and service, joy and thankfulness.
As a mother, I realize that, in everything I do, I am modeling for my children a way of life. When they are adults and parents of their own children, God willing, they will take these seeds we have planted and water them, growing their own family traditions of gratitude.
I am grateful for the responsibility and trust the Lord has placed in me to raise these souls to heaven. May we all look for small ways to cultivate gratitude, forming our families closer to the heart of Jesus.
MaryBeth Eberhard is a married mother of eight children.