I want to raise grateful children

Part of being a parent is saying no

I want my girls to be grateful for what they have. I want them to learn to appreciate both the cost of the things they want and the true value—or otherwise—of them. And I want them to understand limits and constraints. Money is a finite resource. Though often I can afford what my girls want—they, mercifully, still have relatively cheap wants at the moment—many times I genuinely can’t afford what they would like. And I feel it’s important I don’t hide that from them.

Like many parents, there’s a part of me that would love to be able to give my daughters everything they want. The look in my five year-old’s eyes when she comes with her puppy eyes and asks me for something is almost irresistible. My daughter Eloise is still in the early days of learning that things cost money. She’s not fully grasped that getting her a new toy she’s just seen advertised, or downloading the latest Disney film on iTunes, all come with a cost. (The lack of a physical product with films and music can make this even harder to understand.) And though many times we could afford what she asks for, it clearly isn’t always a good idea to let her have everything she thinks she wants.

It’s not just toys and films. Chocolate and sweets are pretty high on the agenda on any given day for my girls too. Truth be told, Eloise in particular would snack her way through every minute of the day if I let her. Which I don’t. Mostly. Unless it’s the only way of getting some peace and quiet and I simply cave in from ‘battle exhaustion’.

Like with so much when it comes to parenting, there’s a need for balance. It’s all give and take. Which, inevitably, means there’s a fair amount of saying, ‘No’. But this feels like it’s a vital life lesson—for both us as parents and our kids. You look at kids whose parents clearly only ever say ‘Yes’ to them, and, typically, parent and child alike come across as spolied and ungrateful. Always getting our own way in life ruins us, builds a false sense of entitlement, and does nothing to cultivate gratitude.

None of us can have everything we want in life. We don’t always get our own way. We get told, ‘No’. These are life lessons. Part of growing up is learning how to respond to these moments. And I don’t think my role as a Dad is to protect my girls from them; rather, it’s to prepare them for them. If I let my daughters always get what they want, have their own way, and never face rejection, I’m going to create little monsters who won’t be able to deal with the realities of life and who’ll be horrible to be around.

It’s also important to me that my girls learn to save money for the things they want. Delayed gratification may not be encouraged by society, but these little lessons can sow the seeds that may, I hope, reduce the propensity my daughters have towards going into debt for anything other than a house and car. Right now, that means Eloise, who is desperate for me to buy her the new Frozen film when it’s available in the UK, is having to do chores to earn money so she can save up to buy it for herself. We could just say ‘Yes’ and buy her the film. And sure, sometimes we do do that—special treats are great and important!—but if that’s all we do, the treats are no longer special and no vital life-lessons are being taught.

Saying ‘No’, it seems, is vital to creating healthy, balanced kids. If only it wasn’t so difficult at times.

First published at The Good Men Project.

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