Inculcating Hakaras Hatov in the Home

Q: I find it very difficult to relate to my children’s lack of gratitude. How can they receive so much yet appreciate so little?

When I was growing up, my mother had to work (just to pay for our tuitions!), and I would be happy if she could sit and talk to me for five minutes. Now that I am a mother, my continually giving of my time — whether driving children around, or doing the many other things parents do for their children — is not appreciated. My children expect me to be there for them — even the married ones. In a way, the married ones are worse, in terms of time. When they happen to be available to speak (due to their busy schedules), they can’t comprehend that I’m not stopping everything to take their calls. And they usually call at night — which is the busiest time for me, as I still have school-age children at home, doing homework.

Children don’t appreciate their material possessions. They want “better” or “newer”— from toys to cell phones to cars. My friend’s nine-year-old son is embarrassed to have friends come over to their house, as it looks like a “Bubby and Zeidy house.” (Which it is! His parents are 55 and 60 years old!)

I realize that people have always compared and competed — this is how Hashem creates people — but when people don’t appreciate the many brachos they have, they become angry and resentful.

I have a 23-year-old son who is becoming this way. I’m afraid that his cynical attitude is affecting his younger brothers.

Those of my children who possess a jealous streak are the most difficult to deal with in terms of gratitude. I’m generally not a jealous person, and I find it hard to relate to this lack of hakaros hatov that’s rampant among our children.

A: We see in Bereishis the first instance of a human being’s lack of hakaras hatov, when Adam Harishon blames Chavah for Etz Hadaas (rather than appreciating the gift of a wife which Hashem had bestowed upon him). As you say, it is a general human condition, which we fight against on a daily basis.

If you decide that you want the idea of hakaras hatov to be a focal point within your family, you should verbalize this idea to family members, while stressing that truly happy people are those who find pleasure in the many individual brachos they have received in life.

The nightly practice of consciously appreciating the positive encounters we have experienced during the day is a way of heightening hakaras hatov. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin has suggested the idea of writing a list of personal meaningful memories, and often looking at this list, to help appreciate our daily lives. This list can include poignant childhood memories, descriptions of magnificent views of nature and moments of transcendence. As the list grows, positively experiencing and appreciating quality of life increases. Family members can consider implementing these concepts and actions.

Parents can verbalize what they are thankful for on a daily basis to their family members. We can express our appreciation of different opportunities that came our way, and how we found situations in which we could bestow chessed upon another. Being grateful for good friends can be stressed — appreciating the intangible and non-material marks the beginning of decreasing an individual’s jealous attitude. When intangible positive values are truly valued, jealousy and cynicism decrease.

By verbally showing appreciation to family members, we role-model the concept we are trying to better integrate into our homes. Children should sometimes work towards earning a specific reward (by doing household tasks usually not done by them), to better appreciate the value of their work and efforts. Writing notes to your children’s teachers to express your appreciation of their efforts is another way of role-modeling gratitude to your children.

Hatzlachah in this most worthy endeavor!