I’m working on making the most of my time. I’m working on saying no to good things so I can say yes to great things. I’m working on keeping my eyes open to commercialism and the comparison trap so that I can see clearly and help make better decisions for our family. I’m working on being more grateful. So, this year, I said “No” to buying new costumes for the kids for Halloween.
No New Costumes!
Now, before you gasp in horror at the dismal holiday my children must have had, sitting in a dark living room watching the kids in fun costumes parade around our neighborhood, remember that I don’t hate my kids. I love my kids! I love them like crazy! I just didn’t want to make a big fuss over Halloween this year.
Something struck me about how much time and energy I usually pour over their costumes and decorations and making everything the best ever. I usually drive to four different places to find the perfect something, recruit a friend or two to help me make the best whatever-the-heck, and I love every second of it. I usually start planning and throwing out ideas to Tony about what our whole family will be for Halloween in May. I mean, most times I wouldn’t be surprised if Pinterest showed up at my door to interview me on how I got it all done. But, not this year.
This year, about a week before Halloween, I told the girls they could be absolutely anything they wanted, as long as they used things from our dress-up drawer and their own closets. Someday, I imagine they may stomp their feet and cry and yell at me for making such a declaration, but that day has not yet arrived. They were thrilled! Claire, our four year old, was a robot, recycling her costume from two years ago. It was a little snug, and the sleeves were pretty short, but she didn’t care. Nora, our three year old, was a ballerina. She wore her favorite tutu OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE, which she has never before been allowed to do. Over the moon, I tell ya! Alice, our teeny tiny, could have cared less, so I put a cute bear hat on her head and called it good.
We piled our cuties into the car and went to our friends’ house for our pre-trick-or-treating spaghetti dinner. Everyone ate, the dads took the kids around the neighborhood, and the moms stayed behind to have some wine and pass out candy. This is the third year in a row we’ve spent Halloween this way, so I think it’s safe to call it a tradition. We love it! When the dads came back, Tony said it was the best year yet. He said everyone understood the concept of trick-or-treating, they all had fun, and every single one of them were so proud to announce what their costume was to the kind candy-passer-outers. HUGE WIN!
The kids’ excitement filled me up! I want to raise kids who are grateful and content. But, how will they ever be grateful and content unless I practice gratitude and contentment with them? We didn’t have a big discussion about what a noble thing it was to not spend money on new costumes. We really didn’t discuss much at all, other than the fact that they both had to wear pants with their costumes since they were going outside… the ballerina was quite inconvenienced by this requirement.
No, we didn’t have a round table lesson on gratitude and contentment. They received no lecture on how blessed we are with what we have or a slide-show of children who are less fortunate than they are. I have this sense that our kids are learning more about life by how we live than they are from the prepared lessons I might carefully write out and read to them. They were satisfied with what we told them and never complained even when they saw how many of their friends got to dress up as Queen Elsa, who is of course their favorite. They were more than content, they were joyful!
Do You Suffer from FOMO?
There is an epidemic of dissatisfaction. We see it all around us, and we are marketed to and lured in by the thought that if we could have that next thing we might finally be happy. Whether it’s a thing or an experience, many of us have FOMO – the fear of missing out. FOMO drives our decisions, our purchases, and how we spend our time. Those geniuses writing the commercials and coming up with the “… You’ll never believe what happened next” headlines for us to click on know it. Dissatisfaction creeps in and not only affects our calendars and our bank statements, but it affects our entire outlook on life. I think dissatisfaction has a lot to do with the dismantling of marriages.
It is dissatisfaction that leads a partner to look outside of their marriage for that elusive thing they must be missing out on with their own spouse. It is unfulfilled expectations that make way for resentment. “Why doesn’t he plan more date nights? Other husbands take their wives out.” “Why does she complain about my hobbies? Doesn’t she know they help me relax? My friends’ wives never complain when they go hunting.” And then, instead of turning toward each other to talk through the dissatisfaction and resentment, they let it build and grow until they no longer even want to be around each other. Two dissatisfied people, full of contempt and resentment, who just can’t remember what brought them together in the first place. It’s hard to come back from that, but it is not impossible.
The antidote to dissatisfaction is not found in satisfying the perceived desire. Getting what you want won’t necessarily make you happier. We are reading The Secret Garden as a bed-time story for the girls, and the author of this children’s book, Frances Hodgson Burnett, does a beautiful job of showing us how utterly grumpy and unlikeable a spoiled child is. She uses the word “spoiled” and our Claire asks me about it every time we read. It’s been strange but good to explain to her that poor little Mary doesn’t know how to be happy because she has been given everything she’s ever wanted and completely catered to her whole life. All she thinks about is herself. Mary is being challenged to think about others as she moves into this new home and is surrounded by these new people who have no interest in catering to her every request. Mary is, for the first time, grateful for a few little things like a spade to use in her own little garden, and she is beginning to find joy. But it’s not the spade that makes her happy, it’s the gratitude she feels that is making way for joy. The antidote to dissatisfaction is gratitude.
Gratitude is a Choice
It’s natural to think “As soon as I get_____, I will be so grateful!” but that way of thinking is backwards. Gratitude precedes joy. Gratitude comes before contentment. Gratitude makes way for peace and satisfaction. Gratitude is a choice. It is a way of life that can be learned and practiced. It is a way of life that I want to pass on to my children.
I hope they will remember that, more than amazing new costumes and buckets full of candy, what is important to us is to spend time with our friends. I want to show them how grateful we are for what we have and who we have in our lives. I want them to learn to be grateful because someday they will grow up and they may want to get married. I want them to treat their spouses with gratitude, and not with sour dissatisfaction. Brené Brown said, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” The last thing I want to do is raise entitled, spoiled, grumpy, and unlikeable girls. But, like I said before, they are going to learn a lot more from Tony and I by the way we behave than they are by the lessons we attempt to teach. If we want to raise kids who are grateful, we need to practice gratitude ourselves.
Will you practice with us? Whether you participate in the ever popular Days of Gratitude challenges going around on Facebook, or keep a list on your refrigerator of the ways you are thankful for your spouse and your marriage, do something tangible to keep gratitude in the forefront of your everyday thinking. Combat the little ways that dissatisfaction and resentment creep into your relationship by remaining grateful and #staymarried.
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