It’s graduation time. Some parents will be smiling through sweet kindergarten plays, others proudly clicking cameras as their children receive their diplomas. Many parents will be wiping away tears wondering was it not just yesterday that we were snuggling together, reading Goodnight Moon and giving ‘one more kiss goodnight’?
And as our children eagerly anticipate the world beyond, it is easy for them to run off without thinking about all the long days and nights their parents have put in. It takes great character to pause in the moment of one’s celebration. On the eve of his college graduation, one young man wrote this note to his parents. His mother shared his words with me, and feeling incredibly moved, I asked her permission to share it with you.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I just want to write you a quick note to say thank you once again for making my life happy, healthy, and full of love. I can’t find the right words to express how incredibly grateful I am to both of you for the experiences I have had in my life and the opportunities that lay before me. I was thinking the other day how we tend to only tell people how much they mean to us on a holiday or on their birthday; for most people I am fine with that arrangement but mom and dad, you are so much more special to me than a generic card or cheap present a couple of times a year.
It seems that most people only take a step back to reflect after suffering a loss: I am so thankful that I am yet to experience true tragedy in my life. Instead I want to celebrate my parents; the two people I know I could never live without. Every single important decision I have made in my life, I made by trusting the values that you have instilled in me. I wish I had the word or phrase to describe to you the immense comfort and confidence that your unconditional support has given me throughout my life.
I know that the two of you have given me more than I can ever give back to you. I guess it is the cycle of life that one day I will give all of myself to my children. I hope that when the time comes I have the strength to place my self-interest aside. Mom, you have been doing this every day of your life as a mother. You have made sure that no matter what else is happening in the world, your children are well protected and well taken care of. You truly are the most selfless person I have ever known. Watching you I have learned what true compassion, loyalty, and love really mean.
Dad, you work long hours and commute so far each day just so that we will never want for anything. You rarely treat yourself to luxuries, but you have a hard time saying no to your family. You will always be my hero.
Mom and Dad you two are the foundation of my life. I love you both so much and am thankful for every second we spend together. I love you forever.
This letter is my definition of the word ‘nachas.’ I’m sure this young man had many parties to attend and goodbyes to be said, and loads of things to do leading up to his graduation. Yet he took a step back and reached out to his parents.
He is right; whether we are graduating or soon walking under the chuppah to begin a new chapter of our life, this is the time to reflect and say ‘thank you’. This is the day to recall those images of mom and dad and express love and gratitude. We realize too late that there are precious words that have been left unsaid. The moment passes us by.
If you are a parent reading this and wondering how you can raise your child with this ‘attitude of gratitude’, here are a few keys to teach your child the value of gratefulness.
1. Role model
Children can grow up in a home for 20 years and never hear parents express appreciation to one another. We easily take each other for granted. Just because I am supposed to do something as a father or mother does not mean that the rest of the family does not have an obligation to say ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse for driving carpool, making dinner, or taking out time for family. Husbands and wives who voice appreciation in front of their children open up eyes to moments that are clearly overlooked.
2. Contemplate your blessings
When we speak about all that we are grateful for, children learn how to appreciate life’s blessings. Our kids need to see us being happy with all that we have. Ask yourself if yours is a home where there is a lot of complaining and comparing. Do we gripe about what we think we are missing? Do we complain about all the things we wished we had? Do we always have to get the newest gadget?
3. Teach anticipation
How often do you say ‘no’ when your child requests something? What happens if he begs hard enough or has a huge tantrum? Do you still stand strong or do you cave in? When your child wants to start a collection, like of stickers or sports cards, do you buy many at one time to make him feel good? If everyone has something, do you buy it even if this goes against your better judgment? If the sneakers are way too expensive but your child harangues you, will you overextend yourself? Did you ever say ‘I know you really want this but we can’t have everything we want?’
These are all questions for parents to ponder. When we give in and buy too much, children grow entitled. They are not able to handle the ‘no’s’ that life brings. Thankfulness becomes a forgotten art. Anticipation teaches us to relish the moment we have been waiting for. Children feel grateful when they recognize that we cannot have everything so we must appreciate all that we are given.
And if you’re embarking on new horizons, take a few moments to look back and reflect, and write your own letter to your parents. I know it will be read over and over with much joy and tears.