How to raise grateful kids

The toaster is broken.

The washing machine gets stuck on every cycle so I have to manually move it to the next or it will just soak, or spin, forever.

The dryer isn’t drying. I turn it on for two hours and the clothes are still damp when they come out.

The stove won’t budge from 350 degrees, so everything has to be cooked at that temperature. Which is fine until you want to cook something easy, like pizza.

And then, the fridge begins to growl.

That’s when I have to go for a walk, one of those long walks under a blue sky and the leaves falling, yellow. I can smell apples fermenting on my neighbours’ lawn and I know my washing machine is probably stuck in the middle again and I’m not there to adjust it but that’s okay.

Because sometimes we need to step back, so we can move forward.

So we can encounter a bigger perspective.

As I walk I think about my friend, Esther, our Lulu Tree staff mama who has been hired to run our program in the slum of Katwe, Uganda. The Lulu Tree is a non-profit I founded in June, dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers, and Esther is working tirelessly to care for these mamas and their children. I think about how she walks for miles to get to the slum, and does it with a smile on her face. How she sits and waits for hours to speak with the pastor of the church and then how she waits some more to interview the mamas there. And then, how she walks all the way home to her son who is being taken care of by her mom in their one-bedroom home. And Esther is pregnant. She doesn’t have a washing machine to get frustrated at. She doesn’t have a fridge that growls or a stove that gets stuck on one temperature. What she would give to have a stove that had one temperature. And yet, the joy in that girl’s heart.

I want what Esther has.

We’re so quick in our fast-fix culture to get rid of the old when it starts to break or to complain when things go wrong. But what if we did the opposite? What if we took time to step into gratitude?

Because that is Esther’s secret. She is grateful.

She is grateful that she has food each day to eat, even if it’s just one meal of posho and beans. She is grateful she is not HIV-positive. She is grateful she knows the Lord, and that he loves her. She is grateful for the roof over her head, and the room she shares with her mother and son.

We always want big, and new, and now. We always want more, and exciting, and better-than. But what if we wanted for nothing?

What if we were okay with cooking pizza for an hour instead of for 40 minutes because the oven is stubborn that way? Praise God for a stove that turns on!

What if we were okay with manually rotating the washing machine dial? At least we don’t have to wash the clothes by hand!

What if we were okay with a broken toaster? Hey, we still have bread!

What if we didn’t let these circumstances affect us at all?

I want my children to know what it is to be content in each and every circumstance. But it starts with me. It starts with me coming home from my long walk and singing a hymn of praise while I turn on the dryer for the umpteenth time to dry those still-damp clothes.

Let’s make Thanksgiving year-round, friends. Let’s be a grateful people. Starting now. 


  • Emily Wierenga is a wife and mother who is passionate about the church and lives in northern Alberta. She is the author of the memoirs Atlas Girl and Making it Home (Baker Books), and the founder of a non-profit working in Africa and Asia.

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