The Mommy Vortex: Rioting for True Gratitude

By | January 26th, 2012 | 7 comments

by Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin

Two days before Christmas, thousands of people waited on line at a local mall for hours, hoping to score a pair of the coveted Air Jordan XI sneakers, priced at a cool $180 a pair.  About two hours before midnight – when the shoes officially went on sale – a riot ensued, resulting in the arrest of at least two people.  The crowd had to be subdued, and many shoppers complained that the local mall didn’t provide enough crowd control in anticipation of the sale.

Really? The shoppers were worried about crowd control? It seemed to me that, perhaps, the public should have been more concerned (outraged, even!) about thousands of people lining up to buy $180 sneakers when there were so many people out of work and desperately trying to provide the basics for their children.

Reading about all those people fighting – rioting! – to purchase sneakers really bothered me.  I have taught my children since they were born to say “thank you” at every turn, whether someone gave them a glass of water or an expensive gift.  Hearing about so many people willing to physically fight each other to buy sneakers made me wonder if telling my kids to say “thank you” was enough to instill true gratitude.  Would my son be rioting on a line like that one day?  Would my daughter be unkind to some other little girl that didn’t have a name-brand shoe? And how could I prevent either from happening?

Growing up in New York, I can relate to wanting the next “it” item.  After all, I was a child of the 1980s, when legendary stories circulated about mothers throwing punches at each other while trying to grab Cabbage Patch Dolls off delivery trucks before they even hit the shelves.  I wanted one, too. But, somehow, in the midst of all that doll hoopla, my parents taught me to be grateful for what we had – rather than focusing on what I wanted.

As a parent now, I wonder how we, as a society, can effectively teach our kids to be truly grateful – beyond just saying “thank you” – if we habitually give them every latest trend-setting gimmick.  I struggle with this question as a mom trying to raise grounded kids.  I want their childhood to be happy, which – if I’m being honest – means that I don’t want them to get made fun of for not having some cool new “thing.” But, conversely (and more importantly), I want my children to feel gratitude for what they do have, so that they are confident enough to ignore the taunts of some peers who always get that hot item even when my kids don’t.

I guess that’s a lot to ask of a seven and three year-old; I know many adults who can’t handle that kind of peer pressure.  But I refuse to give up, despite the challenges.  Over the holidays, my son’s class collected food for local food pantries that were in dire need of supplies.  I’d like to think this collection raised my son’s awareness about what’s really important.  It certainly made him more grateful for the food we had on our table.  And yet, only days later, he begged me for a certain brand of light-up sneakers that his friend had!  I was enraged; worse, I felt like a total failure.

And yet, I carry on, knowing that he is still a child who likes shiny, new things, and that this was a teachable moment.  I reminded him about the families at the food pantry, and asked whether those kids were worried about something as superficial as sneakers when they didn’t have enough food to eat.  I wanted him to understand that our needs as human beings need to be prioritized, and that having certain name-brand sneakers was pretty low on that must-have list.  Having a roof over his head and food on the table required more than a mere “thank you.” It required true gratitude.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It puts our priorities in perspective, and gives us something positive to consider, rather than focusing on “I want,” or worse, “Look at what they have.”  Gratitude can counter those horrible emotions of envy and jealousy, which often lead to negative peer pressure and even bullying.  Being grateful changes the way you look at yourself and the world.  And as a mom, I made a commitment to show gratitude more often so that my kids understand what being grateful means in action, not merely in words.

While I’m fairly sure many of the people on that long line for the Air Jordan sneakers didn’t really need them, I certainly don’t begrudge anyone nice things.  However, I tend to wonder whether a riot would have broken out if even half of those people there were truly grateful for what they had, rather than focusing on what they wanted simply because others might get it before they did.

For now, I will keep teaching my kids to say “thank you,” and try to consistently remind them that they need to be grateful for everything they have, especially the essentials.  I am hopeful that if I keep at it, one day, my kids won’t be on some line, rioting to buy sneakers.

Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of a two children.  A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.

7 Responses to “The Mommy Vortex: Rioting for True Gratitude”

  • Elizabeth says:

    With such disparity in income, especially in large cities in America, these issues can easily arise as we are trying to raise socially conscious children. The belief seems to be here that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get but as most of us know, nobody deserves to be homeless and /or jobless, especially when they have children to feed, clothe and shelter. I would argue that nobody deserves or needs such expensive sneakers and model that belief as a consumer for my child. Writing a list of what we are grateful for each day can help us all “count our blessings”. That and helping sick or elderly neighbors/volunteering as a family can also help keep your own childrens’ good economic fortune in perspective for them. It will also teach them that most people go through a time when they are not doing well economically(or otherwise) and that when/if that happens to you and your family (or them as an adult) there will be people there to help them as well. That could help decrease their pride when they need help. I love the idea of reading stories about heroes to your child. It reminds me of how the word compassion means to suffer with, something, not unlike empathy, which makes us human and keeps us human, whether you at the time are at the giving or the receiving part of compassion. I read that in Buddhism is is known that to truly know someone you must first experience their suffering. Makes good sense to me. Probably better to talk with someone (and listen to their problems!) than go shopping with someone who is going through a hard time!

  • Carole Aksak says:

    I think there is a key element missing here. When we speak of teaching our children about gratitude and appreciating what they have, we need to also teach them about working themselves to achieve what ever it is their heart desires. In the Air Jordan XI incident, adults were racing to give their children something they thought would make their child happy. That creates a feeling of entitlement in children. I want it. Mommy or Daddy or Gramma or Grampa has to get it for me. A lot of peer to peer bullying starts with a bully who is feeling entitled. When we recognize children will always want something and that it is our job to teach them to work for it, it gives the child a sense of autonomy and control over his/her own life. When she/he has personal power, the positive kind, empathy, compassion, appreciation and gratitude won’t be far behind.

  • Kerri says:

    Totally agree!! Great job!!

  • Lizzy says:

    So true. My son is on the autism spectrum, and in his social skills lab, the therapists are currently teaching empathy. It occured to me that maybe all kids (and adults, for that matter) could benefit from such teaching. So, I’ve been reading stories about true heroes to the kids at bedtime. Heroes from history who saw beyond themselves to help other people who had basically been discarded by general society…the sick, poor, and downtrodden. I’m hoping the message of charity and understanding sinks in somehow, especially since the message perpetuated by the media seems to be the opposite.

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