Regardless of our circumstances, we can raise our children with a more compassionate, appreciative, and open heart when we consciously weave gratitude into our days.
For some, a truly thankful heart comes naturally. For others, like me, gratitude is something best worked at deliberately. Otherwise we tend to focus on what’s not working, on what problems we have yet to solve, or on how we wish things could be different.
The Power of Gratitude
Many years ago, while going through a divorce that left me unexpectedly the sole provider for my daughter, I learned the power of gratitude to color my days. As part of my journaling sessions during this difficult time, I began to record what I was thankful for—the large and the small blessings. I made no huge, super-focused effort to count my blessings; rather, I simply wrote them down whenever they came to mind. I was surprised by the difference such a small shift in focus made in the tone of my days—a certain lightness and sense of abundance diluted my difficulties and positively shaped my parenting experience.
Several years after I remarried, I heard Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of the book Simple Abundance, make some compelling claims on television about the power of inviting gratitude into our lives. I connected with what she said because I had experienced first-hand the benefits of being thankful.
She suggested taking time each day to record five things for which you are thankful in a gratitude journal. She promised that if you did this for two months you would, by the end, not recognize your life. In other words, she believed that gratitude had the power to change one’s perspective profoundly from the inside out. This was an inviting challenge and I wanted to take it on. For two months I followed her advice.
This experience changed my life dramatically because it changed my outlook. I experienced an extraordinary sense of abundance—one that made the downsides of mothering seem smaller, less daunting, and more manageable.
Now, when life seems especially difficult or I feel down, I pause to see if I’ve been keeping up with my gratitude journal. If I haven’t, I stop and take an inventory of my blessings. Sometimes, I brainstorm a long list of blessings that came to mind at that moment. Other times, I focus on remembering and recording the names of those who have touched my life in meaningful ways. And yet other times, I make a list of the qualities my husband or children possess of which I am especially appreciative.
Remembering All That's Good
Whatever circumstances we’re facing we can usually find that there’s still much to be thankful for. We create our mothering lives by what we choose to focus on. If we dwell only on the challenges in raising our children we’ll likely define our parenting lives as hard, burdensome, and even unhappy. On the other hand, if we concentrate and acknowledge what is working we can become mindful of the genuine happiness available to us every day.
Children benefit from knowing that their mother is raising them with a grateful heart. Even better, kids learn how to create a joyful life for themselves when invited to awaken their own hearts by consciously practicing gratitude.
Hopeing to nurture gratitude in our children, my husband and I started a year-round "Family Thanksgiving Journal." We don’t write in it as frequently as I write in my personal gratitude journal, but we make entries often enough that it makes a noticeable difference in our family life.
We keep our gratitude journal near the dinner table and when someone remembers, we will pull it out share what we’re thankful for while one person records the shared thoughts in our journal. This tradition has been insightful as we have discovered what touches the heart of each family member, whether it’s an afternoon spent picking wildflowers, or the kind act of a sibling. As an added benefit, our family gratitude journal serves as a priceless piece of family history.
In part, we decided to keep a family gratitude journal as a way to counterbalance the materialism rampant in our society. My husband and I often say no to the things our kids think they ought to have simply because their friends have them. There’s enormous pressure in our culture, even among kids, to measure our happiness by what we have.
For a time I was concerned that my children would end up feeling deprived because we said no to their material wishes more often than not. By keeping a gratitude journal, we wanted to help our kids become aware of the abundance that already exists in their lives. Scanning past journal entries, I see that my kids have rarely ever said that they are thankful for a possession. It has almost always been someone they love or some special experience they have had.
Taking time to consciously awaken our gratitude affects our perspective not only during our journal writing sessions but throughout the course of our days. By becoming more aware of our blessings, we are better able to bless our children’s lives. We cannot force thankfulness on our children, but we can foster their sense of gratitude by showing them our example an inviting them to focus on their blessings as we do.