Kids and gratitude — they won’t learn it unless we show it at the most trying of times. An earlier version of this post was previously published in The Fresno Bee — as part of my monthly ‘FAB Mom’ column. Because this topic is so important to me (GRATITUDE!) I’m also sharing here. Double the punch, right? Here you go…
Gratitude is most important when things aren’t good.
Something I think I’ve been pretty good at as a mom is focusing on my kids’ ability to say thank you — for gifts, for someone who gave them a ride home, for life. A few years ago, I personally committed to saying “Thank you for this day” when I woke up in the morning, a habit I’ve since credited with improving my daily mood. In my house, it’s been “Say ‘thank you’ or else” since then.
I especially pay attention to being thankful when November rolls around. (Hello, Thanksgiving.) This year, it hasn’t been easy. Instead, I’ve found myself trading my usual ‘thank-yous’ for asking unanswerable questions to God and the Universe involving the word ‘why.’
The past few weeks have brought unexpected and somber trips from my home in Los Angeles to Fresno and then back to LA on account of a serious family health crisis. I know that this crisis is not going away, and I know that the only way out of it is a deeply sad experience that will affect the rest of my family’s life. Weeping quiet tears running down my face while driving up and down the I-5 and Highway 99 has become my new normal… and I know it will be that way for a while.
Cry, cope, live and work, repeat.
No matter how some of us think we can dodge tough times, we can’t. I’m a grown up, I understand that. But how the heck are we supposed to be grateful when things aren’t good? How can I make sure my kids learn to cope with the parts of life that punch us in the stomach? (Us parents are the only examples our kids have for learning how to deal with bad seasons in life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to fail that portion of the program…)
My kids know something’s up and ask me why I’ve been so sad. So, I share certain facts and feelings in age-appropriate ways and we talk. I don’t have all answers, and I tell them that. Life is not all good all the time, and I’m a believer that small kids should understand reality in a non-scary way.
During my most recent drive back to LA, I was listening to SiriusXM’s ‘On Broadway’ (this won’t surprise those who know me). The song “Count Your Blessings” from White Christmas came on — I was shocked. In all my years and trips back and forth to Fresno listening to that station, that song had never been played. I turned it up, listened carefully to the lyrics and the tears came (I had just passed Bakersfield and was heading towards the Ridge Route).
I drove through the mountains and forced myself to count my own blessings through all the bad. I got home, got my daughters ready for bed, and helped them count their blessings too. Was I suddenly happy again? Of course not, but bringing my random blessings to the front of my brain (mostly involving my family and friends) made things feel better for a moment. The next morning, I made myself say “Thank you for this day” when I opened my eyes — even though I knew that day would be tough too.
I also reminded my kids to say thank you to their friends, teachers, the cafeteria lady who gives them lunch and anyone else who might say or do something nice for them that day. The more I say thank you, the more I feel like I’m fighting against the bad.
Gratitude is not only for good times. Gratitude helps us cope. Gratitude makes us stronger. The biggest, most urgent part of my job as a parent, right now, is to remind my kids that saying thank you is imperative no matter what challenges we face, ever.
Gratitude counts, always. Because every day is a gift to be grateful for.