How Practising Active Gratitide Can Help Your Kids

Sometimes the lengthy #momlife list can feel never-ending and overwhelming. There’s not enough time in the day for the duties of a parent and, every once in a while, resentment can sneak its unwanted little head into the mix all the to-dos.  

I’ve found that practising active gratitude always sets me back into the right frame of mind and reminds me of all my many gifts in this life. Those pesky lunches that need to be packed every day? Those are to feed my two beautiful kids. The after-school chaos between pick-up and rushing off to the soccer field? That’s so we can enjoy a beautiful spring evening outdoors with our friends in the community while the kids get active. Yet another birthday party present to buy for a classmate? A representation of healthy social interactions for my kids.

Knowing how active gratitude has helped me, it only makes sense that it’s a tool my daughter, Juliette, can apply when her feelings become too overwhelming to manage. At seven and a half, she is old enough to reason with and encourage logical discussion when emotions run high. And trust me, her emotions have a tendency to take over.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were having our regular Saturday morning conflict over getting ready for gymnastics. Here’s how it goes: Saturday mornings we make a pancake breakfast as a family and sit around the kitchen with kids “helping,” music playing, and just the right amount of chaos. At around 9:00 am, the kids move into the living room to watch some cartoons as Jason and I start to get ready for the rest of our day. About 30 to 45 minutes later it’s time for Juliette to get ready for gymnastics. This is when things go sideways. The transition is always difficult and, no matter how many times  I remind her of how much fun she has at her weekly gymnastics class, she more often than not full of resistance.

We inevitably get into a fight. I sometimes lose my cool or, I sometimes handle it calmly (always try for the latter, however). Recently, I tried out something new to try to de-escalate Juliette’s overwhelming frustration and anger.

First, I gave her a hug and, while I was embracing her, I took a few deep inhalations and exhalations so she could feel the rise and fall of my breath. Then I looked at her and asked her to take three deep breaths with me. Already things were starting to settle down, and I could see that she really did want to be calm.

After our deep breaths, I hugged her again and started listing all the things I was grateful for in that moment.

“I am grateful for my beautiful daughter, who made me a mother.
I am grateful that I was able to give you a little brother, Miles.
I am grateful that we get to have a barbecue with our friends later today.
I’m grateful that we get to eat pancakes every Saturday morning.
I’m grateful for Victoria Beach, where we get to enjoy summer holidays…”

I went on like that for a little while and listed everything that popped into my head. When I was finished, and without prompting her, she began to list all the things that she was grateful for.

“I’m grateful for a mommy that loves me and a daddy that loves to play with me.
I’m grateful for my little brother.
I’m grateful that I get to do active things like play soccer and go to gymnastics.
I’m grateful for our cat, Murphy.”

And so on and so forth. The whole exercise took less than five minutes and once we were finished, it was like a whole new child sitting in front of me. She was calm, happy and ready to head out the door to gymnastics class.

Now, it is certainly not groundbreaking news that practising active gratitude can help us feel more connected to the world around us and less angry and resentful. As Brenė Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and published author says, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practising gratitude.”

Brown links gratitude to wholehearted living which “is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means waking up in the morning and thinking no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.

The values that Brown speaks of are exactly what I want to instil in my children. Creating healthy, gratitude-building habits for our kids now could mean a lifetime of healthier habits later, too. Active gratitude has been linked to improving overall mental and physical health by boosting self-esteem, lowering blood pressure, improving relationships, increasing energy, and improving sleep.

When I take a few moments out of my day to reflect on all the many things I have to be grateful for, somehow my fears, anxiety and material desires shrink and my sense of contentment and joy increases. It only makes sense that these simple yet effective tools that work in my life will also work for my children. And just like anything, the more we practise, the easier it becomes.

Postscript: as I sat here re-reading this and making final edits this morning, I felt calmer at the end than I did in the beginning. It would appear that even reading about gratitude helps ease the mind and relieve worrisome thoughts.

Enough Already

Nothing I can buy in a store can provide me with as much joy as seeing my street in
full spring bloom.

Do you ever just get sick of your bad habits? Like, the habits that you usually enjoy but know are bad for you?

I’m feeling that way with all my unconscious consumption habit. Clothes, mostly. I suffer from the ‘never enough stuff syndrome’ that is so rampid in our society. When I think about all the clothes I acquire in the course of a year, and how much of it I don’t actually need, it makes my stomach turn. I really do need for nothing.

I have enough already.

There’s not much good that comes from having too much stuff… It’s harmful for the environment. Inevitably all this excess stuff will wind up in a landfill where it will just sit, taking up space, for longer than my lifetime. Although I donate most of my unwanted goods, I really have no idea where all those items wind up once they’ve left my hands. Do they end up in new homes where they are treasured by their new owners? Or maybe sit unsold in a thrift store before eventually getting discarded? Perhaps they wind up in another home with an abundance of stuff before eventually being sent off to the dump. Who knows where it all goes? The point is, I don’t and that’s what makes it so irresponsible.

This kind of consumption also sets a bad example for my kids. They’re now young people who are beginning to suffer from “too much stuff,” too. It seems we can’t go anywhere without them asking me to buy them something they don’t need. When I say no, it turns into a conflict and there is usually a lot of whining, maybe some tears shed. But who can blame them? It’s how they’ve been conditioned. Do all kids want more stuff or just the ones who already have a lot? I’m guessing the latter.

But really, the worst of the whole predicament, is just that it feels bad. The rush of ‘newness’ is shortlived and inevitably followed by the bitter aftertaste of regret (unless it’s a truly treasured or useful item).

With all of this in mind, I am making a commitment this month to stop the leak and start navigating a path toward more conscious consumption. Right now, today, I have EVERYTHING I NEED.

It won’t be easy, and I know the urge will strike to acquire more crap (it always does with me). But instead of succombing to the temptation, I will ask myself these three questions:

  1. Do I already own it? If this is a duplicate of an already treasured item that I own, and I am just looking to double up, then it’s a hard no.
  2. Do I need it? Is this an item that I truly need in my life to serve a purpose or just something that I am looking to fill a desire with. And here’s the thing, the only thing I actually will NEED to buy this month is groceries – everything else is fluff.
  3. Can I afford it? Plain and simple.

With these questions asked and answered, the only items I should be purchasing are necessities and food. Everything else is a superfluous luxury. I am hoping that this will provide me with a sense of cleansing and maybe even a little spiritual growth. I mean, if I’m not filling up that insatiable void with stuff, I might just fill it the nectar of the universe and all its divine offerings.

Just like as it was in my drinking days, there never seems to be enough of what I don’t need. The differentiator is that my alcoholism would have probably killed me had I not sought help. I don’t anticipate this particular consumption problem killing me but it can definitely cause me pain. Because if I am using consumption, any kind of consumption, to make me feel happier or more content the odds of it working just aren’t in my favour.

If I am being honest right now, I’d have to say this is bringing up some fear in me. I’m reminded of a saying I’ve heard over the years about, “I am either afraid of losing something I have or of not getting something I want.” I’m paraphrasing but basically it all comes down to wants. Fear crops up when I think I might lose something, maybe it’s something I have, or maybe it’s something I want, but it’s rooted in desire. And so much of what I desire is rooted in materialism. So, if I can reframe that and realize I have everything I need and fill that fear with faith and gratitude, chances are all those consumable desires will shrink and leave me feeling abundant.

I’m feeling as though this mindless materialism is no longer serving me. Like, it’s as if for a long time it kind of did make me feel better and now it just doesn’t. I’m ready to feel lighter and more awakened. My worth is not based on what I am wearing or items I own.

A month of mindfulness and gratitude lies ahead of me. I am so ready to tackle this goal and feel lighter and more centred at the end.