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.