I spent much of my high school life feeling sorry for myself. I wasn’t tall enough, talented enough, rich enough or skinny enough. I continued to feel picked on as my first marriage ended in divorce and my pregnancies (with my second husband) weren’t pretty or planned. Why didn’t life go my way?
Then I clearly remember the day something clicked inside my head. My husband called me one morning and said our accountant made an error and we owed $10,000 in taxes due that day by 3:00 pm. I was to drive 45 minutes downtown to pay our new accountant and sign some papers. I piled three little kids (including a brand new baby) into the car and headed north. The ride was bumpy and the car didn’t feel right, but I had a deadline. As I pulled into the accountant’s office, I looked in my rear view mirror and all three kids were asleep. How was I going to get an infant in a carrier, a sleeping toddler and a 45-pound preschooler up two flights of stairs? My day got even more complicated when I got out of the car and noticed that my tired was flat. Not low– flat.
I was stalling outside my car, trying to figure out what to do, when a man walked out of the building. Somehow I knew he was our new accountant whom I had never met. I said, “Do you happen to be Josh?” He was. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind bringing me down the papers since all my kids had fallen asleep. He ran upstairs and brought down the paperwork. I signed the papers and wrote him a check. Then I showed him my tire and asked him where the nearest tire store was. He pointed to one that I could see from where I was parked. It was literally two minutes away.
I drove off to the tire store. They couldn’t help me because I have some kind of fancy tires, but the nice man did put air in my flat tire and directed me to a tire store that could help me. It was only another two minutes away.
I drove there. They did not have my tires in stock, but they could get them in if I could wait two hours. What other choice did I have? I decided to get all four tires changed and rotated since they were in need of a change anyway. My toddler threw a major fit and my baby needed to nurse as I sat there for over three hours. I finally made it home with much less money in my bank account.
What sticks out to me about this day is that unlike my high-school self, I never melted down. I never felt sorry for myself. I never asked, “Why me?” I was patient and calm… and grateful.
Grateful that I had nowhere else to be that day so I could roll with the punches.
Grateful that we had $10,000 in the bank so we could pay our taxes.
Grateful that my tire didn’t blow on the freeway with three little kids in the car.
Grateful that our accountant came outside when he did so that I didn’t have to wake up my kids to go in the building.
Grateful that the tire stores were so close.
Grateful that I could get my tires changed.
Grateful that I had the money to pay for them.
Grateful that my kids were troopers for the most part.
Grateful that I had a house and husband to come home to after a stressful day.
I wish I could tell you what exactly happened inside my head that day. But all I can say is that I think I finally landed gratitude: It was kind of like my son learning to do a front flip on the tramp. He practiced and practiced and always landed on his bum and then one day, he landed the front flip on his feet. We all rushed outside to see the momentous event. Now he lands his front flips regularly.
That is what happened to me. I had practiced and practiced gratitude with my children and then one day, I finally landed it.
Just like a flip, gratitude is a skill that has to be learned and practiced. Gratitude is not an innate characteristic or a talent that you are born with. It does come easier to some, just like a flip would, but the good news is that gratitude can be fostered and developed through diligent practice.
Here are two ways to help children (and us mothers) practice the skill of gratitude so that they can learn to land gratitude too:
1. Thankful Time: We have “Thankful Time” right before bed. Each person in our family tells us what they are thankful for that day. The responses range from the serious to the silly. As the mom, I model thinking outside the box like, “I am thankful the light turned green” or “I am thankful you guys made it home from school safely.” So although Crew’s response almost every night is “I’m thankful I got to play with Trey,” at least he is hearing all the different ways blessings can manifest themselves.
2. Good New/Bad News: I have been trying a new parenting technique lately that I made up (sorry, no PhD to back it up.) I call it “Bad News/Good News.” When something negative happens to my children, I acknowledge what is wrong, or frustrating or what hurts with the “Bad News”. Then, we find a bright spot in the situation with the “Good News”.
For example, my daughter, Croft, biffed it hard on the grass. She came up crying with a lightly scraped chin. After some comforting and hugging, I said, “Well, the bad news is you fell hard and it must hurt. The good news is that you fell on the grass and not on the sidewalk. Your chin would be bleeding if you had hit the concrete.”
The next day Elle fell hard on the sidewalk. She came up crying too. I said, “The bad news is you fell; the good news is that you didn’t land on the same elbow that you hit when you tripped yesterday.” We kind of giggled about that one. (The bad news is my kids fall and trip all the time. The good news is they always get up and we’ve never had a broken arm or stitches.)
You really can apply Bad News/Good News to almost any situation. I am hoping this parenting technique teaches my children to acknowledge and accept the pain or discomfort of the moment, but then move on and find the good in every bad situation.
Although it took me 20-plus years to land gratitude, I finally got it down. Just like my son can land his front flip easily and routinely now, gratitude comes much more easily to me as well. With continual practice, I hope my children and I will always be able to land gratitude.
QUESTION: How do you look for the good in your life? How do you encourage your kids to be grateful?
CHALLENGE: During the month of November, have “Thankful Time” every night with your kids before bed.
This article originally posted on April 11, 2014.