Sunday, November 27, 2011

Practicing Gratitude

Patience is not my strongest trait. 
Compassion, sure.  Being routine- oriented, definitely.  Helpfulness, hopefully.  And I think all of those are valuable parts of my life as a parent.  Sadly, I suspect that if a few extra doses of patience were added to my repertoire, I might be unstoppable.  A virtual super-mom, with my cape billowing behind me as I zoom from task to task, from loving moment to loving moment.
Instead, I often feel like the evil villain.  Scouring the house for reasons to be stressed or irritated.  I can spend hours feeling angry that my children won’t stop being wild long enough to listen.  I might wallow in doubt for days because I fear that I’m doing everything wrong – can my kids ever turn out right when I’m so plagued by worry?
Someone recently reminded me of a saying that helped snap everything back into focus: It’s impossible to be angry (impatient, worried, frustrated) while giving thanks.
And isn’t that the truth?  When gratitude is at the center of our actions, how can we possibly be anything less than calm?
As parents, expressing and showing our gratitude is essential.  Our children can approach the world with anxious frustration or with peaceful acceptance, all because of their parents’ attitudes.  And parents who are in a habit of thankfulness, either internally or with lots of outward expression, have the ability to influence their children profoundly.
The practice of gratitude can change a stressed-out (impatient, irritable) parent into something else entirely.
And I do believe that gratitude is a practice.  After all, thankfulness is sometimes hard to come by.  To make it work, we must choose it.  We must practice it.  Daily and hourly and – sometimes – by the second; it just depends upon the type of day we’re having. 
Today, on Thanksgiving, it’s probably easier than it would be on any other random Thursday to practice gratitude. 
But how about the regular Thursday that sees a tantrum in the middle of a grocery store?  What about the normal day that includes an overturned tub of finger paint on the living room rug?  On those days, it can be hard to find anything for which to give thanks.
And our little ones are watching on those days.  So we have to dig deep.
Constant gratitude might look like taking deep breaths after being confronted with a toddler dancing on the kitchen table.  Instead of panicking and yelling, it’s okay to be thankful for a child who is strong and healthy enough to get into such trouble.  It’s okay to be thankful for their energy.  And once our fear or anger is under control through the practice of gratitude, it becomes much easier to resolve the issue at hand. 
Practiced thankfulness may be choosing to laugh when an entire bookshelf is emptied of its contents instead of barking orders and placing blame.  We can be thankful that our kids have plenty of ways to explore within their own home, and opportunities to learn about picking up after themselves.
It may mean making a conscious decision to not be irritated by a preschooler’s begging for attention in all the wrong ways.  We can be grateful that our child has a family she can trust to take care of her and love her, even during the most frustrating of behavior. 
And when practiced regularly, gratitude can become instinctive, changing our impatient reactions into peaceful results.
Changing us all into thankful super-parents; billowing capes optional.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you, Sarah! This was a much needed change in perspective.

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  2. Thank you...I definitely need to practice this and not be such an uptight impatient mama...and for the record I think you are a super mom-can I borrow your cape?

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?