Growing up, I hated gratitude because It felt like one big SHOULD!
I should be grateful for the food before me. I should be grateful for the roof over my head, my health, my education, and the clothes on my body. As an adolescent, not fully appreciating appreciation, my knee jerk reaction was to dig in my heels and deny the feeling. That strong-willed streak (yes, it can be traced throughout my lineage), lasted for twenty plus years, finally yielding to deep appreciation and gratitude once I had my first child. As a parent, I finally understood the gifts my own parents had bestowed upon me (love, support, kindness, and so much, much more), propelled by the magnitude of their love.
For the first time, I experienced the feeling of genuine appreciation.
But my gratitude ebbed and flowed over the years, impacted by the day-to-day challenges that come with raising children. There were times when my inner strength and patience crumbled and I’d find myself far from appreciative; I was downright angry. But I held out hope, believing that the next stage of child development meant parenting would be less demanding. Wasn’t a grade school kid easier to reason with than a toddler? How about a teenager – shouldn’t she be more mature than a middler schooler? The challenges changed, but they never went away.
So I got to thinking. . . where does appreciation fit in, especially during those challenging times? Or do we only experience it when life is going our way?
Gratitude isn’t something that magically fills your heart, but rather it’s an intention, a decision, just like the choice to feel grateful on Thanksgiving. So, how do we make the choose to feel grateful, particularly in those times when things are not going our way?
We discover the benefits in every situation by looking for the lessons we can learn.
For example, one of my kids struggled for years in the friendship department. I would stand by and watch as the phone didn’t ring, my kid came home without friends, and life continued on. . . as a solo act. There wasn’t much for me to do because arranging play dates was a thing of the past. At times, it was incredibly painful to witness this self-imposed solitude where withdrawal and isolation became my kid’s best friends.
Appreciation for this? You’re kidding, right? But, in order to feel good in my life so I could be more effective in bestowing those same parental gifts of love, support and kindness, I had to figure out the lessons, the benefits I was receiving.
I’d consider a different possibility by asking questions such as:
- How did this situation benefit me?
- Why was this challenge perfect for me?
- What could I learn that I might not have otherwise learned, but for this situation?
- How was I becoming a stronger, more resilient, more loving individual?
By simply treating a challenge as an opportunity to learn, to be grateful for what I might get out of it, helped me reframe challenges so that I could feel good as I guided my child.
And, the hidden benefits were always there awaiting my discovery:
- I can feel good even if I don’t get what I want.
- This situation isn’t mine to control.
- If I feel okay than I can help my child from an inner place of love versus fear.
- I can convey to my kid that s/he is totally capable of making friends, when s/he is ready.
- I can notice the little steps and celebrate my child’s efforts at making friends.
Lacking gratitude in our daily lives is a universal problem for everyone whether or not children are a part of the picture. But appreciation, no matter what the challenge, can be discovered when we realize we can use any situation to our benefit.