The job of parenting is a funny old thing: it continues to put my mostly outdated childhood beliefs and experiences under the microscope. And through some very thorough and often painful examinations of these phenomena, I’ve discovered that I have a choice. I can either learn a new way or quite simply I can screw my kids up.
I’ve chosen to learn a new way. It seems like the kinder option.
Lately I’ve been coming to terms with my most worn-out childhood belief, the one that keeps me stuck time and again: the belief that I’ll never have or ultimately be enough. That’s hardly an encouraging thing to teach my kids so I decided to put a lid on it and see if anyone out there could offer something new to believe.
And there are seriously a lot of people I can turn to. I have friends who do not have this belief; I read books, and there seem to be a whole bunch of people in this world who don’t have this belief. And whereas when I was a child this was a painful thing to accept — that other people had a better life than me — now it’s kind of comforting; I can be inspired not defeated by those who seem to know more than I do about how to live your best life. Because let’s be honest: we all need role models (or super heroes), not just our kids.
So, if you’re like me, not them and you haven’t known this your whole life, I’ll share their secret: Gratitude. Plain and simple.
The people who live full and satisfying lives are the ones who practise gratitude on a regular basis. And I don’t just mean saying ‘thank you’ whenever they get a gift on their birthday or when food is put in front of them at mealtimes. These are people who give thanks on a regular basis for what they have in their lives.
And believe it or not, this is news to me. As a child I never learnt how to be grateful. I learnt how to compare myself to others and desire what they had. I grew up believing that everyone had more than I did. I grew up feeling ashamed of myself and what I had.
All these things I learnt from my own parents and I guess I can’t blame them — they had some pretty tough times and held on to some negative beliefs themselves. But the result was that growing up, I just heard the same script over and over: “Money doesn’t grow on trees … don’t eat all the [insert food type here]… we’re not so-and-so’s parents — we don’t have that kind of money.” I simply wasn’t taught how to accept and be grateful for what I had.
So here’s the thing: I want to teach my kids something different.
I know too well that as they grow older they will need a strong set of beliefs and values from which to live their lives and make healthy choices. In school they are already part of a world where they are compared and make comparisons. And it will only get worse. I want them to feel okay about who they are and what they have. I have always taught my children manners, but they also need to know the real meaning of ‘thank you’ or how to say ‘please’ and be ok with sometimes not getting what they want.
But because this kind of thinking doesn’t come naturally to me, I had some work to do.
I decided to start an experiment: stop the worry, which is the tape that plays over and over in my head and tells me that there will never be enough, and replace it instead with a gratitude list. So when the ‘never enough’ tape started to play, I’d drown it out with gratitude. I thought I’d give it a whirl just to see how things panned out and if my life would change for the better. If it did, I’d teach it to my kids.
I roped in a friend to help. As we all know, any kind of exercise is easier done with friends and practising gratitude is no different; gratitude, I am learning, is a spiritual muscle that needs to be exercised. We started a Whatsapp gratitude group and whenever we felt the need to add something, we did. We shared things like: ‘I’m grateful for a full night’s sleep last night’ (definitely something to be grateful for when you have small children); ‘I’m grateful that my kids behaved at the shops today’ or most often: ‘I’m just grateful for this list and to be able to share this stuff with you’. When a message popped up from her, it was a reminder to be grateful myself. It was kind of catchy.
The result of my experiment? Over time I began to come up with an amazing amount of stuff to be grateful for. It seemed that the more I practised, the easier it became. I was getting gratitude fit and things started to change in my life. I got a new job, I made new friends, my relationships improved. Why? Because I was focusing on the positives, not the negatives.
And I realised this:
Gratitude is fundamental to being ok with ourselves and who we are …
… and this was definitely something I wanted to teach my kids. To my mind this could be their ultimate super power: the ability to have a more positive outlook on life; a tool they could use to zap away Disappointment whenever he reared his head.
So I took the experiment one step further. Every morning on the way to preschool, I began to ask my children to say three things they were grateful for that day. And my experiment turned into a habit, which has fast become my favourite part of the day. I love to hear my children say things like: ‘I’m grateful for a sunny day’ or ‘I’m grateful for my mom and dad and my brother’ or as my three-year old often pipes up: ‘I’m grateful for dinosaurs!’
I love our ‘grateful list’ because it reassures me that I’m teaching my children something different to what I learnt growing up. I’m giving them the tools they need to feel like they are (and have) enough, by reminding them how much they already do have.
Recently during one of our ‘grateful list’ sessions in the car, I asked my soon-to-be five-year-old why we do this every day. And without hesitation he answered, ‘We do our grateful list so that we don’t feel sad about anything.’ He’s right. It’s how we learn to be happy.
Slowly but surely as I learn a new way myself, I am starting to believe that what I have is enough too. The more I exercise my gratitude muscle, the stronger it becomes. And what a relief this is! I no longer have to constantly strive and strive to be someone different or have something more. I can relax a little, secure in the knowledge that who I am and what I have is enough, that gratitude is the antidote to lack and that as long as I make a habit of giving thanks, enough is enough.
Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor
I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content using a creative and flawless approach to editing. Internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience. For more information, visit www.mfedit.com