Jenn and John had struggled with infertility for years when they decided to pursue foster care and adoption as a way to build their family. The couple registered to receive a “safe haven” baby through Wisconsin’s law that allows a mother to leave her infant at a hospital without identifying information, with the child immediately placed into an adoptive home. For Jenn and John, the arrival of baby Clay after years of pain and struggle brought feelings of gratitude unlike anything the two had experienced before.
“I’m particularly thankful that God gave us so much more than we had ever asked for in our child,” Jenn said. “I think our thank-you to God comes with a sense of awe and simply knowing that it was completely out of our control, and accepting that.”
John agreed: “At the picnic following our son’s baptism, I could not have been a more proud and grateful papa, seeing my son in the midst of such a large number of loving family and friends, and knowing that he’d brought them all together as a familiar yet newly formed community.”
Every parent has a story of gratitude; for some, like Jenn and John, it is the story of being able to become parents at all. For others, deep gratitude may come from the near-miss of an accident or illness. And for others, gratitude surfaces from the ordinary moments of family life, which every so often shine with extraordinary brilliance.
In the rush of the morning routine, the jumble of after-school activities, and the nightly homework marathon, it’s easy to shove gratitude aside. In fact, the hassles for which we are not grateful in family life seem to pop up with alarming regularity.
Yet both science and scripture speak to us on the importance of gratitude. A recent study examining gratitude’s effect on happiness found that those who listed 10 things they were thankful for every day rated their happiness as 25 percent higher than those who did not make a daily list.
Three ways to practice gratitude as a parent:
Allow your child’s growing up to make you more grateful. When children are tiny, we’re often with them 24 hours a day. It’s difficult to imagine that we will ever have an hour to ourselves, much less a time when they’ll be out of the house. Yet as children grow, we are reminded that our time with them is fleeting, and this can be a trigger for gratitude.
“High school has intensified my gratitude for Jack,” says Amy, mother of three. “I feel like I see him less, and he is getting old so fast. I feel like four years will whip by and then he won’t be here every day. Even the smaller amount of time with him each day as he is involved in high school has made me so grateful for him. I feel like every moment of driving him to his 5 trillion events is appreciated because I am grateful he is mine.”
Be consciously grateful for your spouse’s gifts. Ten years into marriage, couples may not be as appreciative of each other as they were when they walked down the aisle. Taking time to reflect on what your partner brings to the family sets a tone of thanksgiving that children pick up on.
“I am thankful for the moral compass that I know my husband’s faith instills in him,” says Tawnya of her husband, Nate. “It allows me to feel completely secure in our marriage and know that under any circumstance he will make the right choice. I trust his integrity.”
Be aware when you’re losing the gratitude focus. When Jenna, mother of two, loses sight of what she can be thankful for, she describes the world as becoming smaller and darker. “My lack of gratitude changes everything—the things I notice when I’m feeling grateful, I simply don’t notice when I am not feeling grateful. I take things for granted.”
Jenna and her family try to swing the gratitude pendulum when this happens. “When we’re feeling crabby, we try to take time out to say what we’re grateful for. We use this on long drives as a kind of car game.”
Likewise, Andrea, mother of two, puts it this way: “When I occasionally have the ‘woe is me’ feeling due to stress or simply feeling selfish, I begin a litany of all that I have to be grateful for. It’s amazing how this attitude of gratitude instantly makes me feel so much better. It humbles me to think I had wasted any energy at all in feeling sorry for myself.
—by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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