This one is especially for parents.
As I write this, Thanksgiving weekend just passed and I had an amazing time hanging out with my adult kids. I have five amazing people for whom I am so grateful – three we raised, and the other two married into the madness called the Gordon clan. I don’t like the whole ‘in-law’ thing because I love those two as my own. If my wife and I had handpicked two people for our kids to marry, we could not have done as well.
So here I sit, thinking about how grateful I am for each of them and how every minute spent with them is precious. It is the highlight of my week anytime I get to be with them. I also recall the short season when our children were little and how easy it was to get caught up in the busyness of life, running them from one event to another, getting them out the door for school – all the things that keep a family busy. I realize now that in the middle of all that I did not often express my gratitude for them or tell them how valuable they were to me. It is easy in the pace of daily living to see more of what is wrong than what is strong. Children grow up so fast, and I lament the times I could have said or done something to express gratitude but didn’t.
It was easy to express gratitude when they were cute and cuddly babies. Now that they are adults, I still find it easy to tell them I am so proud of them and their accomplishments. But perhaps they need to hear it most when they are struggling, or having a bad day. When you see what is strong rather then what is wrong and express that, it can actually change their attitude.
When one of my daughters was younger, she had a tendency to use a whiny tone of voice when she didn’t get her way. She would never admit it but it was clear to everyone else. It drove me nuts at times, and led to arguments between us. She had no problem expressing herself verbally to say how she was feeling, but she was a master at using the whiny tone in her attempt to get her own way. I usually reacted to it by trying to correct her way of expressing herself. However what I missed until later was that she had a real ability to be honest with what she was feeling emotionally. So when I stopped her from using her voice, she stopped sharing her heart.
When I recognized my error and began expressing how grateful I was that she could share so openly with me, whining gave way to dialogue and I was able to give her some better ways to express her heart. Rather than whining or shutting down she began to talk to me about how she felt and we would actually work it out together. The key was she felt valued and knew I cared about what she was going through emotionally. It also gave me opportunity to explain why she had to do this or not do that. To this day we enjoy great talks about all kinds of things, and I treasure the openness in our relationship. It was gratitude that changed both our attitudes.
With each of my kids we have certainly hit the wall on different issues, but whenever I chose to see what was strong and not what was wrong, we were able to work through it and are stronger for it. I think it is important for us as parents to intentionally express gratitude to our children.
Here are three strategies you might try:
- Celebrate Strengths – When they do something that displays strong character or kindness, celebrate! You could make a special meal or take them to their favorite ice cream shop. Let them know why you are celebrating and tell them how grateful you are for them.
- Write a Letter – One Christmas, Sandi and I wrote a letter to each of our kids which we called a ‘Gift of Life’. In the letters, we shared the meanings of their names and all the things we were grateful for about them. We wrote that we believed they could accomplish great things in life by being that kind of person. We framed the notes and gave them to them individually. They have kept those letters and even now say it was their favorite Christmas.
- Do Date Nights – We have always had date nights with our kids. We would pick a time where each one would have alone time with Mom or Dad or both — just him/her and us. It was planned around something they loved to do. It made them feel special and appreciated. This is a great way to express gratitude for their individuality. By the way, even though they are now adults and two are married, we still have date nights! I think it is more for Mom and Dad now, but we love that they enjoy hanging out with the old folks.
If you don’t get anything else from this article, hear this: Take time to slow down and enjoy your kids. Tell them what they mean to you and how grateful you are for them. Grateful parents create grateful kids with great attitudes!!