Today as I picked Will up from pre-school I couldn’t help but feel a little gush of happiness as I looked at a big T hanging on Will’s stuff-to-be-taken-home clothespin. On it was written “I am Thankful for ‘My mommy and daddy and Owen.' ” Oh, how thankful I was for Will and my family right then even if it was just a simple little preschool project. There were surrounding T’s with kids thankful for food or for a particular toy and plenty of others with family listed too – but I loved that Will had chosen family.
So I said something along the lines of how nice it was that he’d said he was thankful for us – that I was so thankful for him too.
“Yeah,” said Will, his nose squeezed up in a grimace, “but I said, ‘I’m not thankful for ANYTHING.’ ”
And then I knew. Will (who I’m sure is plenty thankful for all of us but is also still his stubborn three-year-old self, often quite determined NOT to play the game exactly as you wish him to play it) probably had to be coached to that perfect little “mommy, daddy, Owen” answer.
It got me thinking that it wouldn’t hurt for Rob and I to be modeling gratitude for him a bit more than we do. Often we’re too tired to thank each other for all the things we’re doing to help each other through the day. I’m not too into begging Will to thank me for every little task I carry out for him. That would feel too artificial – too drilled in to actually mean anything. I thank Will pretty frequently, I think because I never take anything he does for granted since he’s such a little primitive ball of fire (you almost want to thank him when he DOESN’T pee on the wall). But my appreciation for all of the work Rob does to keep our family and our house happy and functioning is more likely to go unarticulated. So I’m going to say some out-loud thank yous a little more often -- and mean them.
Of course, the gratitude that matters most is the kind that values people for who they are rather than for the specific thing they're doing in a particular moment. Here’s some quick thoughts about how to “practice” gratitude (and how it leads you to feel generally happier) from this UC-Berkeley Greater Good Science Center web site – devoted to “the science of raising happy kids." Among other things, they recommend having kids reflect each night before bed on a few things that made that them feel happy that day -- just a little piece of developing the "emotional literacy" that helps make for a happy child. Nothing earth-shattering, but sometimes we need a little kick in the pants on the basic stuff too.