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Motherhood Matters: 4 ways to practice gratitude with your children

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I spent much of my high school life feeling sorry for myself. I wasn't tall enough, talented enough, rich enough or skinny enough. I continued to feel picked on by fate as my first marriage ended in divorce and my pregnancies with my second husband weren't pretty or planned. Why didn't life go my way?

I clearly remember the day something clicked inside my head — the day my thinking was different.

My husband called me one morning and said our accountant had made an error, and we owed $10,000 in taxes, due that day. I needed to drive 45 minutes downtown and pay our new accountant and sign some papers by 3 p.m.

I piled three little kids (including a brand new baby) into the car and headed north. The ride was bumpy, and the car didn't feel right, but I had a deadline, so I drove on.

As I pulled into the accountant's parking lot, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that all three kids were asleep. How was I going to get an infant in a carrier, a sleeping toddler and a 45-pound preschooler up two flights of stairs? My day got even more complicated when I got out of the car and noticed that my tire was flat.

I was stalling outside my car for a minute, trying to figure out what to do, when a man walked out of the building. Somehow I knew he was our new accountant (whom I had never met). "Do you happen to be Josh?" I asked. He was. I asked if he wouldn't mind bringing the paperwork outside to sign because all my kids were asleep. He graciously did just that. I signed the papers and wrote him a painful check, depleting our savings account. Then I showed him my tire and asked where the nearest tire store was. He pointed to one that I could see from where I was parked.

I drove off to the tire store. They couldn't help me because I had some kind of special tires, but the nice man did put air in my flat tire and directed me to another tire store that could help me. It was only two minutes away.

The second tire store did not have my tires in stock, but they could get them if I could wait two hours. What other choice did I have? I decided to get my other tires rotated because they were in need of a change anyway. My toddler threw a major fit, and my baby needed to nurse as I sat in the tire store for over three hours. It was the kind of day that could not end soon enough.

In hindsight, though, what sticks out to me about this day is that, unlike my high school self, I never melted down. I never felt sorry for myself or even asked, "Why me?" Throughout the day, I was patient and calm and, surprisingly, grateful.

Grateful that our new accountant had caught the mistake.

Grateful that I had nowhere else to be that day so I could roll with the punches.

Grateful that we had enough money saved to pay our taxes on time.

Grateful that my tire didn't blow on the freeway with three little kids in the car.

Grateful that our accountant stepped outside when he did so that I didn't have to lug three sleepy kids into the building.

Grateful that the tire stores were so close.

Grateful that I could get my tires rotated.

Grateful that my kids were troopers for the most part.

Grateful that I had a house and hubby to come home to after a stressful day.

I wish I could tell you what exactly happened inside my head that day. Why I didn't whine or feel sorry for myself or ask “Why me?"

All I can say is I think that day I finally landed gratitude.

It was like my son learning to do a front flip on the tramp. He practiced and practiced hundreds of front flips and always fell on his bum. Then one day, unexpectedly, he landed a flip on his feet. The whole family rushed outside to celebrate the momentous event.

In a sense, that is what happened to me.

I had been practicing and practicing gratitude with my children since they were little because I wanted them to be more adept at gratitude than I was. I wanted to teach them a skill I didn't have. We had different gratitude rituals and practices as a family, but I hadn’t realized how those rituals were influencing me. As my children practiced gratitude, so did I, and eventually I was able to land gratitude myself.

I now understand that gratitude is a skill that has to be taught and practiced before it is mastered. Gratitude is not always an innate characteristic or talent that we are born with. While it might come easier to some, just like a flip would, the good news is that gratitude can be fostered and developed in anyone through diligent practice.

Here are four ways our family has practiced gratitude:

1. Thankful time

When our children were young, we held thankful time right before bed. Each person in our family told us what he or she was thankful for that day. The responses ranged from the serious to the silly. As the mom, I modeled thinking outside the box by saying things such as, "I am thankful the light turned green," or "I am thankful the kids made it home from school safely." I tried to use a lot of variety so the kids could see all the different ways blessings can manifest themselves. Now that the kids are older and bedtime isn't as defined, we have Thankful Thursday at family dinner instead.

2. What Went Well journal

My kids and I keep a What Went Well journal. Each morning in our family devotional, we discuss the previous day and write down what went well that day. This helps us focus on the positive parts of our life. We record small improvements, big successes, ordinary accomplishments and extraordinary moments. One day's entry might read: It rained. We had family dinner together. Crew cleaned his bathroom. Elle got a 100 percent on her geography test. Croft and Locke played Legos together, and mom got to go to yoga.

3. Good books

Many of the chapter books we've read as a family have made us more grateful for our lives. "Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World" by Jennifer Armstrong fostered gratitude for the solid ground under our feet and a roof over our heads. "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" increased our gratitude for fresh air and freedom. "The Giver"by Lois Lowry helped us to value our ability to choose and see color. By reading about another's trials or experiences, my children can appreciate their own life more.

4. Good news/bad news

When something negative happens to my children, I acknowledge what is frustrating or what hurts about the problem with the bad news. Then we find a bright spot in the situation with the good news. For example, my daughter fell hard on the grass. She came up crying with a lightly scraped chin. After some comforting and hugging, I said, “Well, the bad news is you fell hard, and it must hurt. (Snuggle, hug, kiss.) The good news is that you fell on the grass and not on the sidewalk. Your chin would be bleeding if you had hit the concrete." My daughter managed a small smile and seemed to settle down. Although it takes some digging and some humor, good news/bad news can be applied to almost any situation, even much more serious trials. I am hoping my children will learn to acknowledge and accept the pain or discomfort of any moment and then move on to find gratitude even in bad situations.

The day I landed gratitude was just the beginning for me. Just like my son can land his front flips easily and routinely now, gratitude comes much more readily to me as well. But we keep practicing because if gratitude is a skill to be learned, it is also a skill that can be lost. With continual practice, I hope my children and I will always be able to land gratitude even in the most stressful situations.

This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.