Sunday, July 8, 2012

Counting Your Gifts

I recently finished a book called One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  It was recommended to me by a friend from one of my mom's groups after she found out I had enjoyed reading The Happiness Project.  I had initially tried to read this in the midst of preparing for our big move, but I found that I could not give the book the attention that it needed.  Now that we are semi-settled, I thought I'd give it another try.  I am glad that I did!

I will be honest, this is a book that I found a bit difficult to read.  As I was reading, I would find myself drifting off and thinking about my life.  Due to my mind wandering, there were many moments when I had to pause and read some passages over again.  This really is an amazing story of a woman who made an effort to change the way she viewed her life.  She took the time to record all that she was grateful for, whether good or bad, and learned to appreciate the ups and downs of life.

There were parts of this book that really hit home for me, but one particular moment stood out to me.  In one chapter, the author asks her older son to make some toast for his younger brother.  He does as she asks, but instead of handing it to him he throws the toast in his face.  Any mother's natural reaction would be to get upset and punish the older child for treating his brother this way.  Internally she is furious, but in her mind she begins to thank God for the the gifts she has been given and does not react.  Over time, all of the other children leave and she is left with the older son who mistreated his brother.  He begins to defend his actions by sharing that she does not see what the younger brother does behind the scenes.  He opens up to her and she begins to understand why he lashed out.  She feels that none of this would have ever been shared with her had she reacted negatively and punished him.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that there may be a reason why a child lashes out at another.  Things aren't always black and white.

As a parent, it is our job to nurture our children and to teach them to be kind, caring, respectful, and polite (among many other things!).  The best way to do this is to lead by example.  I will be honest:  I am not always the best model.  There are times when I lose my temper and raise my voice.  How can I ask my child to speak kindly to his sister when he is upset with her, when I do not do that to him?  How can I ask my daughter not to yell at her brother when she is upset with him, when I may have just yelled at her?   It is something that I am trying to work on.  We all are.  Perhaps in my mind I can be thankful that my child is healthy, at home with me, and able to speak their mind rather than think about how upset I am with his or her behavior.  Don't get me wrong, my children will still be expected to behave and respect others.  They will be disciplined fairly for what they have done, but I will do my best to push the anger down and teach them a lesson in a fair way.  I will listen to what they are telling me, why they behaved the way they did, and then we will figure out a solution to the problem together.

I am always evaluating myself as a mother.  There are many times when I wish I would have handled a situation differently.  I have realized that the best I can do is apologize and try to handle it differently next time.  The experts say you should have five positive interactions for every negative encounter with your child.  That can seem hard to attain, especially on those days when everyone seems to be "off."  This is one reason why I like the sticker charts and the kindness jar.  This is an easy way to make me see the positives, in our case listening the first time or being kind, and reward them in a positive way.

I like the idea of taking the time to think about the gifts I have been given and be thankful for the little things that I may miss if I don't slow down.  While I don't think I will be writing them all down in a journal like the author, I will definitely take the time to make a mental list each day.  Each night during prayers we ask our children what they are thankful for that day.  We have been doing this for years and while many times it is the standard "my family, my house, my toys, etc." there are times when I hear something unique that stood out to them that day and I am proud that they are taking the time to think about what they are grateful for.  You're never too young to start counting your gifts!



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