Cultivating Gratitude in our Families

For many of us, we have the opportunity to gather with loved ones and enjoy a large meal together.  For some, this is an exciting day and you are looking forward to it!  For others, you might be struggling with how to make this holiday work for your family.

Let’s make November a teachable month for our families.

In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the stress of it all may become a lot for all.  The thoughts of being around family members who are not supportive or understanding of our parenting strategies or the struggles of our kids can be challenging.  The thoughts of how much food will be served and whether it will create temptation in ourselves or behavioral struggles in our children can be worrisome.  Maybe there is family conflict or stress and you are not sure who is coming to the dinner or how it will all play out.

Holidays can be wonderful, but in reality they can also be overwhelming.  Is all the food going to cost too much?  Will everyone’s travel go safely?  And ultimately, will the turkey be ready on time and will there be enough pie?

Prior to thanksgiving you can hope it all turns out okay, or start preparing your soul now!

Starting today, you can make preparations both spiritually and emotionally for a more peaceful holiday than others, not because politic conversations were evaded, but because of your peaceful center.

So I would encourage you to begin to engage in the spiritual practice of gratitude now.

Create some time & space in your day to cultivate mindful reflection either alone, or together as a family.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but what would it look like to encourage some reflection?  When I say cultivate reflection, do you imagine a monk in a retreat center?  Do you imagine this is going to take 30 minutes while your children destroy your home?  Instead, I’m talking about making some small changes that could result in a big impact as you focus your mind on gratitude.

Here are some ideas:
  • Alone as a parent, create 30 seconds to will slow your breathing and reflect on three things you are grateful for. I know you can find 30 seconds! It could be while driving the car, before falling asleep, let’s get real – you could do it while you are in the bathroom if that is the your only alone time!
  • Together with one child, create a teachable moment of reflection, maybe while you are in the car or walking the dog? Choose to take some time and talk together with one of your kiddos about three things they are grateful for.
  • In a large group as a family, create a bit of a structured time together where each person takes a turn to share a gratitude. We don’t need to wait for Thanksgiving dinner to do this! It could be before bed or at the dinner table or on the way home.

The practice of saying thanks and recognizing what you are grateful for actually has psychological benefits as Harvard has discovered.

So if you or your children are struggling with mood management, taking a moment to practice gratitude may help change the neural pathways from being biased towards the negative and start to be shaped to see a balance in their day.

“Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff.… Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread,” Max Lucado said in his book You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times.

So yes, you can start with three gratitudes.  But if you have done that for a few days and it is helping, I’d challenge you to go a bit deeper. You see there are two ways to express gratitude.  One is what I mentioned above.  It is a simple acknowledgement of what you have received.  The other is to recognize those that have served us.

So one day you may choose to simply bring to mind those things that you appreciate (I’m grateful for the sunshine; I’m grateful for the food we had for dinner.).  Now, you may want to share who you are grateful for (I’m grateful for my teacher helping me study for that spelling test; I’m grateful for Grandma because she came & cheered for me at my basketball game).  I’d encourage you to practice both of these as you are taking time out to be mindfully grateful this month and beyond, alone or with family.  Take time to reflect on all those who are generous to you.

This might be tough.  For many of us, we often struggle with feeling alone in our journey of foster care & adoption.  But with this attention to the good in our lives, we might find ourselves noticing the librarian that smiled when they checked out our books, or the kind man at the four-way stop that waved us through.  There is goodness all around us and when we can take our minds off the battles we are fighting and pause for the moments of good – it brings peace.

Maybe even spend a day writing, drawing, or texting thank you’s to those who have brought joy into your life.  Would your children be into this activity one evening?  If not, would it be helpful for you to take a moment to send out some messages of gratitudjjkoe to those who have served you well?

Our days are often hard.  I’m not for one moment suggesting a level of toxic positivity.  But I am saying that even the hard days carry a bit of good with them.  Each valley that we crawl through brings a new perspective or growth when we get to the other side.  “She could go on asking herself why roses had thorns or she could be thankful that thorns had roses,” Ella Griffin wrote in her book, The Flower Arrangement.

For some of us, this may feel like a lot to do.  We are already struggling with our faith, with finding anything good going on in our lives, we may feel alone and adding one more thing might feel like a lot.  I get that.  I really do. Still, I’m going to ask you to try this anyway.  Because the more we get stuck in the muck & mire of our every day battles, the more we lose sight of the good.  And it’s there!  Every day there are good things happening all around us.  The tough, busy days are the ones when we need the practice even more.

If these meditative ideas feel like too much, what about listening to a short youtube video?  There are lots out there that will help remind you of the good.  Maybe start with this evening meditation to help you wind down at the end of the day, when the words of gratitude are too tough for you to find on your own.

Or maybe you are already engaging in this practice regularly and you want a new idea.

I’d suggest sitting down and watching this relaxing video on Gratitude narrated by Brother David Steindl-Rast alone or with your family.  Afterwards, you can process what forms of gratitude you saw.  What thoughts of gratitude did it bring out for you?

Want to go even deeper on this topic? Check out Brother David’s TedTalk on the subject of how gratitude increases happiness.

“So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy,” Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Trish Jonker has a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology and is currently a licensed counselor in 11 states and is certified in Integrative Medicine for Mental Health. But she’s not just a counselor, for the past 10yrs she has also been a foster mom / legal guardian to 8 kiddos (who are now ages 10 – 24). So taking her academic & professional work and combining it with her personal experience, she has created a counseling practice specializing in supporting foster & adoptive families through telehealth & in person sessions.   You can learn more about their story in her book, The Call to Love (available on Audible, Amazon & iTunes or at Trish is available for telehealth services and is a valued contributor to Help One Child’s blog and podcast.

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