What Are You Thankful For?

Are you always repeating yourself with your kids?

“Brush your teeth.”

“Comb your hair.”

“Do your homework.”

Sometimes the repetition can be exhausting. But there is actually a reason why we parents have to do this. In order for anyone to learn a new concept or adopt a habit, repetition and consistency is key. It stands to reason that our little ones need this reinforcement – even if we sound like a broken record. Parents often wonder: will it stick?

Parenting is delayed gratification in its truest form.  We invest and invest in our kids, without knowing what the end result is going to be.  And we never really know if we’re doing any of it correctly.

But every once in a while, we are rewarded for our efforts.

I drive my kids every morning either to school or camp. The first thing I do when we’re all buckled in is ask my kids what each of them are grateful for. This is not always easy to do. Sometimes they’re extra cranky because they didn’t sleep enough. Sometimes we’re just recovering from a yelling match because they were fighting or they weren’t cooperating in the morning and I lost it. Mornings with three small boys can be rough. But no matter how frustrating our morning is, I take a deep breath and say, “Okay, what are you thankful for? Who’s going first?”

I want the practice of gratitude to be a part of my sons’ daily routine. And no matter how frustrated or angry we are, I want to teach them that we have the power to change our attitude and our mood at any moment.

There have been days my boys have challenged me.

“We should do this at bedtime, Mom. It’s too early to know if there’s anything to be grateful for,” or

“I don’t have anything to be grateful for.”

And my response is: “Oh, that’s precisely why we do this first thing in the morning. How about saying thank you for being alive, or waking up this morning in our beautiful home, or thanking the universe for our wonderful family and that we’re all healthy? How about being thankful for the sun or for nature or for oxygen? There is so much to be grateful for that has nothing to do with how your day goes.”

Some days it’s easy. Some days it feels like I’m pulling teeth. But day after day, I ask them to express gratitude. And then I leave town.

One of the things I dislike about traveling is the disruption to the routine. It’s that control-freak mom syndrome where you feel like nothing is done correctly unless you’re the one doing it. I’m constantly asking my husband if the kids brushed their teeth or if they made their beds. They have way much more fun with their father! But they are loved and cared for and that’s what matters most. I’ve learned to accept that life is going to look a little different when the enforcer has left the fort.

The last time I was away, the most wonderful thing happened. I left before my kids woke up. When I landed, I called my husband to let him know I’d arrived. He was driving my sons to camp. We were connected via bluetooth so we could all hear each other. We said our usual “I love you” and I miss you” and then I said, “Okay guys, I have to get going so I can request an Uber to the hotel.”

“Mommy, wait!” Justin interrupted hurriedly, “What are you thankful for?”

My heart melted.

It hadn’t occurred to me to have gratitude mornings on the phone! Justin was now the enforcer and all I could think was: Oh my God, it stuck! Justin was even teaching his dad how we do mornings. And the best part of it all, my son sh0wed me that I am there even when I’m not.

“What are you thankful for, Mommy?” He repeated after a few seconds of my silence.

“I’m thankful for you buddy. So thankful for you.”

A Moment of Clarity:

For those of you who are working hard to create meaningful relationships with your kids: Keep doing what you’re doing. Be consistent and repetitious. You may think sometimes that your kids aren’t listening or paying attention. They may not respond immediately, but they are paying attention. When you least expect it, they’ll remind you what an impact you’re making in their lives and how deeply ingrained you are in them…even when you’re not around.  There is no greater reward than that.

The Dentist Visit That Changed A Mom’s Life

Suzy left her husband after enduring an unhappy marriage for 15 years. Angered by her decision, her ex-husband invested all his resources in taking Suzy to court.  Without money for competent counsel, Suzy was beaten by the legal system, leaving her penniless and losing primary custody of her two children.

 The parental plan allowed for the kids to sleepover at Suzy’s house twice a week. But her job was so far from the school the father chose for them that she couldn’t get the kids to school in the morning and be back in time to clock in for work. So the kids had to sleep at their dad’s on her weeknights.

This was a terrible time for Suzy, and by the time she came to see me, she confessed if she’d known she could lose her kids, she would never have gotten a divorce. Here was a woman who loved her children deeply and wanted to have a relationship with them, but her ex-husband constantly sabotaged her efforts and logistics made matters worse.

I began working with Suzy to develop a Be There Even When You’re Not mindset. There were many things she couldn’t control, so we focused on what she could control. She started to show up when she could – surprising her kids at soccer games and school– stopping by even if for a minute to give them a kiss. I told her to schedule a FaceTime call with them every evening before bed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she didn’t think of FaceTiming them in the evenings but whenever she did, they would end up crying because they missed her. She felt she was doing them more harm by calling.

“At least if I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind,” she’d say, sobbing. But I explained that if she didn’t call, they could confuse that with not caring or remembering them. This was an opportunity for her to reframe the situation. She began finding ways to make the FaceTime call a happy one that they’d look forward to eventually.

And then one day Suzy came to see me and she was as happy as I’d ever seen her.

“You’re never going to believe what happened yesterday,” she said.

“Tell me!” I responded.

“I got a call from my kids’ dentist on Monday asking me to confirm their appointment. I had no idea they even had a dentist appointment. As you know my husband doesn’t tell me anything he does with the kids. I don’t even know how the dentist office got my number but for some reason it was in their records.”

She kept talking faster and faster trying to keep up with the thoughts running through her head.

“So I said, yes, I can confirm the appointment but please give me the date, time and address?” Her eyes lit up.

“I couldn’t be sure they would be going to the appointment or if my ex would forget since they called me for the confirmation. But I decided to risk it and go there to see my kids. So on Wednesday, I took a late lunch from work, and I went to the dentist and sat in the waiting room.”

“Oh my God, what happened? I asked.

“I was so nervous –I could feel my hands trembling. I waited for about ten minutes praying they’d come. Then the door opened and I saw them walk in! They arrived fifteen minutes before their appointment time.”

“What did you do when they walked in?” My heart raced.

“I just smiled and said ‘Surprise!’ They saw me immediately, yelled ‘Mommy,’ and ran over to hug me. ‘What are you doing here?’ they asked. I told them I just wanted to  spend a few minutes with them. They were thrilled! They each sat on either side of me and held my hand and we chit chatted about their day.”

“Was your ex-husband there?” I asked, wondering what kind of reaction he had.

“Yes, he was! He was so shocked to see me that he didn’t react. He just nodded his head, sat on the opposite side of the waiting room and never said a word. When the nurse called their names, I gave them one last kiss and hug and slipped out the door to head back to work. Caroline, it was one of the happiest moments I’ve had in a long time.”

That evening Suzy’s kids were beyond thrilled to get on FaceTime with her and relive the surprise from that afternoon. They told her they got their teeth cleaned and they didn’t have any cavities. Before they were ready to shut the computer off and go to bed, her daughter looked straight into the camera and said “Thanks, Mommy. It was really awesome to see you today.”

Just like that, Suzy stopped being a victim of her circumstances. She started playing by her own rules and showed her ex and her kids that she wasn’t going anywhere. She would do anything and everything to be there for her kids, even if it meant a late lunch, a fifteen minute playdate at the dentist office, and driving both ways.

We’ll never know why the dentist’s office called her instead of their father that day, but let’s just chalk it up to the Universe had her back. She was so very grateful for that.

A Moment of Clarity:

Parental alienation is real and can make it very difficult for a parent to reach their child. But keep trying. Show up in any way you can and let your kids know that you will always be there for them–even if it means popping in for a quick visit at the dentist!

 

The Hardest Promise To Keep- A lesson in Delaying Gratification

Do you ever set a goal like quitting smoking, losing weight, or writing a book, and then decide not tell anyone about it? We all do that. Do you know why? Because it’s easier to make excuses when no one else is counting on us or expecting us to keep our word.   

The hardest promises to keep are the ones we make to ourselves. My seven year old, Justin, was confronted with a promise that was hard to keep, and his experience taught me a lot about parenting and self -control.

I’ve invested a lot of time teaching my three boys to eat healthy although they love pizza, fries, chips and desserts like other kids. Justin, however, is the one who has most taken to a healthy lifestyle. Lately I’ve found him more conscious of his food choices. He’s learned to read the ingredients of anything with a label on it and he knows whole foods are best, even though he still treats himself to the unhealthy stuff.

We were vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina when we unexpectedly ran into Nick and Chris, Orly and Justin’s best friends from school. They were staying in a cabin in Black Mountain and their parents invited us to come spend the night. The boys had a blast eating Oreo cookies, pizza, chips, and any other treats they could find.  We allowed them to let loose because we were on vacation— but Justin knew exactly what he was doing.

In the midst of hide-and-go-seek games and running around like lunatics, Justin took me aside and whispered quietly, “Mommy, I’ve eaten a lot of junk today so, as of tomorrow, I’m not going to eat anything with sugar for two days. Okay, mommy!”  And off he went to play again. I admit I didn’t take Justin seriously or thought he’d follow through with his promise.

The next morning was New Year’s Eve. I woke up and went upstairs to make my coffee and write. Our friends were making breakfast, and a delicious aroma of bacon and warm croissants wafted through the house. Eventually, I heard voices echoing and little feet stomping downstairs.

“Mommy,”Justin said proudly as he came upstairs. “Nick gave all the kids Oreo cookies this morning, but I didn’t even have one.”

“That’s great, Justy,” I smiled.

He insisted. “Remember I told you I wasn’t going to eat sugar for two days, Mommy? That’s why I refused to eat the Oreo cookie.”

“Yes, Justy, I’m very impressed that you’re sticking to your promise. Great job, buddy.” Pleased, he went off to find his friends.

Moments later, a yell sounded from the kitchen: “Boys, breakfast is ready.” The kids gathered around the kitchen island and took their seats. Eggs, bacon, potatoes and chocolate-filled croissants were arrayed on the table. Everyone migrated towards the croissants. Justin stared at them with a pained expression.

“How are you doing, buddy?” I asked.

“Those croissants look so delicious,” he licked his lips. 

I could tell he really wanted one. I wondered if he regretted ever telling me about his pledge to avoid sugar. Would he feel judged by me for quitting? He’s only seven years old, I thought. I’m not going to make him feel bad if he wants to eat one little croissant.

“Justy,” I said gently as I stroked his arm, “Don’t worry about the promise you made not to eat sugar. It’s New Year’s Eve; You’re with your friends; We’re on vacation; Maybe today was not a good day to make that promise. Eat the croissant.”

Justin stared at it. His little lips tightened as he thought about it. “No, mommy. I’m not going to eat any.”

 “Justin, you realize you didn’t make this promise to me. You made this promise to yourself. I won’t be disappointed at all if you eat the croissant. I want you to be happy and enjoy yourself.”

“I know mommy. Can I have some eggs and bacon please?”

I was amazed. My little boy was showing self-discipline and strength. I put a generous serving of eggs and bacon on his plate and handed it to him. “Justin, the hardest promises to keep in life are the ones we make to ourselves. The fact that you’re keeping this promise to yourself shows me that you can do anything. You’re going to be successful in everything you do, son.”

A huge smile came across his face. He enjoyed his eggs and bacon.

Delayed gratification means you resist the temptation for an immediate reward in order to receive a later reward. This concept was proven many years ago by a psychological study known as “The Marshmallow Test.”  My dad popularized this test with his book, “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!” Delaying gratification is something anyone can learn to do, but it’s not always easy.

Although I’m a big proponent of “not eating the marshmallow” the way my dad taught me, here I was encouraging Justin to do just that. I didn’t want him to feel deprived of something he wanted on his vacation, nor did I want to see him suffer. I reassured him that I would not judge him if made an exception to his promise. I used every excuse in the book, and then realized, those are the justifications we all use when we want instant gratification. We spend more money than we should, we eat things we should avoid, we sleep in and don’t make it to the gym. And we justify our actions with acceptable excuses like:

“I’m on vacation,” or

“This is a special occasion,” or

“You only live once.”

True or not,  those are all excuses.  

Justin missed eating that croissant for five minutes, but what he gained in exchange will last him a lifetime. He felt empowered by following through on his choice, and that made him happy.

It’s hard to keep promises we make to ourselves because it’s easy to talk ourselves out of it. That’s why you should always have an accountability partner when trying to reach goals. But even your accountability partners can enable you to make excuses for yourself, like I did with Justin.  

Next time you want to break a promise you’ve made to yourself, and no one is watching—or someone is encouraging you to do it— remember you have the power to delay gratification. The more mindful you are about it, the more control you can take over your own actions. See yourself empowered by your own self-control. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can develop self-control. It’s the little wins that set you up for the big wins.

A Moment of Clarity

With every choice we make, we create our own success story.

My little boy taught me that.