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.

Sliding Door Moments

Sliding Doors is a movie that highlights how life can be changed instantly by something so trivial as missing the subway.

Think about the little decisions or coincidences that led to where you are now. How I met my husband is an example.

I was a law school student having dinner with my girlfriends. As we walked down Lincoln Road toward our car, we had a chance encounter with Melissa. Melissa had recently graduated from our law school, and she said she was working at the Public Defender’s Office. Eagerly, I mentioned, “I’m interning there this summer!”

“Listen,” she said. “When you get to orientation, they’re going to ask what department you prefer. Choose Domestic Violence; that’s where I am. The supervisors are great, and you’ll get real trial experience.”

Weeks later I wrote “DV” on my intake sheet. My request was granted.

On my first day on the job, I was standing in the hallway when Orlando walked through the door. He was one of the attorneys in that very small division. I didn’t like him right away. He didn’t like me either. But we spent several months working together, became friends, and on the last day of my internship, he asked me out.

We’d been dating casually for a couple of weeks when one day we stopped by his mom’s house. She’d asked him to pick up some of his things. He poked around inside the box and took out a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. His mom had bought it for him after he took a children’s literature class in college. He flipped through the pages of the book, reading some of the passages aloud, and discussing its beauty with his mom. As I watched Orlando’s interaction with his mom and his love of that book, I thought: “This guy is going to be a great dad one day.” I visualized him reading to my future children and teaching them about literature, which is ironic because I wasn’t even thinking about having kids at that time. Just like that, I saw him with new eyes. He was no longer a friend I enjoyed spending time with; he was the kind of man I wanted to marry.

Eleven years and three children later, I still remember that moment and how wise I was for choosing him to be my life partner. But I couldn’t have made that choice had I not run into Melissa on the street that random day; or taken her advice to request that department; or spent enough time with Orlando to develop our friendship.  Each detail, seemingly unimportant, was significant in its own right and led us to create this imperfectly perfect life together.

A Moment of Clarity: 

Opportunities pop up. If you pay attention, you will find they fall into your life like chains of dominoes. Life doesn’t happen to you by chance. Notice, take advantage of, and be grateful for those sliding door moments.  Life is richer for them.

meaningful relationships

When the Party Ends

I recently officiated a wedding ceremony for the very first time. When I heard the news that my husband’s cousin had asked me to preside over her ceremony, I was honored. I told my husband I would need to become a notary public, to which he responded “I’ve been meaning to become one as well. I might as well get it done.” That gave me an idea.

“What if we both married her?”

After all, my husband adores his cousin. It felt so symbolic for the two of us—who have an extraordinary marriage—to pass the torch to this young couple.

We completed the requirements to become notary publics and prepared for the ceremony. As the day approached, there was so much we wanted to say—so much advice to impart, but the couple was clear about what they wanted at their wedding: “Keep it short, sweet, and fun.” The ceremony was being held outdoors and the wedding day was cold and windy by Florida standards. The bridesmaids’ dresses were sleeveless and the couple wanted to be considerate of them and all the guests.We obeyed. The ceremony was short, sweet, and funny.

One of my favorite moments was the sand tradition. The bride and groom each took a vase with a different colored sand. They poured the sand from each of their individual vases into one vase as a symbol of their union.

Even though the ceremony and reception were beautiful, the real marriage begins when the party ends. It is in the years to come that the words “I do” actually mean something. Though I am not a marriage expert, I felt compelled to share what little I know about it with the newlyweds. This is my open letter to them:

Dear Amanda & AJ,

Thank you for trusting Orlando and me to lead your wedding ceremony and participate in the exchange of your vows. We are thrilled to see how much you love each other and how excited you were about tying the knot. As I said at the ceremony, it takes two extraordinary people to make an extraordinary marriage, and you both have that foundation. But even the happiest couples face challenges. Please accept these unconventional nuggets of wisdom I have gained over the years from a person who was raised through lots of divorces and who’s maintained a special marriage for over a decade.

Seek Therapy. When Orlando and I were newlyweds, we had an argument and I told him we needed to go to therapy. He didn’t understand why. Couples argue and they get over it. But I insisted, and he acquiesced. After our first therapy session, we got into our car and I started crying. Looking at me like I was crazy, Orlando asked “Why are you crying? The therapist just told us there is nothing wrong with our marriage and we don’t have to go back to see her!” It may sound crazy to you, also, but that was why I was crying. My parents divorced and so did my husband’s. I knew that the odds of us divorcing were high. And I understood that little problems become big problems when you don’t have the tools to handle them adequately. I wasn’t looking for a therapist to tell me my marriage was “fine.” I was looking for a therapist who would give us the tools to handle conflicts and differences. If you wait until your marriage is broken and then try to fix it, all you’re doing is making the climb steeper. Orlando and I didn’t go back to that therapist, but we tried others over the years until we found one who understood why we were there and what we needed. We don’t go to therapy often, but whenever we need help communicating, we make an appointment. Our therapist gives us a neutral space to discuss our feelings and find solutions, and we are stronger for it. Preventative therapy is a powerful tool that helps us stick together—keep your therapist on speed dial.

Be Friends; Have Friends. It’s wonderful to know that your relationship began as a friendship. It is important to share common interests with your spouse, laugh together, and enjoy each other’s company. It is equally important, however, to have other friends. One of things that has helped me in my relationship is the knowledge that no one person can fill your every need. Different people in your life fill different needs, and that’s ok. Why put unrealistic expectations on your partner? You may love to run, but what if your spouse is a tennis player, or a couch potato? Asking your spouse to be your accountability partner as you train for a marathon will be unduly burdensome. Having a running friend or group will help you fill that need without forcing your spouse to do something they don’t want to do. There are certain needs that only a spouse should fill (you know what those are), but outside friends make your life fuller and happier. Embrace this and enjoy it by building your marriage on trust. This will allow you to be grateful for the things your spouse does to enrich your life, instead of focusing on the things they don’t.

Marry the family. When you marry your spouse, you marry their family—their parents, siblings, and family members. Treat them with the same love and respect you do your spouse, and do your best to unite your families. When you treat your spouse’s family this way, you create a loving environment where everyone can thrive. But when they feel torn between you and their own family, everyone loses. In the case of blended families like yours, you marry the children from your spouse’s first marriage and it even means you marry their ex.  Why? Because coordinating events, pickups, drop-offs, holidays, and decisions about the children will always involve their other parent. You can’t control how the other parent will behave toward you, but you can control your actions. Be kind. Be inclusive. Be accommodating. Be respectful—even when its’ hard. Likewise, set boundaries, establish clear expectations, and demand respect as you do with your spouse. Ideally, all relationships should function this way.

Love Yourself. You already know you have to love your spouse; that’s a given. It’s easy for us to get lost in loving our partner and our kids; we want to make sure our family is cared for and protected. But it is much harder to love ourselves. You may find that you don’t have time to exercise or get a massage or take a dance class that you love. Life’s no longer just about you so you’ll make sacrifices for your family. But the biggest gift you can give your spouse and kids is to love yourself, also. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more fun. Eat well, exercise, nurture your mind and soul, do things you love. If you have an issue like anger management or addiction or anything else that can be destructive to you or your family, get help. When you love yourself, you allow the best of you to show up for everyone else—and they deserve the best of you as much as you do.

Be There. Living in the same house does not mean you are present. And yet you can be there even when you’re not physically there. Maybe one or both of you work long hours or travel often. You’ll have the kids half the time and the other half you won’t. Whether it’s with the kids or with each other, you will deal with the complications of being separated. Decide that every day you will communicate love to each other and to the kids. When you are together, be together. Spend time with each other. Talk about your day. Kiss often. Hug. Eat dinner together. Say, “I love you.” When you are apart, call each other. Surprise each other. Send postcards. Say, “I love you” again. These daily promises create unbreakable family bonds—and that will make all the difference.

As time goes by, you will evolve and change and go through different phases. Like the sand from your ceremony, your marriage will be messy and a combination of both of you. But the key is that you always keep the vase intact.  Keep it safe and the sand will always be together, like you two. Wishing you a lifetime of blessings and love.

With love, Caroline

What about you? What advice would you give these newlyweds? Please post your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any couples you think would benefit from this post, please click share!