To access a reverence and appreciation for their life is one of the most important lessons our children can learn. Expressing gratitude reminds them that they are never alone but always in relationship with life itself. Such gratitude also reinforces the fact that life is kind, wise, and bountiful.
Creating a daily or weekly ritual at the dining table, in which each person has the chance to express something they are thankful for, helps our children develop reflective skills, which in turn enables them to extract beauty from life. At the same time, such a practice reminds them that even as life gives to them, they too must give to life. Indeed, it teaches children to give back not only in a physical form but also in an emotional and energetic form. The more we make it a point to reflect on aspects of our existence for which we are grateful, the more our children learn to do the same. Our ability to notice and show appreciation for the smallest elements in our life helps them slow down and take note of their own life. They learn not to take any aspect of their experience for granted, but to respect all that exists around them. Such gratitude fosters a commitment to life
It’s important to express gratitude to our children just for being who they are. Rarely do we thank them for who they are, yet we always want them to appreciate who we are. If we as parents took a moment to look our children in the eye and say, “Thank you,” really meaning it, their sense of their value would expand exponentially. In this way, we communicate that they have something to contribute just by being themselves. My friend, a thirty-year-old woman, is spunky and spritely. Yet when she’s with her family, she’s just the opposite—especially with her father, around whom she’s all but paralyzed. Recently, I saw why. She had invited her family to her home, intending to announce that she was going to be married. At this occasion, her fiancé would meet the family for the first time. Because he followed a different faith, she anticipated there would be flared tempers. I watched her prepare for the event, observed how she couldn’t keep still, and noticed her swallow two Xanax before the party, chased by a shot of whiskey. A Yale graduate and a partner in a law firm, she was reduced to a state of such anxiety that it was as if she wished she could shrivel up and disappear.
When she introduced her fiancé and the family learned he was of another religion, her father’s face became full of rage. Taking her aside, he railed, “You will never marry this person. To do so would humiliate me in front of our community. If you proceed with the wedding, I will no longer be your father. You will be ostracized from the family forever.” Instead of expressing gratitude to his daughter for seeking his blessing on her marriage and being brave enough to love someone so different from her, her father shunned her. Rather than embracing the lessons he might have learned from this partnership, he rejected his daughter in favor of his rigid conditioning.
Many of us begrudge our children the right to live their own life. We would much rather have them sacrifice their authenticity than forego the comfort of our ego. Little do we realize that our children don’t owe us their allegiance. This is a privilege they give us, for which we need to be grateful. It’s important to regularly thank our children for sharing themselves with us. We can thank them for the wealth of meaning they bring into our life. We can thank them for their wisdom, kindness, passion, spontaneity, and liveliness. We can also teach them to be thankful by expressing gratitude for a home to live in, food to eat, a body that’s strong and healthy, parents and friends to provide us with a sense of community, and the wonders of nature to enjoy. In addition, we can encourage them to give thanks for qualities like courage, fun things to do, and the opportunity to give back. It’s also important that we don’t neglect to express our gratitude for all that life teaches us about ourselves each day so that we can be more fully who we are and express more meaningfully the love that fills our hearts.
When we teach our children to find the smallest of things in their day to reflect on with gratitude, we teach them that rather than needing this, that, or the other thing, they have so much already. This in turn awakens their desire to do good for others. In other words, acknowledging our bounty fires our instinctive longing to serve others. To teach gratitude is to foster godliness within our children, honoring their divine essence. Unless we are in touch with our own divine essence, we will be unable to encourage reverence for this in our children. Having said this, let me caution that for our children to be in touch with the divine Presence in their center doesn’t mean they need to manifest any special sort of “greatness.” Rather, it’s to be acutely aware that our children are already great in their natural, raw state of being. Only when we don’t honor our own natural godliness as parents do we push our children to be something we esteem “great,” with the thought that then we will honor them. This is actually to dishonor their connection to the divine. To recognize and express gratitude for their inherent divinity without their having to accomplish a single thing is to be in touch with the element of divinity in ourselves, and indeed in the whole of life.
If we live our life not with gratitude but with need and greed as our motivators, seeking that which is brighter, flashier, and grander in the hope of feeling fulfilled, this is the consciousness our children will absorb. However, when we enjoy the air we breathe and the shade of the tree we sit under, experiencing the Divine Presence in everything, our children learn to be content with what they already have. Then, if more comes, there’s no attachment to it, just further appreciation.