What My Daughters Teach Me About Gratitude

“I'm grateful for the cow who gave us our milk and the worker who picked these strawberries and the person who packed this glass in a box to send it to the store and Daddy for cooking … “  When our older daughter was a toddler, we started the practice of naming and appreciating ingredients in our meal.  We wanted to teach her where her food came from and help her recognize how much abundance we have.  Now that she is seven and has a personal passion for details, her list can be quite long.  “And I’m grateful for the person who created the fabric for our napkins and the lettuce plant for growing our salad … “

“I’m more grateful for everything than she is!”  Our four-year-old is in a phase where she one-ups everyone.  Her love of our family and unicorns and princess stories and running is bigger than yours.  If you disagree, she will get angry.

I consider my daughters to be two of my greatest teachers.  They have insights that move me.  They also trigger me in specific ways that help me grow.  Lately, I have noticed a beautiful exchange that happens as we teach and learn from one another.  First, my husband and I model something that our family values.  Next, the girls practice by copying us.  Then, they show us something unexpected and profound that reminds us of their deep connection to truths we forget all the time.

Here is a recent example.  We have a dinnertime tradition of thanking the family members who cooked our food.  The girls enjoy saying "thank you for cooking" and want to contribute too.  Last week, they were responsible for prepping the green beans.  This became a very complicated process that involved three bowls and took almost 15 minutes.  At dinner, I knew the extra investment was worth it when I saw the delight on their faces.  They giggled and thanked each other.  We all talked about how delicious their food was.  I found myself very present in the moment, enjoying what could have felt like an unremarkable event.  The next night, while chopping veggies, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed a task that I usually consider tedious.  I appreciated the meditative experience of being engrossed in something repetitive.  I felt grateful for the quality of the produce and how easy it was to procure.  And I felt so blessed that my daughters' example helped me reconnect to this feeling of abundance.    

My girls remind me of what is most important to me in countless ways every week.  Just recently, my little one started a new habit of running up to me when she gets home from school to say "I missed you today".  She then spends a few minutes holding my cheeks between her hands and looking into my eyes until she feels connected.  The first two or three times, I greeted her briefly and then asked her to put her backpack away so I could finish something on my computer.  Now, I look forward to these moments and stop what I'm doing when I hear the car arrive.  Who knows how many more times she will want to do this?  I plan to be grateful and present every time until her routine shifts.

My older daughter is a fantastic ally when I want to change an old pattern or build a good habit.  I tell her why it's important to me and then she helpfully reminds me when I forget.  I have the intention to keep a gratitude journal but struggle with consistency.  What works better for me is asking her questions about what she appreciates while I tuck her into bed.  "What happened today that surprised you?  What is a special thing that you enjoy doing?  What do you love about your body?"  We take turns asking and answering.  Just when I think I'm the one teaching her, she shares her old soul's perspective.  The other night, as I listed people in our family I love, she cut in: "Wait!  You forgot yourself.  You love yourself, don't you?"  "Oh.  Right.  Thank you for reminding me, my love."