I was a 40-something mom of three when everything changed: My marriage ended, I lost my job during a company-wide layoff, and then I lost my dad. Suddenly, the perfect little suburban world I’d tried to create and shelter my children in felt like it had been hit by a tsunami. Suddenly, any fears I might previously have had about my kids becoming entitled suburban brats were completely washed away.
I found myself standing in a grocery store line with a cart full of the food I needed to prepare meals with, and my credit card was being declined. Instead of calls from fellow football moms asking me to host the pre-game pasta party for the team, I was dodging cruel gossip blows on the sidelines. And if it was that humbling and hurtful for me, I could only imagine the comments my kids were enduring on the playground.
But I made a decision: we would not be victims bemoaning our losses. We would be travelers on a new adventure seeking the pieces of our lives we could still be grateful for. In looking at what lay ahead through a lens of gratitude, we would transform the adversity. We would embrace the blessings and simple pleasures coming our way.
Struggling to Pay the Soccer Dues. . . and the Mortgage
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? But how do you tell a ten-year-old that you don’t have the money any more to pay travel soccer dues? Or a tween daughter that she can’t go to the nail salon, when that's what all her friends are doing? And as thoughtful as the albums that I created for Christmas that year were, the ones that showcased each of my children’s lives and strengths, they were certainly disappointing gifts for a five-year-old who was hoping Santa would bring her a new bicycle. How do you create Christmas morning smiles when the person you used to split the bills with is taking you to court and you’re struggling to pay the mortgage?
It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to instill thankfulness for the simple things in life in my children, or as writer G.K. Chesterton says, to teach them about “taking things with gratitude and not taking things for granted.” To get them on board I had to practice what I wanted to teach. If I wanted my kids to face adversity with courage and resilience and to be thankful for what we had in our lives, I had to practice and teach daily.
Practicing What I Preached
Here are the ways I tried to teach the lesson that where there is something to be grateful for, that there is always hope:
Be vulnerable. Instead of playing Pollyanna and ignoring the despair, I acknowledged the stress and talked about the good and the bad in the situation. I let them know that we were going to focus on the positives — the friends and family who were helping us.
Be grateful. I talked about what we did have — our house, our health, our friends. I tried to make the simple moments — like going to the pool or making homemade pizza — special, and to talk about how grateful I was that we could all be together doing these everyday things.
Pray. I sat down with my kids and asked them to think about praying for what they were grateful for. I created a simple statement to inspire their thinking: “I am thankful for…..” At the dinner table, I would try to mention two or three things that had happened that day that I was grateful for, and I asked them to do the same.
Join forces to do good. We started inviting other families (divorced moms and their kids) over to dinner or on an outing with us. In the words of Circle of Moms member Cassandra S., who also believes that families experiencing hard times should focus on helping others, “Show them people who struggle, teaching them to donate and volunteer. Feeding the poor, cleaning up a rundown neighborhood or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity — things of that nature help open up their eyes.”
It’s hard not to be pessimistic when the future is uncertain, or when we’ve lost someone we love, but the fear grows if that is what we focus on. That certainly was the case when my family went through the ripping apart of divorce, the loss of my father, and my unemployment. But perhaps because I was a mom, I knew I could not let the fear overtake me or my kids, that it was time to ask myself and my kids what we had to be grateful for. We put one tentative foot in front of the other and moved through the unknown to what was about to unfold. Somehow we attracted all the blessings we have today. And, I am grateful to witness the joy and gratitude my kids embrace daily in the simple things in life. Because of what they went through and how we approached our setbacks with humility and appreciation, they now have a tool they can depend on throughout their lives to help them meet the challenges along the way with courage and grace.