Thursday, April 10, 2014

The One New Habit You Need in 2014

February 22, 2014.  A little over six weeks ago.  That was the first evening I gathered the entire family together after bath time to begin a new habit I hoped would transform my children (and me in the process).  There in the upstairs foyer, I sat on the sofa atop beige throw pillows while the children sprawled across the floor, composition notebooks opened and freshly sharpened pencils in each small hand. 

Husband had a hard time weaving his way through the lanky legs waving in the air, each child oblivious to how long his (and her) appendages had become.  Still, he managed the obstacle course to squeeze in beside me on the sofa.  I smiled, a bit sheepish, as I handed over his notebook…brown and blue paisley with a blue butterfly, the most manly cover I could find at our local store that seemed to carry only florals and puppies.

Days before, my oldest son had experienced another after-school meltdown of the Chicken Little variety.  “Nobody likes me.  Nothing good ever happens to me.  Why oh why do only bad things always happen to only me?”  Yeah--the kind of meltdown that makes mothers roll their eyes, especially when such drama comes on the tail end of fabulous hours, days, or even entire weeks.

Wyatt has always been a “what if” doomsday kind of child, the type who can let a solitary word or action ruin an entire day, spiral him downward into a funk that only a good night’s rest can break him free from.  This inability to see the forest for the trees—he gets it from me.  Sometimes, I, too, can’t see past the “have not’s” in my life.

And so for months, Wyatt and I had talked about how things really were versus how they felt to him.  Seated together on his bed, we would remember aloud happy memories.  It got to where we were praying every single day about his attitude.  I was diligently striving to teach him how to ask for God’s help in remembering the truth and the good things in life when all he could see was how bad everything “always” was.

One afternoon in a particularly teary encounter caused by someone saying something mean to him on the school bus, he confessed that he had been asking God to help his attitude.  He had prayed.  “I try! I really am!” he explained.  “But what if I just can’t remember?”

And that’s when the “Thankful Journal” was born.  The very next morning, the twins and I made a special trip to the store for no other reason than to pick up five notebooks.  That first night, I explained to Wyatt (and the rest of the family) that this would be a new family habit every night.

If I expected a sudden miracle, I would have been disappointed.  Two days later, Wyatt had another meltdown.  This time, I sent him to get his journal. 

“How is this going to help?” he scoffed, but he sat and read it anyway.  There was no sudden magic that day.  His mood continued, as usual, but it did fade by the time we gathered to write our thanks again. 

Since then, I have noticed a distinctive change in both my oldest son and in me.  No matter how hard a day we have had, forcing ourselves to write down a minimum of four things we are thankful for at the end of each day really does make a difference.

The past six weeks have been filled with one sickness after another—stomach flu, strep throat, pink eye, sinus infection, fever virus.  You name it.  All three children plus husband have had it.  And yet, sometimes it’s on those nights when we are all at our sickest that we are able to come up with the most things to be thankful for…in spite of the illness.

Each evening since February 22, we five move upstairs together, no matter how busy we are or what else is awaiting our attention.  Emails pause mid-creation, phone calls go to voicemail, and even books must wait for the last page.

There between the sofa and “naughty bench,” we think, write, and share.  Then, after everyone has read his or her list, we quiz each other to see if we can name one thing each person is thankful for.  This helps keep the seven and under crowd’s attention in a competitive sort of way, but I’m always astonished at the particular item they each remember, which reveals more about them than they realize.
After just six weeks, I feel closer to my children, knowing what they are thankful for.  In the beginning, they would write only tangible things like “popsicles” or “Hotwheels,” but now they give thanks for things like “hug from mommy when I got off the bus” or even things that made someone else happy like “Emerson learning to ride his bike with no training wheels.”  This branching out of gratitude for something that happened to someone else is what I love the most.

What’s more, I feel closer to my husband.  Unlike me, he’s not one to walk around giving words of affirmation for every little thing.  Now, though, I get to hear him give voice to what he’s thankful for each day, making me feel that he is more connected to our family and how much he does love us all.

The biggest change, though, has been in Wyatt.  In only six weeks, he’s closing in on 500 things he’s thankful for, his siblings not too far behind him.  The Chicken Little moods have stopped, and when he does have a bad day, it is no longer all consuming.

The sad thing is I had read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts four years ago when it first came out.  I had applied to my own life its view of being thankful even in the small things, of looking for God in everything good and everything bad.  It changed me back then.  And yet, I had neither taken the time to actually write down my gratitude nor to include my husband and children in the habit.

The notorious “they” say you know it’s a habit when it feels weird to not do it.  The kids will tell you--we're there.   

This is one habit I hope to keep forever and one I'd love to see you share with your own family.  It has brought us closer as a family and helped us give thanks even when we thought we had none to give on a particular day.

Photos: (1) Our journals. (2) Some of Wyatt's thankful list--sometimes he writes, other times, he dictates.  (3) Emerson, age 5, adding another thing to his list. 

1 comment:

  1. I love this, Jennifer! I did something similar after reading "One Thousand Gifts" myself and started one at the beginning of Lent this year, but have severely slacked off since then. I'm inspired to start it again! Might make for good deployment emailing with John-John, too :)