September in Australia and New Zealand brings Father’s Day, although this day often comes in March or June in other places in the world. The commercial world is quick to promote such days as times to spend our money to show appreciation for what parents and grandparents do, but there are many ways to say thank you. We can use these days to be more mindful of what is done for us all year around by those who love us and to try to show our gratitude for this more often. Here, as always, we teach our children, by our own example. We take a few words from our earlier blog on mothering to remind us about this.
Gratitude for invisible parenting & grandparenting
Much of what parents do is invisible. There is always a huge amount for which to be grateful in what mothers and fathers do. Because the tasks of caring involve preparing the space for good things to happen– organizing, ordering, maintaining, watching over– we often only notice these things when they are NOT done. Caring also involves being awake enough to prevent bad things from happening, being ready to ‘nip things in the bud’; separating siblings when they are too tired to learn constructively from disagreement; observing the grumpy tiredness which can precede illness; making the environment safe for young children to play freely, without constant admonitions; thinking ahead to meet nutritional needs with healthy snacks; putting children down to sleep before they get over-active from tiredness.
Conscientous parents try to do this, some more successfully than others, but often at their own expense, working very long hours when they are tired, exhausted, often working outside home as well, and so on. Worldwide research shows that women work longer hours than men in caring and housework even when they are in full time paid work. Australian research also shows that the extra time fathers now spend with their children comes at the expense of ‘personal alone time’. We need to acknowledge all this in ourselves and in our partners as parents, and in our own parents, many of whom do so much today in caring for grandchildren, even when they may be at a time in their lives when they often have less energy for dealing with lively children.
These aspects of care often go unnoticed, but need acknowledgement and appreciation all year through. When we show our appreciation for all these small everyday tasks, visible and invisible, that parents and indeed other family members do, we teach our children about gratitude. We model appreciation and forestall the “entitlement responses” which sadly plague so many children today. Gratitude and the expression of appreciation then become part of what we value in the family, of how we live together in community.
Mother’s and Father’s Days give us a chance to review how well we are acknowledging, and showing appreciation for, all that the parents in our lives are doing and have done. Our children may need a little help to see all a parent does and to think about ways to spoil him/her on this day and more often. We can encourage them to make the effort to take on a parent’s task for the day and do it for them instead. Many families have traditions of children making a ‘pancake breakfast’ or ‘breakfast in bed’. Bought gifts especially may need more thought: that the gifts we give are not just another way of making sure a parent serves us better! If the household needs a new iron or toaster or power drill, then get it for the household, not for a parent on a Father or Mother’s Day. Find something for them which they otherwise would not get for themselves or make them something which can then be filled with our love for them in our effort. (See Love Gifts for ideas for this).
The not-so-perfect parent also needs this acknowledgement, perhaps all the more. Appreciation makes all but the most narcissistic person do better. For the struggling, overworked parent, gratitude can be food for their soul, in doing what seems an often endless list of tasks each day.
What we teach our children on these special days is not just about love and gratitude, but also about understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
Love Gifts for ideas for gifts which come from the heart, from our own effort and thoughtfulness.
Authenticity in Mothers Day for some thoughts on working with our children.
What of Mother’s Day with less-than-ideal mothers. Deeper considerations on mothering.