A few years ago, we embarked on an ambitious “Gratitude project”. I was reading my old post where I wrote:
“Our family is definitely more grateful for all that we have! We are closer, more connected, more mindful. I personally feel more centered and conscious when I am not fully present for the people that matter. I am more proactive about being in the moment and can reset quickly when I am not. For someone who tends to have a million different things running through her mind all the time, this has been a big achievement.
The children are more centered too. They have learned to articulate and contemplate their feelings and emotions better than before. Are they more empathetic? I don’t know, but they know they need to be! Are they more resilient? Only time will tell, though I strongly feel that their can-do attitude and calm courage while negotiating a big cross-continent transition this year, is due in big part to the Gratitude Project!”
Fast forward four years, where are we? It has been hard to keep the practice going, no doubt about that. The initial enthusiasm with which we began and pursued it in the first few years was bound to plateau as the kids became teenagers (hence less amenable to listening to us), and as the family dealt with the logistical challenges of different schedules. With daily gratitude circles, monthly meetings, and annual goal-setting sessions, the 2 MBAs in the house I fear managed to make it all feel like being in an office with KRAs and OKRs to get behind :)
I have also been reflecting on the myriad ways in which we talk about privilege, a word that is bandied about quite loosely nowadays but not something that was consciously thought about as my generation was growing up. Perhaps we didn’t have the vocabulary for it then; though in fact, I was a child of privilege as much as my parents were (as successive generations kept climbing up the privilege ladder). So to accuse my kids, not directly but subtextually of being privileged seems not just disingenuous but also ironical. I am trying not to do it. I understand that my generation was fortunate to reap extraordinary gains during a period of history when the rising tide lifted our boats higher than those of many others. We could attribute our material success to our incredible efforts and hard work and that makes a great story to tell our kids (as if they care!) but fact is we are as much the lucky winners of the birth lottery as they are. So ever so often if it seems that our kids are unconscious of their astounding luck and “entitled”, yes of course they are, wouldn’t you be in their place? They have no real understanding of what it took to get here; and telling them that grandfather walked barefoot 10 kilometers in the blazing son to go to school is like one of those Amar Chitra Katha stories- fascinating but nothing to do with their life :)
So I bite my tongue when Y complains about how her English teacher hates her, even though I’d like to remind her, to put her problems in perspective, about the children suffering in Gaza. It’s taken me time to understand that gratitude and compassion can be cultivated without forcibly injecting privilege into the conversation. I have to hope that within the narrow confines of their current worlds, our kids have enough interactions with a wide enough range of people to understand their place in the world (being in public school helps). When Y tells me about her friends who cannot wear what they want, or who aren’t allowed to go out and socialize with their friends, or who have troubled family lives, she understands how privileged she is, and I expect she is grateful for it.
Building the gratitude muscle in the kids has been a journey of letting my parenting evolve as well. So much of good parenting is “Show, not Tell”. So we make it obvious how we live life with an attitude of gratitude and hope that being a good(ish) role model will do the trick. Until then, we turn into irritating nags who insist that the family gathers for monthly meetings (and the kids are so good at deflecting these requests so that the meetings never happen). Last week, Y was annoyed that she and her brother were trapped in an impromptu “monthly meeting” in the car while we were waiting for our table to be ready at a restaurant. Conditions were perfect as it was brutally cold outside and we knew they wouldn’t just walk off :)