Christmas morning . . . the most wonderful time of the year. It’s 7 a.m. and I am awoken by my two kids urging me out of bed and into our matching moose-print onesies. “Teeth brushing later, Mom! Let’s go, let’s go!” they yell. Still in grade school, my kids are fully invested in the magic of the season. We search for signs of Santa’s visit: Have the cookies been eaten? Carrots chewed by reindeer? And what of the presents? Some wrapping does not match the other gifts under the tree, a reliable sign those offerings have come from the North Pole. I watch my kids with a sense of overwhelming joy, coupled with smug satisfaction. I really nailed it. I must be mom of the year. For confirmation, one need look no further than Samukai, a rare Lego figure that I sourced on Facebook. I had it shipped overnight after my son wrote an addendum to Santa, explaining why it was absolutely essential that his elves build this Lego king, as it was no longer available in stores.
Christmas morning is going perfectly, until it isn’t.
“That’s it?” my kids ask. “No more presents?” Their excitement turns to dismay as they realize the gifting is over. “What will we do for the rest of the day?” they ask, beginning the process of comparing who got more and whose gifts are better. As the infighting starts, my joy turns to anger. Don’t they know how lucky and privileged we are to even get presents? Then my anger subsides and a dark cloud of shame descends. I sit sullenly on the couch, sipping my tea and wallowing in the realization that I am a terrible parent who has failed to instill any sense of values in my kids. I imagine my future as a lonely old lady, deserted at Christmas because I raised entitled offspring who never learned the real meaning of the holiday.
Bad-parent shame can be gut-wrenching but also very motivating. Determined to be better this year, I turned to friends and colleagues to learn how others manifest gratitude. Interestingly, I got just as many responses about what not to do, as what to do. Many people advised against the impulse to force gratitude upon my children. Some colleagues recalled their own parents constantly “shoving it down their throats” and “piling on the guilt.” This notion reminded me of Boxing Day brunch with my dad and stepmother when I was 13; instead of the usual $50 bill in an envelope, I got a generic thank-you card from the food bank accompanied by a tax receipt made out to my stepmother’s business. Gratitude was not my predominant emotion that day.
At a colleague’s recommendation, I listened to a podcast about The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting by Brené Brown. Her book emphasizes that it’s not just how we talk to our children; it’s also how we talk to ourselves. In a culture of “more, more, more,” we need to practise gratitude to avoid being swept up in the currents of commercialism.
I have come to appreciate that expressing gratitude forces me to slow down and share my happiness. Gratitude allows us to savor the good experiences and be more resilient during the challenging ones. The holidays are not a joyful time for everyone; December can be especially difficult for those who are dealing with depression, anxiety, or grief. But even in difficult times, experts suggest that gratitude can be an opportunity to acknowledge the good things. On days when gratitude seems impossible to conjure, remember that it can also apply to memories, past events, or even hopes for the future. It may seem contrived at first, but experienced practitioners assure us that the cognitive dissonance fades with routine.
As we head into the holiday season, I invite you to comment at www.bcmj.org and share your experience with gratitude. You never know who it might help! I have told my kids that they gave me the greatest gift of all last year—gratitude—and I use it every day.
—Caitlin Dunne, MD, FRCSC
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1. The Parenting Book Club. Ep 4 “The gifts of imperfect parenting” by Brene Brown—The importance of embracing our flaws to grow as a parent. The Parenting Book Club Podcast. Accessed 3 November 2022. www.iheart.com/podcast/269-the-parenting-book-club-po-91102027/episode/e....
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