Dear Mom, Dear Dad
“Gratitude can be both a vehicle and an earned reward for accepting and nurturing one another,” writes Ira Byock, M.D., in his book, The Four Things That Matter Most. Byock makes this statement in the context of challenges that exist within families, such as parents and children relating to each other, with the goal of having healthy familial relationships. “As individuals grow and develop over time, so, too, relationships naturally change. They must if they are to remain healthy—or become healthy,” Byock continues.
The family takes on various constructs. Some families are composed of father, mother and children; others are single-parent homes, while others are blended families. Many families involve the grandparents becoming parents to their grandchildren, or because of circumstances children have had to take on the role of “parenting” their aged or sick parents. Although there are various family makeups, there is one thing that is indispensable to all family groups—the necessity of showing and expressing gratitude to the ones who have provided and cared for us.
Each year the calendar provides a special day to express love and gratitude: Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. The recipients of flowers and cards and other expressions are designed for mothers and fathers but not limited to just biological parents. Whoever has had the greatest impact on a person’s life is often the recipient of love expressions on these two designated days, depending on the family makeup.
However, it shouldn’t take a calendar date to remind any of us that every day is an opportunity to express and practice gratitude to our mothers and fathers or any who have taken on that significant role in your life. Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth-century Christian theologian wrote, “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
When a simple “thank you” is expressed to someone you love for their love, care, and positive impact they have had or are having on your life, we begin to focus on our own good fortune rather than our problems. If we practice this consistently and diligently, feelings of gratitude can and will pervade our lives. And, just think of the joy you bring to the one who receives your expression of gratitude.
I agree with Byock when he writes, “In the act of saying thank you we expand ourselves.” Thanking our “moms” and “dads” in an explicit way is an act of generosity. By naming what we have been given, we remind ourselves of the abundance of our experiences, of how plentifully we have been blessed. We begin to recognize how much we have been given.
People aren’t hardwired to be grateful. Like any skill worth having, gratitude requires practice and the benefits of practicing gratitude can be life changing. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., suggests several things in his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier:
1. Gratitude Puts Situations into Perspective.
In every relationship there are challenges. The closest relationship we encounter in life is the relationship with our parents or those who have been responsible for our care and well-being. Our human tendency is to take for granted the things we are associated with on a daily or regular basis. Demonstrating and expressing our gratitude to those who play a significant role in our lives is not always routine for most of us. Granted, not all in any relationship is good; that’s a fact of life. But not everything is bad. When we can see the good as well as the bad, it becomes more difficult to complain. Taking a moment to say, “Thank you, mom or dad, for all that you do,” does wonders for you and the person you have said it to. Everybody wants and needs to know that they are appreciated and valued. A “thank you” goes a long way.
2. Gratitude Helps Us Realize What We Have.
The awareness of what we’re grateful for can lessen our tendency to want more all the time. The blessing of family is the gift of belonging. God has made us a member of His family, first and foremost. We cannot see Him with our physical eyes, but we are assured of His presence and watch-care over us. Without a doubt, God is the ultimate mother and father. His love and care are indescribable. We have because He is. How often do we say “thank you” to Him? He places us in earthly families to experience love and belonging. We can see, touch, and feel our earthly moms and dads, or important caregivers. If nothing else, we are here today because God used them as channels to bring us into existence. That deserves a “thank you.”
3. Gratitude Makes Us Happier.
When we look at the world around us through the lens of gratitude, we are amazed at all the goodness we take for granted. Our relationships will be strengthened, our overall health will improve, and our stress reduced. Proverbs 17:22 reminds us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Mark Twain once said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” That really is only half the story. While the person who receives the praise (saying “thank you” is a praise and a compliment) enjoys feeling noticed and valued (and is motivated to do more of the same), the giver can also bask in the connection. With every compliment, a bond is strengthened, trust is built, and conversation encouraged.
Make it your purpose today, before it’s Mother’s or Father’s Day, to express a heartfelt “thank you” to your mom or dad for just being who they are. Be genuine in your expression. Be specific concerning what you are thankful for. Smile and let them know that your “thank you” to them is well deserved and sincere.
Buford Griffith, Jr. has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is the Southwestern Union Conference Executive Secretary and Family Ministries Director. He lives with his wife, Carmen, in Mansfield, Texas.