Modeling Gratitude for our Children

Fabriano's mother-Smile Network Mission

Gratitude is word that is thrown around a lot these days. It’s right up there with “vulnerability,” which Brene’ Brown has made somewhat famous.  I often talk to my yoga students about connecting with gratitude and the importance of counting our blessings. I am exploring gratitude in my Mussar group this week and I realized that this work, combined with my participation in the Smile Network mission has prompted me to take an even deeper look at the true healing power of gratitude.

One of the last days at the Lima Children’s Hospital, the volunteers were getting ready to leave the hospital and one of the mothers gathered the Smile Network team and asked our translator to translate for her.  “Please tell them that we know what they are doing for us and we know how much it takes for them to be here,” Rony translated her words. Let them know that they are wonderful people and that we are so grateful for what they are doing for us. May G-d bless them always.” This mother proceeded to give each of us a small token of her appreciation.

Fabriano’s  mother (pictured above), who could not see her son for nearly three days because he had to stay in the operating room instead of being moved to the ICU (because there were no beds available), never once showed anything other than complete gratitude toward all the volunteers and doctors. Her bright eyes were filled with appreciation and hope every time I walked passed her in the waiting area (where she camped out day and night). I lost track of how many times I hugged her during those days, as I felt such a strong, love-filled energy illuminating from her. I have never in my life seen such pure gratitude. It did not occur to her to lash out and demand answers like a lot of us might do in her situation, and it was not because she wasn’t bright or that she didn’t understand the full scope of what was happening. It was gratitude that kept her humble, calm, patient, kind and appreciative.

Other mothers, although grateful, did express some levels of frustration when the hours of waiting with their hungry, crying children, and dealing with so many unknown aspects of the surgery, including when it would take place, began to take its toll. I did not fault them for this, as there were some agonizing days for many families. But when I felt their eyes glaring at me as I walked through the waiting area, I realized that they were allowing negative feelings of frustration to diffuse their connection to gratitude, which caused them to briefly lose sight of the fact that their child would soon receive a life changing operation made possible by people who donated their time, money and energy to help them.

I realize how often I, and so many of us, even when we feel gratitude, so easily lose our connection to it in our every day lives. We say to ourselves:

  • I am grateful I was able to go to yoga today but I didn’t like the music the teacher played.
  • I am grateful I was able to take a vacation with my husband but I didn’t like the hotel.
  • I am grateful my son is happy and healthy but I wish he was an A student not a B student.
  • I am glad my daughter is playing high school tennis but I wish she was on varsity not JV.

Leaving the “but” out of a gratitude sentence is an extremely difficult task for so many of us. However, as I am retraining my brain to react differently to anger, I am also working to stay closely connected to gratitude in the deepest way possible. I have realized that “thank you,” does not always translate to, “I’m grateful.” It’s not a given.

We teach our children to say thank you when people do things for them but what about when people don’t do things for them or when they don’t get what they want? Do we teach them that to feel grateful then? Do we feel grateful when we don’t get exactly what we want? How do we model gratitude for our children?

Recently, I have had a few experiences with my kids where I tried to make a conscious effort to turn to gratitude and push away my usual go-to responses like frustration and annoyance. The universal gratitude no-brainer for mothers is that we are grateful for our children. If we can keep this feeling in the forefront of our mind and heart, many of our frustrations we feel in dealing with them can be significantly lessened.

My son did not do as well as he wanted to on an important test he had been preparing for. Instead of heading right to feelings of frustration with him (he didn’t study enough), or with myself (I should have pushed him harder), I paused.  I found gratitude in that through his disappointment, he learned essential life lessons about the value of hard work and the importance of being honest with himself about his effort. He realized on his own that he needed to study harder and verbalized a commitment to do so (without me having to say a word). My other son missed his ride to school this week because he was being extremely pokey and difficult in the morning, so I had to drive him to school. As the frustration arose within and I wanted to say all sorts of things to him that would not have been constructive, I paused. I looked over at him sitting next to me in the front seat of the car, and realized that I couldn’t even remember that last time that the two of us were alone together. I took a deep breath, released the frustration and turned to gratitude, “Not great that you were pokey this morning, buddy, but I am really glad to have some time alone with you. Tell me about the project you are working on for history.” He smiled and proceeded to tell me all of the details.


  1. (I have realized that “thank you,” does not always translate to, “I’m grateful.”) — What an incredibly truthful statement!

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post. There is so much more we still have to learn about the real essence of gratitude, as opposed to the careless “thank you”s that are often tossed around these days. Real gratitude doesn’t just stop at the words we utter on the lips; it carries right through into our actions, and the way we behave. Your story of the mom at the hospital was the best example of that. She didn’t just pay lip service to all of you, she really meant it, and she walked her talk with her grateful behavior. (By the way, she is a wonderful mother. I’m sure not many in her situation would have been that way!).

    I’m new to your website. I’ve really enjoyed looking around it! I’ll be back for more. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I have realized how saying “thank you” is so robotic for so many of us and for our children but we sometimes miss the gratitude piece. Glad you’ve enjoyed my blog; I just popped over to yours and read your one of your beautiful blog posts. So glad to connect with you!

      • It’s precisely what you said – it has become so robotic!

        Thanks for visiting my blog. 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading more here!

  2. Jessica Halepis says:

    I really look forward to reading your posts, Julie. Gratitude is so important, and I’ve been thinking about it, the practice of it, a lot lately. Thank you for helping me move further along on this path. xox

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jessica. And back atcha with your posts :)!

      Yes, gratitude certainly is a path…which I continually have to remind myself to stay on.


  3. Very thought-provoking post. I recently wrote a post on Gratitude, because our family has received so many wonderful gestures over this past year. And yet, I’ve also experienced my share of frustrations and disappointments in this same context, such as, “why do we sometimes have to wait SO long at the hospital?” (but i should be grateful we are receiving such excellent care). Another big one is my disappointment in the people who have NOT been as supportive as I would have liked or thought they would be. My expectations have been raised because I have many people — some who are not close friends at all — who have been so supportive and therefore it makes me expect that my closest friends should be equally or even more supportive. It’s setting me up to be disappointed and I’m still working through it and wondering if it has to do with our friendship or just the simple notion that some people are more caring — and do a better job showing it — than others.

    • Emily, thanks so much for your response. You bring up some really important points. My dad always says, “If you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed,” and yet as true as that is, I do feel like it’s natural to expect certain things from our friends. I can totally understand how you would be working through some of that as you guys are on a difficult path right now. And I agree with you that some people are better at showing that they care than others. I enjoyed reading about all the wonderful things your friends are doing for you, Little Dude, and your family.

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