The art of parenting can never be mastered- not even close.
But therein lies the beauty.
“If life were perfect, it wouldn’t be”, said Yogi Berra, and rarely is it less perfect than in the daily humbling adventure of raising children. It’s hard to see sometimes when we’re knee deep in Lego rubble or wrestling with a car seat, but our own response to the whole unpredictable ride is helping to shape our kids’ daily disposition.
If you think about the ultimate dreams we have for our kids (happiness, fulfillment, precision peeing), one of the most powerful tools we could ever hope to pass along to them is optimism.
Optimism is not just a philosophical viewpoint. It’s not irrational cheerfulness or “blind” positivity. It’s a pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life. By acknowledging obstacles and opportunities- but focusing on the opportunities- optimism empowers us to explore the world with open arms and an eye toward solutions, progress, and growth. It also makes life a heck of a lot more fun.
My five siblings and I grew up in a chaotic little house with its fair share of dysfunction, but our mother Joan had a resilient, uncanny ability to focus on the good. “I like running out of money”, she would say. “Then I don’t need to worry about what I need to buy”.
Probably the most valuable gift Joan ever gave her six kids was the simple request she made every night at the dinner table. Regardless of any challenges we might be facing, she’d look around at all of us and say “Tell me something good that happened today.”
As simple as our mom’s words were, they changed the energy in the room. Before we knew it, we were all riffing on the best, funniest, or most bizarre part of our day. Rather than complaining, commiserating about struggles, or opening up the possibility of a fight, she focused everyone on the positive. Eventually we became conscious of the fact that joy doesn’t come from your circumstances. It comes from your disposition. Joan showed us that optimism is a courageous choice you can make every day.
As a parent these days (in perpetual training, as we all are) of three little kids, I claim zero expertise- but I will vouch again for the wisdom of Joan’s table talk. If some variation isn’t in your routine, give it a shot at your next family meal.
Before digging in, take a few deep breaths, hold hands if you like, and share some things you’re thankful for. Some lists will end abruptly (“Rocketships and dirt”). Some will ramble as your pasta goes cold (“the ceiling, that wall,…”). One may include “dinosaurs, boogie wipes and Mom”, in that order. Then one day, you hear “I’m thankful for this meal, our family, Batman, water and love”.
For kids and adults, what we focus on grows.
This month, we at Life is Good are encouraging kids to focus on the positive and “Draw why Life is Good”.And just by doing so, they can help make life good for other kids in need.
As a tribute to Joan, we’re bringing her dinner request to the drawing table, and nothing would make her happier. She was an artist herself, and truly the inspiration for Life is Good.