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GUEST BLOG! The empty thankful jar

Mum blogger Jo le Page, who writes over at 'Fresh bread and Faith' has shared her thoughts on the pressure to be grateful as a parent.  She talks about what it means to her and how she has come to recognise her own gratitude.

Hand in hand with parenting comes the expectation that we must be grateful. We ARE grateful, but even blessings can be stressful sometimes. 

In some situations we feel it would be frowned upon to moan. I have had parents of 5th time trying IVF babies and parents of long awaited adopted children tell me that once they had their children and were in the throws of parenting it didn't really feel like they could moan about being kept up all night or the disruptive behaviour and tantrums, it was almost like the people hearing this offload were thinking "this is what you wanted, you should be grateful!"

I think regardless of how our babies came into existence we should all get a non judgemental free pass to have a moan. We all need to offload at times and when we do we need a sympathetic listener, and maybe a cookie, a really big chocolate one... Certainly not judgement. Often though we can think we are being judged when in fact it may be us that is judging ourselves. So we need to give ourselves permission to realise it is okay to to need to vent sometimes, it is okay to feel driven to tears sometimes. If at any time though if you feel constantly overwhelmed and bleak about the future please do seek immediate professional help.

Having moments where we aren't skipping around reciting our blessings doesn't make us less of a parent. The truth is we ARE grateful, I think sometimes we just momentarily forget.

Gratitude is a great skill to practice.  I attended a course called 'breaking free' at the start of last year. This course gave you a safe place to sometimes share, sometimes cry, sometimes vent as well as offering practical coping strategies for every day parenting. Even mundane tasks like washing dishes, or tiring tasks like rocking the baby, desperately wishing they would sleep were opportunities to stop and be aware of the warm water on your hands, the feel of the bubbles, your breath entering and exiting your body, the weight of your baby in your arms, the sound of their breathing, their gorgeous smell, becoming very aware of that moment that you're in and breathing through it rather than stressing and wishing it away.

I came across a great idea a few years ago. The idea was to start a thankful jar. Throughout the year you write down notes of things you are grateful for, as and when you think of them and add them to the jar. The idea is that you read through them in the New Year or just before.

I thought this was a fantastic idea. I had a large jar to use so I wrote 'Be Thankful' on the front with chalk, designed a 'Gratitude' top to the lid, bought colourful sheets of paper and a cool pair of scissors that cut in wavy patterns. We were good to go!

Last year we regularly thought of gratitudes to add. I pre cut little wavy squares in different colours so it was quick to grab and write a gratitude. My eldest daughter was enjoying writing some herself. The exercise itself was so beneficial as after a while unprompted she would think of something to go in the thankful jar or she would ask me what I was grateful for that day. As December approached our jar looked barely half full and I realised in retrospect that a smaller jar might have been better! Nevertheless we managed to fill it with lots of gratitudes, most were activities like trips to the park and beach and meals out as a family or funny memorable moments.

Just before New Year 2018 we read through our many gratitudes and made a note of each of our favourite memories from 2017.

As 2018 started we entered straight into a run of illness which isn't unusual for the time of year. We were unable to make my daughters birthday party for the first time ever due to sickness. A close family member then entered straight into a season of being bed bound and having a debilitating condition lasting most of the year. The months passed quickly, I felt the burden of extra work and times of stress felt even more stressful than usual.

The thankful jar which once regularly collected colourful notes now sat there empty collecting nothing but dust.

I was still aware of being grateful. If anything I was even more aware of my blessings. I felt that I had less time and inclination to be cutting out and writing gratitude notes.

As I looked at my empty jar throughout the year I felt a pang of guilt, this was one more project I had started and not finished, one more item on the checklist that needed doing, one more thing that I could be using as a good example and an inspiration to my family. One more task I was failing at. Instagram and Pinterest were awash with decluttering ideas, home cooked meals and perfect photos. Facebook was full of happy smiling families and fun evening parties. Apart from the shared standard quotes on anxiety and other issues no one was actually saying how much they were struggling let alone photographing it, certainly no one had taken a photo of their empty grateful jar! The phrase came to mind "you can't pour from an empty cup, " so even if it took a lot of work to arrange enough cover for me to just leave the house, let alone track down a friend available at the same time to meet for a drink, I realised this was important to do. Whether we are a mum in the office or a stay at home mum we all need a break and shouldn't feel bad for admitting that.

I stopped comparing myself to anyone on social media. I started enjoying my spur of the moment one to one trips to playgroup or food shopping with my toddler, as much as my planned meet a friend playdates. I embarked on living a 'let go' life one day at a time.  There is always one thing to be grateful for. Realising that even when I'm stressed I'm still grateful, when I'm cross I'm still grateful, when I'm happy I'm still grateful, even when I forget that I'm grateful I'm still grateful!

I think often we are grateful, we just forget in a moment of things not going our way that we are. Thanksgiving is a good prompter for people to remember their gratitudes, seeing it advertised can prompt us to be mindful of our own thanksgiving even if we don't celebrate it as an event in our country.

So as we have finished another year, my jar might be empty but my heart is full. Gratitude is something more than the process of remembering to document it, more than having something that shows everyone how grateful I am, something much deeper than the gushing post or smiling photo that I update social media with. My gratitude is in the heart, sometimes no one else can see it but I know it's there.

The ongoing process is to let people know I'm grateful for them and to think of one gratitude a day. Even if that one grateful thought a day never makes it onto a status update or into a jar, even if it remains between me and me, the thought itself is enough to create a positive ripple effect that can only be good for my wellbeing as well as for the wellbeing of those around me.

parent blogger Jo Le Page