Father’s Day: Awakening Appreciation

June 16, 2016
Reading time: 5 minutes
Appreciation, Parenting


I recently re-watched the move Life as a House. It’s a profound commentary on life, love, death, and family. When I saw it 15 years ago I was left crying, sobbing actually. It had a profound effect on my emotions. I think this was because I was pregnant with my second son Joshua. My instincts were telling me that something big was about to happen in my life, and not just big, but life-changing.


When I watched it again I had a much different experience. It was still heavy (and yes, I cried), but different. My life is unimaginably different now, I have changed and grown so much, I barely remember that ‘me’ from all those years ago. The tiny baby growing inside me then is now 14 years old! I love this quote from the movie:


You know the great thing, though, is that change can be so constant you don’t even feel the difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don’t even notice that your life is better or worse, until it is. Or it can just blow you away, make you something different in an instant. It happened to me.

–George, Life as a House


If you haven’t seen the movie (without spoiling it for you), it is at its core about a dysfunctional family that finds redemption. From my perspective, there isn’t a family anywhere that doesn’t have some challenges. But despite those dynamics, we have the opportunity to grow our love every morning when we wake. We need to maintain the consciousness to not just be aware each day, but to also see how today’s actions and feelings will be a part of our family dynamics history for years and years to come.


The same weekend I watched this movie, Michael and I took Josh and our youngest daughter to the zoo. It’s safe to say that the animal behaviors I was most interested in were the humans!


I think the contrast of the overwhelming appreciation that was shown in the film between father and son and family in general, to what I witnessed at the zoo the next day made me take pause. I overheard so many parents bribe their children to behave appropriately, 100% of the bribes I heard were food-related. “If you behave, I’ll buy you ice cream.” This may explain why so many of the children were overweight. It also sets up a dangerous system of association, especially in our society where there are so many immediate sources of high fat/high sugar foods.


One of my co-workers has struggled with weight his whole life. His weight reached 300 pounds at one point and he was on a high dose of blood pressure medicine. Thankfully, this was a wake-up call and he changed his diet, began running, and lost 100 pounds. He now competes in half-marathons and is completely off his blood pressure medications. One of the things he is hyper aware of with his own children is their relationship with food. Opposite of how he was raised, he makes a great effort to provide his kids with healthy options and never rewards excellence or good behavior with food. He knows firsthand how painful it is to overcome a lifetime of bad eating habits, which all start with how we are taught to think about food.


Back to the zoo…

Wherever we were, in a line, on a ride, or strolling from exhibit to exhibit, I heard parents berating their children. Since my first three kids are a bit older in comparison to Abigail, my youngest, I hadn’t been in this kind of setting for a few years. Maybe that’s why so much of what I saw surprised me. One three-year-old having a tantrum was grabbed roughly by his arm and his father whispered something in his ear, I’m sure it was a threat of some kind. Other parents didn’t even tone it down that much and just yelled with ire at the top of their voices.


“If you run off again, we’re leaving!”

“You are acting like a two-year-old!” (shouted at an eight-year-old). Eight is still a child.


What I saw throughout the day was borderline abusive, some emotional and some physical. Actually, in 43 countries it is illegal to strike your child in any manner. In fact, Sweden banned corporal punishment 36 years ago.


  1. Estonia (2014)
  2. San Marino (2014)
  3. Argentina (2014)
  4. Bolivia (2014)
  5. Brazil (2014)
  6. Malta (2014)
  7. Cabo Verde (2013)
  8. Honduras (2013)
  9. TFYR Macedonia (2013)
  10. South Sudan (2011)
  11. Albania (2010)
  12. Congo, Republic of (2010)
  13. Kenya (2010)
  14. Tunisia (2010)
  15. Poland (2010)
  16. Liechtenstein (2008)
  17. Luxembourg (2008)
  18. Republic of Moldova (2008)
  19. Costa Rica (2008)
  20. Togo (2007)
  21. Spain (2007)
  22. Venezuela (2007)
  23. Uruguay (2007)
  24. Portugal (2007)
  25. New Zealand (2007)
  26. Netherlands (2007)
  27. Greece (2006)
  28. Hungary (2005)
  29. Romania (2004)
  30. Ukraine (2004)
  31. Iceland (2003)
  32. Turkmenistan (2002)
  33. Germany (2000)
  34. Israel (2000)
  35. Bulgaria (2000)
  36. Croatia (1999)
  37. Latvia (1998)
  38. Denmark (1997)
  39. Cyprus (1994)
  40. Austria (1989)
  41. Norway (1987)
  42. Finland (1983)
  43. Sweden (1979)


We all lose it on our kids. It’s a sad fact, but absolutely true. Every parent has moments of exhaustion, frustration, and disappointment. Often, our go-to in those moments is punishment, diminishing them, or overfeeding them with too much sugar or carbs (cookies or pasta). As parents we have to shut down our reactions in heated moments, it is our job to set an example. Unfortunately, not every parent sets a high bar!


At the end of a very long day of walking, we were making our way to the exit and on what seemed like a never-ending path, a family on a tram caught my attention. Apparently, the parents thought the tram would drive them to the parking lot, but actually it wasn’t going that way.


“We waited for 30 minutes in line for this tram because we thought it was dropping us off at the parking lot!” argued one Mom to a hapless attendant. It turned out the teenager in the zoo uniform didn’t have the ability to take the tram off the tracks and create a new road to the parking lot (poor kid). “But it’s not fair!” the mother stormed. “It’s just not fair. Why didn’t anyone tell us? We are too tired to walk all that way.” This interaction took place in front of her six and ten-year-old children. What lesson do you think they took away from that?


Believe me, I felt like having a tantrum too, but what good would that have done? Sometimes in the moment when we feel stressed or exhausted we lose sight of the big picture. I have no doubt in my mind that all the parents I witnessed that day deeply love their children. That is, after all, why they spent time and money taking their children to the zoo that day. I’m sure their intention was to create a memorable and wonderful day for their family.


Part of the job of parenting is to every day remind ourselves of and awaken our feelings of utter and complete appreciation for our children. We want to teach them, certainly, but there comes a time when they will no longer need our teachings delivered in such a way and what they will need more than anything is friendship. The friendship is what is going to last a lifetime. I know I look forward to the day where I don’t have to parent in this way and can enjoy the great benefits of friendship.


One interesting note – parents with kids with disabilities were kinder and more thoughtful. The parents were more patient with their process whereas the typical kids got the impatient response, “I told you that once already.” Often I think the expectations are too high for children, kids are going to be kids. More than that, all kids – whether they are typical or not – need patience with their process.


My husband has said, “If you’re human, then you get angry with your friends and family. They disappoint you, they don’t get you, or they are simply rude to you. Unfortunately, anger and resentment lead to broken relationships. It is only in retrospect, after they have gone, that you regret letting silly fights separate you.”


Thought Into Action

Appreciation is the tool we can all use to evoke feelings of love and patience. When things get heated, stop and think about how grateful you are.

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