Reverence: Parenting and gratitude

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A friend recently encouraged Sean and I to consider the role "thank you" plays in our personal, professional, and parenting lives. He was questioning its possible overuse in different environments and what it means to offer gratitude without sincerity or for expected acts (such as, this is my job, you don't have to thank me) and challenging us to consider how and why we use "thank you" in our lives. I have found myself coming back to this conversation especially when it comes to considering my own expectations for my children offering gratitude and its relation to my teaching practice in dance.

Do you find yourself a user or possible over-user of "thank you?" Do you believe there is such a thing as overused gratitude? Do you believe that instilling a sense of thankfulness in your children is important?

Most ballet classes end with a "reverence." This is often performed as a series of ports de bras (arm movements passing through various positions), curtsies, and bows (and in my ballet classes, some shimmys in multiple directions) that allow the students and teacher to thank each other for sharing the space to dance, all while honoring the tradition of grace and respect present in much of ballet. Reverence is built into ballet class - there is music included for reverence on almost all ballet class CDs and it's hard to imagine a ballet class ending without meeting students in the center of the space and offering each other this wordless thanks. 

Reverence has saved me as a teacher. Although I tend to experience my classes as joyful whirlwinds of play and learning, there are moments that are difficult such as when I see my students struggling or my own disappointment becomes too visible and the energy of a class shifts from curious joy to frustrating fatigue. My ability to practice gratitude and the desire of my students to thank me for teaching then becomes challenging. Yet we have this structure that is always part of class that allows us to end together, make eye contact, and have one last chance to connect and say, "Thanks." 

This nonverbal shorthand for thank you often goes by unnoticed but we still practice it and offer it value. I understand that showing up is part of both of our jobs as teacher and student, but the effort deserves to be acknowledged nonetheless. Whether or not we feel like we are choosing to be in the space together, the work is real.

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Shorthand has a place in my parenting world as well. I am in the thick of learning to be with my toddler in her willfulness and find myself cringing sometimes when my attempts at positive parenting result in extended tantrum sessions that leave me cursing my blessed fertility. There are many times I am grateful that I can say, "You must listen," or "No worries now," and feel that even though I am directing her actions and emotions, I am providing a safe space for both of us to relax because we know what is expected of us. "Thank you" is most definitely part of our shorthand too. I "see" my daughter doing things that help our family or her peers and I often try to be specific in telling her what I see, but sometimes thank you will suffice. She has come to understand that there is both value and meaning in these simple words. 

Empty thank yous or not using the longhand version of thanks can be detrimental to teaching my children to practice sincere gratitude, but there is space for a breezy thank you in my family life as well. I desperately want to help my children understand that they have roles in our family and that their responsibilities are important (even at their very young ages). I believe this will become more and more a part of their reality as they see how their responsibilities help our farm and family exist in the day to day. It's true that my part of my job is to make sure that my children have breakfast and options for play (certainly helps my day), but it's also true that I am human and affected by seeing gratitude and hearing gratitude in response to these daily routines I am helping to provide. My daughter's excited "thank you" for her oatmeal in the morning is habitual, but also a lovely part of our routine that softens my early morning tired heart. I happily admit that this is part of my own neediness as a parent - desiring to feel valued for my role - and that I have this same need in teaching as well. This neediness can come to an extreme for any of us and I am grateful when Sean reminds me that my emotions do not need to be dependent on the responses of others (oh, how hard it is to feel you have disappointed someone). However, there is something delightfully human in being responsive to others and letting that gratitude in. Thankfulness can heal little slivers of angst in my all-too-adolescent heart. Hopefully both my children and I can offer that to others as well.