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by Anita DiGregory

The Power of Parenting

“A seed neither fears light nor darkness, but uses both to grow.”  (Matshona Dhliwayo, Zimbabwean-born author of 50 Lessons Every Wise Mother Teaches Her Son)

I have a tree in front of my home.  It is a beautiful tree.  It was planted there just before we moved into our home 18 years ago.  My children have grown up with that tree.  I have yearly photos of them in front of it…in Halloween costumes, playing football together, building snowmen, looking for Easter eggs. Every year at Christmastime, my husband wraps it in twinkling white lights, and in the stillness we breathe deep and take in its beauty. 

Over the years, our little tree has been home to many birds, and little nests adorn its branches.  Today, our once tiny tree stands higher than our home.  Its tremendous branches now provide shade to my granddaughter as she wades in her baby pool. Who would have thought? Certainly not that harried, anxious, crazy-busy mother of three rushing past that little tree for doctor appointments, soccer, little league, basketball, volleyball, and field hockey practices and games, through pregnancies and miscarriage, on days of celebration and days of loss.  That momma barely had the time (and maybe not even the courage) to ponder that little tree and the growth the years would bring. But this mother of seven and grandmother finds herself pondering all of that and the power and potential of a tiny, little seed.

Do you know the word “seed” is used over 70 times in the Bible?  The word means different things.  In the Bible, it could mean the Word of God.  It could refer to that embryonic part of the seed plant which can grow into a new plant.  It could mean offspring.  When used as “spreading the seed,” it can refer to instilling virtues and ideals. 

Matthew 13:32 states, “”[The mustard seed] is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.  It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

Have you ever seen a giant redwood tree?  They can grow to over 300 feet tall.  One adult redwood tree can yield six to eight million seeds a year, seeds so minuscule that it takes one million of them to weigh eight pounds.

How can something so small be so significant? 

Maybe it is all the time quarantine and social distancing has created…maybe it is the condition of our country and world, but I have found myself doing a lot of pondering these days.  With all the anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety swirling around us, do you find yourself feeling helpless and insignificant?  I do.  I wonder:  what can I possibly do to make a difference. 

The truth is, as parents we have the power to change the world, one soul at a time.  Within our children, we can plant the seeds of strong moral values including Faith, hope, and love and live these virtues authentically.  We can teach them about God.  We can model charity, empathy, mercy, and compassion for them.  We can talk to them and really listen to them.  We can read them stories of great saints, leaders, and heroes.  We can teach them the importance of discipline and hard work.  We can show them how to pray and kneel with them in prayer.  We can teach them about our country, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” what that means, and how very important it is.  We can celebrate their successes and their failures and when they fall, we can help them to learn, grow, and try again.  We can talk to them about living intentionally and the necessity of doing the next right thing, even when we are scared, exhausted, or feeling lost.  We can teach them to always stand for what is good, and right, and just. 

Harvard Professor Elizabeth Bartholet knows the importance of parenting as demonstrated by her exuberance to severely regulate or ban homeschooling, partially to keep parents from having such an authentic influence on their children.  She states, “Conservative Christians wanted the chance to bring their children up with their values and belief systems and saw homeschooling as a way to escape from the secular education in public schools.”

Dr. Rick Rigsby knows the power of parenting.  In the now viral video of his graduation speech (look it up; you won’t be sorry), Rigsby states, “The wisest person I ever met in my life: a third grade dropout…who taught me to combine knowledge and wisdom to make an impact, is my father: a simple cook, wisest man I ever met.”

Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”  It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth the sacrifices, sleepless nights, countless prayers, and hard work.  You may not see it today.  Today, amid all the shouting and pain in the world, you may feel small and insignificant, like you just can’t make a difference.   Just keep watering those seeds; keep sheltering and pruning; keep working.  Your tending and toiling, your love and devotion will make a difference.

And you know those giant redwood trees…did you ever wonder how they grow so tall, how they withstand all the wind?  Turns out, the redwoods roots do not run very deep.  Instead the roots run wide.  They intertwine with the roots of the other strong redwoods around them which makes the trees able to withstand almost everything nature can throw at them.  Each year they grow strong, some for over 2,000 years.  They offer shelter, take in more carbon dioxide than any other tree (according to studies), and provide homes to countless creatures…all of that from a tiny and seemingly insignificant seed. 

Take heart sweet parent… as a parent you have the power to form a soul, the power to change the world.

How to Make Children Feel Safe

When the World Doesn’t Feel Very Safe

by Anita DiGregory

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers —so many caring people in this world.” ~Fred Rogers

It is amazing how much life can change in a couple of months.

Many of us are dealing with all the uncertainties…the loss of income, health concerns, establishing new “normals,” and new responsibilities. Each day, the daily news is inundated with mind-boggling statistics, conflicting facts, and scary images.

In just a few months, the world has changed…gotten a bit smaller. No matter our background, we are all in this together, fighting this silent, invisible enemy, trying to figure things out, and maneuvering through this new reality. As adults, we are better able to navigate the daily news, overwhelming as it may be; we are more equipped to understand, decipher, and filter, but what about our children?

With the prospect of counties starting to attempt to reopen again, things will change again. Again, their day-to-day routines will be impacted. They may be seeing people in their community wearing masks and gloves. Images on screens or the news can be scary and confusing. Even if they don’t voice it, children may feel anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. So, how do we help them to feel safe in a world that seems out of control? Here are a few tips from some experts, including some past advice from Mr. Rogers himself…because who wouldn’t benefit from some of his calming words right now?

Try to Control Your Own Anxiety. This can be hard. Even though we are adults, we may struggle with feelings of fear and anxiety ourselves. That is okay. It is normal to feel this way in times of uncertainty. So, what can we do to control our anxiety? If you notice that the news or social media is stressing you out, limit your exposure to these outlets. Seek out necessary information from reliable sources, then turn it off. If you are feeling uneasy, talk with another adult, such as a spouse, friend, or pastor about how you are feeling, but make sure to do so where your child cannot overhear you. According to Rogers, “Children sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for them to realize that their parents are scared.”

Additional ways to help ease your anxiety are: prayer, exercise, spending time with family, working on a project or a hobby, reading, journaling, keeping a gratitude journal, or meditating. There are many apps available to help with meditation, including Hallow, Soultime, and Calm.

Talk to Your Children. Don’t be afraid to discuss the situation with your children. Odds are they know some facts and probably have some misconceptions as well. Keep your conversation factual but developmentally appropriate. Gene Beresin, MD, executive director, MGH Clay Center for Young and Healthy Minds, recommends asking your children what they know, how they feel, and what questions they have. Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings. “If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may try to hide those feelings or think that something is wrong with them whenever they do feel that way. They certainly don’t need to hear all the details of what’s making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them,” states Rogers. Keep lines of communication open. As things change, or if you see signs of anxiety, revisit the conversation, making sure to address any new concerns or misconceptions they may have.

Be Reassuring. According to Rogers, “They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe, too.” Empower them by telling them they can help as well by doing things like washing their hands properly, eating nutritious foods, and getting exercise and enough sleep. Model these behaviors for them. Rogers also recommends supplying your child with extra comfort and affection, such as hugs and snuggling together to read. “Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too,” he adds.

Watch for Signs of Anxiety. President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sally Goza, MD, FAAP, says that children may not have the words to express how they are feeling. Signs may include crankiness, clinginess, trouble sleeping, seeming distracted, aggressive behavior, or regressions. Goza recommends sticking to normal routines as much as possible (with, for example, regular mealtimes and bedtimes), protecting them from frightening images, and talking with your pediatrician if you need assistance.

Do Things Together as a Family. There is no disputing that these days can be filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Being together can be helpful to everyone in the family. Regularly eat meals together. Pray together. Work on a project or hobby as a unit. Take a hike. Read together. Have a family movie night. Rogers recommends, “Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, both in good times and in bad.”

Remember You Are Not Alone. As we are all told to practice social distancing and encouraged to stay home, we may feel very isolated. It is helpful to remember we are not in this alone. Pray together for your community and the world. Facetime or Zoom friends and family. Have your children make cards or write letters to extended family or neighbors.

Rogers reminds us, “Since we were children once, the roots for our empathy are already planted within us. We’ve known what it was like to feel small and powerless, helpless and confused.”

These days are certainly filled with these emotions. Know you are in my prayers. And remember: This, too, shall pass. Let’s allow this to change us for the better; let’s keep our priorities right; let’s pray, hope, love, practice kindness, patience, and gratitude, and be “helpers.”

by Anita DiGregory

Tomorrow’s Heroes

What is a hero? The Webster Dictionary defines a hero as someone “of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger or fortitude in suffering; a prominent or central personage in any remarkable action or event; hence, a great or illustrious person.”

A hero is someone who sacrifices, and often suffers, for the welfare and well-being of another, often without any desire for repayment. With acts of altruism, courage, honor, and kindness, heroes inspire those around them.

So who are your heroes? Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Paul Rusesabagina, Mother Teresa, Harriet Tubman? Or maybe your parents, a teacher, a pastor, or a friend?

Our area is rich in its history of heroes. Mother Seton, a widow and mother to five, moved to Emmitsburg in 1809. Even after suffering the death of her husband, bankruptcy, and heart-wrenching public shunning due to her conversion, Mother Seton sojourned on. She founded the first American community for religious women, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, and she started the first Catholic girls school in the nation. Through harsh winters, the death of children, and continual hardships, she continued in faith and in service to others. In 1975, she became the first American-born saint.

Another hero with local ties is Stanley Rother. Rother attended and graduated from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. At his request, Father Rother was assigned to a parish in Guatemala. He studied Spanish and Tz’utujil (the indigenous language of the area) to better serve his community. He ministered to the people for 13 years. As violence surged there, faith-filled individuals within the community were tortured and murdered. Rother knew his life was in danger. He wrote, “This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm.  The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” On July 28, 1981, Father Rother was murdered, one of ten priests slayed there that year.

These are just some of the hero stories we know; think of all those we don’t know. I think of those moms sacrificing 24/7 for their children, those dads who rise to that alarm clock each morning to head to a job that may not be what they had always envisioned (but it pays the bills or provides the insurance for their family), and those single parents who struggle to be all things for their children.

I asked my eight-year-old what a hero was to him. He replied, “Some person who helps a person a lot…like police officers, men and women in the military, firefighters, people working in a hospital. There are comic book heroes like Superman, Iron Man, and Hulk. And, our parents can be our heroes and so can members of our families…like siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins…and friends. Many people who wrote schoolbooks are heroes ‘cause they are helping us learn. But, the most important hero of all is God because He made everything and everyone.”

The truth is heroes are different for all of us because the qualities that define heroism are as diverse as we are. The importance of heroes, however, is unquestionable, especially for our children. This importance comes not just in the physical act of heroism, but also in the role that heroes play in society and especially in the formation of our youth.

According to University of Richmond Professor of Psychology and author of Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, Scott Allison, Ph.D., “Heroes elevate us emotionally; they heal our psychological ills; they build connections between people; they encourage us to transform ourselves for the better; and they call us to become heroes and help others.” 

Heroism is not to be confused with celebrity. In today’s world, with cheating sports team scandals, political leaders’ hostile public declarations, and singers and actors proselytizing their opinions or their hedonistic beliefs, celebrity is often the opposite of heroism, and instead is harmful to children.

Perhaps this is why now more than ever, it is so important to surround our children with true stories of heroism, to cultivate their souls with truth, goodness, and beauty.

Laura Berquist, author of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and founder of Mother of Divine Grace School, states, “As a parent and teacher, the time spent with your child is valuable. If he does not learn to read in kindergarten or first grade, it won’t finally make much difference in his life. But you should spend time reading to him during these formative years. The saint stories, the tales of noble actions performed by noble people, and the fairy tales, with their clear divisions between good and bad, will make a lifelong difference.” Berquist adds, “…stories often move the heart toward the good in a way the direct teaching of the truth, especially initially, and especially in the young, does not.  Since these truths are encountered in a concrete, incarnational format that engages both mind and heart, there is less inclination to reject the teaching. The reader is participating in the journey and learning with the characters, so he’s learning the lessons that life teaches.”

William Bennett, author of the bestseller, The Children’s Book of Virtues, writes, “[Heroes] come from every walk of life…They win our admiration by committing the sort of acts every one of us might be called upon to perform—by offering some unseen gesture of compassion, by taking a quiet stand for what is right, by managing to hang on just one minute longer, or perhaps by persevering through a lifetime of struggle and toil…believing in the heroic can help make each and every one of us a little bit better…If our children are to reach for the best, they need to have a picture of the best.”

So, let’s challenge ourselves to read stories of true heroism to our children. Let’s give them the knowledge and tools to become tomorrow’s heroes.

What Christmas Is All About

by Anita DiGregory

Does the time between Thanksgiving and January 2 seem like a blur? Are your holidays unforgettably beautiful but undeniably stressful? If so, you aren’t alone. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent said they experienced greater levels of stress during the holidays. And, who wouldn’t? After all, retailers have been stressing us out since way back in July, with visions of Christmas trees, ornaments, and wrapping paper decking the (retail) halls. Soon after, Facebook chimed in with its countdowns to Christmas. Then, the countless pre-Thanksgiving holiday sales booklets distributed by every major retailer from A to W—that is Amazon to Walmart—were delivered (almost making one nostalgic for the good ole’ days of Black Friday). 

Charlie Brown: I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

It may be the hap…happiest season of all, but the holidays can also result in excessive stress for parents and children. Holiday programs, parties, and events overfill an already full calendar.  Parents feel the added pressure that goes along with finding the perfect gifts, traveling, visiting extended family, finding a lack of time and money, and providing the perfect holiday for everyone. This can all lead to conflict and distract from the true meaning of the season. 

Ellen Griswold: I don’t know what to say, but it’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

And let’s not forget, ‘tis also the season for those flawless, photoshopped images to flood our social media and those picture-perfect Christmas cards to be delivered to our doors. This creates added pressure. According to a research study conducted on holiday stress, 41 percent of Americans surveyed, and 49 percent of the moms surveyed, acknowledged they stressed over creating the perfect holiday. So, how do we strive to reach above the Griswold’s Christmas Vacation without overstressing about providing the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas? Here is some advice from the experts.

Take time for planning. Talk to your family about what is important to them to accomplish and what their favorite things are to do. Reflect and prioritize.  Whether it is drinking hot chocolate while watching a favorite holiday movie, cutting down the perfect tree, making Christmas cookies, or caroling with friends at the local nursing home, whatever it is, make a plan. Schedule the time to do those things together.

Enlist help from the kids. The holidays are family time. Getting the children to help with chores, decorating, and planning gives them a sense of pride, helps unify the family, and gives everyone more time to enjoy fun activities.

Be intentional. The holidays can be a time of overspending and overeating. Overindulging is proven to cause physical and emotional stress on individuals. 

In fact, a survey conducted by the Principal Financial Group found that 53 percent of those polled acknowledged that holiday spending stresses their finances.  Approximately, 11 percent added that it results in a “great deal of stress” on them financially. Talking with your spouse about spending limits and establishing a budget can be helpful.

Slow down.  With all the added demands of the holiday season, it can be difficult to take the time to reflect, relax, and enjoy. Research has shown that spending quality time with family is key to reducing stress. 

Narrator:  It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

Nurture an attitude of gratitude. Modeling gratitude for our children is vital. Research continues to show the positive health effects of counting and reflecting on our blessings. 

Remember others. The holiday season is the perfect time to teach our children the importance of thinking of and helping others.  Doing so helps them to learn compassion and empathy. Visit an elderly neighbor; go caroling at a local nursing home; send a Christmas card to someone who may not get another card. They can even donate toys to Toys for Tots or to another community aid organization. The possibilities are endless, but the results are priceless. 

Above all, strive to remember and celebrate the Reason for the season. May you and your family have a safe and blessed holiday season and New Year.

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:  for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Carry On, Brave Mother

by Anita DiGregory

Over the last few months, I have been blessed to have the opportunities to meet and talk with many moms from all across the country—new moms, seasoned (notice I didn’t say “old”) moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms. I have talked with moms who teared up as they shared how hard it is going to be this month as they drop their little one off at preschool for the first time…how heartbreaking it will be to walk away. And I have talked with moms who shared their stories about packing up and dropping off their children at college.

Through tears and smiles, these moms shared their fears and joys, sadness and pride, all those mom emotions that accompany packing up a child (who seems like only yesterday was toddling around trying to take first steps) and depositing them and their mounds of stuff on a college campus, and then somehow trying to say goodbye. I myself have had the pleasure (and sadness) this month to have two not-so-little ones spread their wings and head out to tackle their next adventure.

Being a mom is an immeasurable blessing, but it is also a miraculous paradox. It is forever holding on and letting go. It is multi-tasking a million different things in a day, while precisely focusing on the hearts in your care and trying to imprint little MOMents in your memory forever. It is being a powerful force in someone’s life and development and being invisible at the same time. It is smiling even when your heart is breaking. It is saying, “It’s all going to be okay,” to someone who really needs to hear those words, when quite honestly, you don’t really know if it will be. It is staying close enough to be there when they need you, but far enough away that they can make their own mistakes and (hopefully) learn from them.

Let’s face it: this mom club is pretty intensive. Unfortunately, there is no handbook, no “official how-to produce faith-filled, well-adjusted, happy, helpful, successful, caring adults” manual.  Believe me, there are times I would have happily paid all I had to flip to the back page of this life’s novel to make sure it all turns out okay.

Logically, you would think motherhood would get easier as they get older. In some ways, maybe it does. But honestly, for me, as my children have grown older and their struggles and challenges have gotten tougher, this motherly load has gotten heavier. 

Sometimes, I feel like a sponge, not the mysterious, colorful, intricate ones at the bottom of the ocean, but rather the old, smelly, porous thing that is pulled out every time there is a spill, and it still manages (despite its age and appearance) to soak it all up. 

I can actually feel myself just absorbing all the pain, sufferings, joys, and elations of those around me. Sometimes, it can feel really heavy. But did you know there is actually something known as a “mother sponge” in the baking process of sourdough bread. 

The mother sponge is actually the necessary, smelly, beginning process that allows the resulting sourdough bread to rise and produce its bold, unique taste. So, here we are in September with all the changes it will bring before us. I guess that is just a part of the exhilarating, exhausting rollercoaster ride that is motherhood: the sadness and tears, the worries and anxiety, the utter joy and celebration. 

For me, this rollercoaster has been quite intense these past few months. As I try to go forward after two more have left the nest, I must say it has been hard. This is the undeniable part of being a mother: to be a mother is to be a cheerleader, intercessor, consoler, crier, worrier, celebrator, confident, and resting place.

Whatever this season brings you, momma, fear not; know you are not alone; you are seen, and you are loved. “Breathe, sweet mom. Your kids need you. Not perfect. But you. With your worries. And your laughs. And your fails. And your try agains.  Your love. Your showing up.  That’s what matters. Breathe, sweet mom.”

                                ~Rachel Martin

The Heart of the Matter

by Anita DiGregory

The human heart is truly a miracle. It is one of the most complex organs in the body.  Beating nonstop, the heart is the hardest working muscle in the body.  Pumping continuously, it resides at the very center of the chest and the circulatory system. The entire rest of the body relies on the proper functioning of this hardworking muscle in order to perform and function properly. Unceasingly, the heart pumps blood into the arteries, assisting in the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues of the body. In order for the entire body to function and thrive, the heart is vital. 

The mother’s heart is a miraculous anomaly. Just as the heart lies at the center of the chest with all other parts relying upon it to do its job in order for them to function properly, so too resides the mother at the center of her family.  Unceasingly, she works for each member of the family as her role is vital to the proper functioning and development of each child.  However, to be a mother is to forever walk around with your heart outside your body. 

Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty said this of mothers: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can.

Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. . . What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother?”

To become a mother is to forever be changed; it is to no longer be one, but to forever be joined in this abundant and unconditional love with this miraculous little creation. Motherhood is MOMents of complete joy and utter sorrow.  It is sleepless nights, exhaustive days. It is sacrifice and hard work.  It is tears, frustration, and endless prayer. It is the hardest job there is.  But it is also the most rewarding. It is holding on and letting go.

Yet again, the time has flown by way to quickly. Those very long days evolved into lightening-speed years. And, here we are again. It is August. The month I have dreaded.  Unable to locate the Universal remote and stomp on the stop button or even slam on the slow down button, I have begrudgingly stumbled into the month I have avoided to even glance at to this point.

So many changes will happen.  Two little birds are spreading their wings and heading far out into the world. This is hard…so much to do, so many emotions. This mother’s heart is full. 

This isn’t my first ride on this “love and let go” rollercoaster.  One would think it would get easier. It hasn’t. And I certainly have not become immune to the pain that comes with letting go.  But, this is what we train them for, to be able to go out into the world to rise and to fall and to rise again, hopefully each time a little stronger, wiser, and more virtuous.

As a mom, you spend your life preparing your children for these moments.

You teach, you guide, you fail, you cry, you pray, you rise again. Dear moms, your jobs are crazy hard, but you are changing the world one soul at a time. Stay strong and keep the Faith. It isn’t easy to journey every single day with your heart walking around outside your body.

“Making a Memory, Creating a Legacy, Changing the World”

by Anita DiGregory

I was sick. Sick, sick…not playing hooky sick. Home from school sick. Probably another bout of strep throat; I can’t remember.  What I do remember was sitting in my little room, in my little chair,  at my little table, not happy I was stuck at home again. 

He walked in in his suit and tie and asked me how I was feeling.  Seeing I wasn’t happy, he quietly knelt down at the table, picked up a pencil, and drew a shape on it. A square with a triangle on top of it and an x inside it; it kind of looked like a little house. He slid it over to me. I looked at it, and back up at him. He smiled and asked me to draw it. It seemed simple enough.  As I picked up the pencil to begin, he added, “The catch is you have to draw the whole thing in one stroke; you can’t pick up your pencil or go over any lines more than once.”

I tried one way…nope. And another…no. I was frustrated and ready to give up, thinking there must be some trick to it. He encouraged me to keep trying.  Eventually with a little coaxing, I was able to complete the task and sat there proudly admiring my work.  For those few moments I wasn’t sick; I wasn’t sad; I was transported, engaged in a task and proud of my new found ability.

Isn’t it amazing how memories work? We live a lifetime of little interactions, moments like these.  Most we forget somewhere along the way.  But then there are these tiny moments, like old snapshots with yellowed, turned-up edges, that stand out so clearly in the scrapbooks of our lives. This one was of me and my dad.

You know what they say about dads and daughters is true.  No matter how cliche it sounds, daddies are their little girl’s first love, their first hero. It doesn’t matter how famous they are, what they do, or how much money they make. To a child, daddy is a prince, a protector, and a superhero all rolled into one.

My dad worked a lot. (He still does.) He was out early, worked some nights, and even some holidays. When he wasn’t at his job, he worked around the house. He worked hard. He fixed things, made them better. I always remember being really proud of him.

When I think of fathers, I am reminded of a song by Marie Bellet called “One Heroic Moment.” She writes:

“Sometimes it amazes him that a man can work so long.

He didn’t know till he had mouths to feed he could ever be that strong.

The alarm goes off and in disbelief he pulls it from the shelf

And he thinks how he’d give anything to just be somewhere else.

But in one heroic moment he lifts his sleepy head.

And with both his eyes still closed, he sits up in the bed

And reaching for the light he prays, “Today please be with me.

I know that this is nothing compared with Calvary…”

One heroic moment in an ordinary day

Minute after minute, little steps along the way

He knows he must deny himself for the man he needs to be

And each heroic moment slowly sets him free.”

And that is what fathers do.  Every day, in a million ways, they shape lives. They may not be perfect, and they may not wear capes, but they are heroes.

My husband is a father of seven, and grandfather of one. Sometimes, I smile and wonder to myself if he had any inkling of an idea when he was young, growing up with all brothers in a house of mostly guys, of what his life would be like someday. I think about that boy who grew up with family and good friends, playing outside late into the night, that guy who road motorbikes, played baseball and street hockey, lifted weights, and owned a landscaping company.  And I smile, wondering if he knew back then how he’d not only have to remember to put the toilet seat down, but have to make midnight runs for diapers, or emergency runs for feminine products for a house full of hormonal girls. Did that boy have any idea that someday he’d be grown and voluntarily driving a daughter four hours from home to stand in a line full of giddy, young girls with her to see her favorite singer, or driving to New York and sleeping in a car just so another daughter could have the opportunity to see her favorite football player (shockingly, not a Steeler) at training camp?

One heroic moment at a time, I have witnessed this man shape my childrens’ lives. I have watched him stay up ‘til the wee hours of the morning, teaching my kids math concepts they don’t understand, even when he had to get up early the next morning for work. He has cleaned up after sick children, who didn’t quite make it to the bathroom in time; spent nights in the emergency room with sick kids; taken pies in the face for a daughter’s birthday party; attended countless plays, recitals, games, and ceremonies; delivered a beautifully touching father of the groom speech (even though he hates speaking in public); and gone in late or not at all to make sure he is always where he is needed, whenever he is needed. If that isn’t the definition of a true superman, I don’t know what is. 

Now, my son is a new father.  Watching as he makes his way (often, sleeplessly) into this new realm, I have witnessed him follow in his father’s footsteps. Up at the crack of dawn, driving sometimes two hours in traffic to support his family, these are just some of the quiet sacrifices dads make each and every day.

A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to another superman when my cousin, Trey, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Trey was a loving husband and father of two young children. He fought that disease like he lived life, with Faith, incredible strength, hope, and courage. There were so many people at his viewing, the toilets at the funeral home went on the fritz and had to be shut down for repairs. At the funeral Mass, I listened to his lifelong best friend and his pastor speak about him and his life. Trey fought that cancer with all he had for a year and a half. He spent the last month in the hospital, unable to eat and only able to have ice chips. When he was finally released, he came home to family and friends, visited and laughed with them, went to Mass, tucked his kids into bed, and celebrated all the small things we take for granted every day. After, he passed away. Trey worked caringly, loved beautifully, and believed immeasurably. He touched people’s lives; he made a positive difference in the world. 

That is what dad’s do. Just like that drawing lesson, you may not be able to pick up that proverbial pencil and give up, or go over and redo any “lines” already drawn, but you figure it out, and you pass down that knowledge by example and with sacrifice and love. 

Here’s to all the dad’s out there.  You are making memories, creating a legacy, and changing the world, one heroic moment at a time.

Drawing by Christina DiGregory

by Anita DiGregory

“Building Cathedrals”

On April 15, 2019, a massive fire destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The devastating fire took nearly 15 hours to extinguish. Within that time, the roof and exquisite spire were destroyed, collapsing into the cathedral’s interior ceiling. When sections of this stone vaulting collapsed, the marble floor below was littered with burning roof.  Historic arches were damaged, and pews were destroyed. More than 400 firefighters fought to save the cathedral, while 100 more labored to save priceless relics and artifacts.  Stories of bravery, courage, and faith surfaced, detailing the heroes who worked tirelessly to save the cathedral and her treasures. In the end, the Blessed Sacrament was saved, as well as the two towers and most of the artifacts. Later, photos of the sunlight streaming through and illuminating the miraculous, surviving cross and altar appeared across social media outlets.

Perhaps one of the most captivating aspects of this tragic event was the reaction of not just the French people, but people young and old around the world.  Almost instantly, local crowds gathered in prayer and song.  Meanwhile, people around the world watched, waited, and prayed, shocked and saddened.

It seems obvious why such a tragedy would cause such great sadness for Catholics, who were mourning the loss of such a treasure of the Church: the sacred site of conversions, healing, prayer, and sacraments. But this tragedy reached across age, gender, and faiths, touching so many. One could surmise that the reason it has touched so many is because it means something deeply personal to each of us. Whether that reason was seeped in faith, memories, history, beauty, art, or something else, this devastation united us in thought, prayer, and reflection.

Personally, as I reflected on the tragic events, I was reminded of a short story I had read once. The Invisible Mother by Nicole Johnson details the story of a mom who was experiencing a bit of an existential crisis, as it seemed she had become invisible. It all started to make sense to her one day when her son referred to her as “nobody.”  A crossing guard had asked the youngster who was accompanying him; but instead of acknowledging his mom, he said, “Nobody.” 

This, she reasoned, was why no one ever listened to, acknowledged, or payed mind to her advice, comments, or commands…why no one ever offered to help…why she could be there serving, helping, managing, loving 24/7, but never really be seen.  She surmised she must indeed be invisible.

She continued to feel invisible until one night a girlfriend gifted her with a book on the Europe’s great cathedrals, and it was signed, “With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”

As a result, Johnson states: “I discovered what would become for me, four life-changing truths: (1.) No one can say who built the great cathedrals—we have no record of their names; (2.) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished; (3.) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit; (4.) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.”

Being a mom is hard, labor-intensive work. Whether you are a sleep-deprived new momma, a single mom trying to cover all the bases, a dedicated stay-at-home mom, an empty-nester trying to figure out where to go from here, a working mom struggling to do all you can at home and at work, a mom of littles or of not-so-littles or of both, a grieving mom, a step or foster momma, a grandmother, a mother caring for a sick child or a child with special needs, whatever the momma…this job is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long, and the work is intense. There will be newborn sleepless nights; there will be waiting up for a driving teenager sleepless nights; and there will be tossing and turning, praying, and worrying over your young adults sleepless nights.  There will be moments of sheer physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion, and moments of utter joy and elation. At times you are gonna feel sticky, smelly, exhausted, scared, anxious, embarrassed, unsure, and, yes, even invisible.  But be assured, you are not invisible. God sees all you do and so do others. Your work may be hard, but what you are doing is so very important. You are building a human. So, continue building in love; the reward is immeasurable. 

Johnson adds, “As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right—which is why we may feel invisible some days. But one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.”

“Love of a Mother” by Christina DiGregory.

“Spring Cleaning”

by Anita DiGregory

Well, it’s that time of the year again! We made it through another winter. Spring has sprung. It is staying lighter later. The temperatures are slowing climbing, and the kids are just begging to get outside and break free from the cabin fever that set in over the winter. But it would not be spring without one other time-honored tradition: Spring Cleaning. 

Do the mere words strike horror in the hearts of your family members? Would your kids, young and old, rather feign the flu than even imagine themselves spending a weekend cleaning out the garage? At times, does it seem more difficult to actually get the kids to help than it would be to just do it yourself? 

If that’s the case, you aren’t alone. A 2014 study conducted by Braun Research, Inc., found that out of 1,001 U.S. adults surveyed, 82 percent of them had regular chores to do as a child; however, only 28 percent required their children to complete chores. And, who doesn’t get that? With all the homework, sports, and extracurricular activities, who has time for chores? But are we doing a disservice to our children?

Consistently, scientific research has proven that having even children as young as three help with chores is actually extremely beneficial to them (and, no, I am not making that up…even if the kids think I am). A paper published by the University of Minnesota states, “Research by Marty Rossmann, emeritus associate professor of family education, shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. By involving children in tasks, parents teach their children a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives.”

According to American Psychology Association (APA) Divisions Leanne Arsenault, “Within the family system, childhood chores have been shown to have a positive developmental impact on children of all ages…Chores and housework are linked to happiness in children as they feel they are making meaningful contributions to their families.” She further adds, “…one way to encourage children to want to do chores is to present chores as not only a contribution to the family but a way of showing that all the members of the family care for each other by expressing support through action.”

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, author, psychologist, speaker, and mother of four, adds that chores are an essential life skill. Kennedy-Moore states that in addition to contributing to the good of the family, “Research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.”

Here are some tips from the experts on how to make spring cleaning and overall chores a success.

Make a Chart. Put some time and thought into age-appropriate tasks that the children can complete with minimal help. Have realistic expectations. “The tasks should not be too overwhelming,” states Rossmann. In order for children to gain a sense of accomplishment, the tasks should manageable. Making a chart makes it easier for children to grasp.

Be Specific. Give specific instructions. Instead of instructing your children to clean their room, it is more helpful (especially for younger children) to be specific as to what exactly they should do to clean their room. For example, it is easier for them to understand if you tell them to (1.) Make their bed, (2.) Put their toys away where they belong, and (3.) Put their dirty socks in the hamper.

Lead by Example. Work together as a family. Children learn best by observing. In the beginning, it is often helpful to show children how to perform certain tasks like folding the towels correctly or sweeping the floor.

Be Proud. Tell your children how much you appreciate their hard work. Thank them. Tell them what a huge help they have been to the family. Little ones love to help and take pride in a job well done.   

Reward a Job Well Done.  Motivation is key to helping children complete household tasks. However, studies have shown that monetary payment is not always the best motivator. Rossmann suggests, “They should not be made to do the tasks for an allowance.” When children are encouraged to help for altruistic reasons, such as positively contributing to the family, they receive more satisfaction and higher self-worth as a result. However, because everyone is working together for the benefit of the family, offering a fun family reward is both motivational and valuable. Some fun ideas include a family outing, a movie night, or homemade sundaes for everyone.

Unless you are Marie Kondo, spring cleaning isn’t usually a fun or easy task. But working together with your children to tidy up the house is not only beneficial to the family, it helps teach them life skills and gives them a strong and healthy sense of accomplishment.

So, as you sit there trying to resist the urge to refold all the towels so lovingly done by your six-year-old, just breathe, relax, and realize you are doing so much more than tidying up; you are raising healthy, happy little humans who are learning the importance of thinking of and helping others.

How to Be Kind in an Unkind World

by Anita DiGregory

Last week, after a particularly bad day, I settled in on the couch with my little ones for a much-needed movie night. After scrolling through our choices, we finally decided on an older movie (and one of my favorite family flicks), Evan Almighty, the lesser-known (but in my opinion, better) sequel to Bruce Almighty.(For a parent’s guide to the movie, see: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0413099/parentalguide?ref_=tt_stry_pg).

The movie tells the story of Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), television news anchor turned congressman. Newly elected, Baxter wants to “change the world” for the better, and he has grandiose plans on just how to do it. That is when God (Morgan Freeman) steps in to gently guide Baxter along the proper path of changing the world…a very different way than he had envisioned, with acts of kindness. 

Although released in 2007, the movie, complete with scheming political leaders set on their own personal agenda, biased, opinionated television media, and intolerance, seems quite apropos today. Although the irony was lost on my children, they enjoyed the light-hearted comedy. And, hopefully they picked up on the moral of the story, because, as it turns out, acts of random kindness really can change the world, and this world could use that right now.

In 2016, Sesame Workshop conducted a survey on kindness.  They issued the following statement:  “We chose to shine the spotlight on kindness because we have noticed an increasing number of news stories on anger, fear, bullying, and violence, as well as an overall sense of negativity permeating social discourse. We read research indicating that narcissism is on the rise, empathy is on the decline, and that middle and high school students think their parents prioritize grades and happiness over being kind to others. We also read articles about the importance of empathy and social-emotional skills.”

According to the survey, entitled “K Is for Kind: A National Survey on Kindness and Kids,” over 70 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers often worry that the world is an unkind place for children. The survey found that both parents and teachers believe people do not go out of their way to help others. Well over 70 percent believe that kindness is essential for future success, stating that it is more important for children to learn and model kindness than for them to be academically successful. 

In fact, scientific studies continue to prove the importance and positive effects of kindness. For example, acts of kindness produce chemicals in the body that are shown to lower blood pressure, stress, depression, and anxiety, while increasing optimism, energy, happiness, and self-esteem. 

According to Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.” She adds that kindness has been found to lessen the incidence of aches and pains while protecting overall health.

Yet, in a time when news outlets spotlight stories of hatred and social media, and internet news sites are filled with angry, nasty comments, can we even make a difference; how can we “change the world” for the better? Each of us can commit to kindness. Think of what would happen if we chose to perform just three acts of kindness each day.  What if we challenged our spouses and loved ones to do the same?  What if we taught our children to commit to this as well? 

Research has found that kindness is teachable and contagious. Often acts of kindness lead to a “pay it forward” ripple effect. This means that one kind act can lead to dozens within a very short amount of time.

Lizzie Velasquez, author of Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World, states, “Kindness starts in the home.” Kindness begins with empathy, the ability to imagine how you would feel in the other person’s place. Parents can choose to teach and model empathy, compassion, gratitude, respect, and kindness to their children. Here is some advice from the experts on how to instill these virtues in your children.

Talk about it. Depending on their age, children may not be able to give a name to an emotion. When watching a show or reading a book with your child, talk about the characters’ feelings. Discuss their facial expressions, behaviors, and actions. Ask your child questions such as “How do you think she feels?” and “What makes you think she feels happy?”

Model Empathy and Kindness.  Children learn more from what they experience than what they are told to do. Strive to not only show them empathy and kindness, but also allow them to see you behaving this way with others.

Be a Coach. Provide your children with opportunities for kindness. Give them ideas for showing compassion and kindness in school and the community. Talk about their experiences and offer them tips and advice on developing those skills. Start a “Kindness Challenge” for your family.

We may not all be congressmen, but we can still do our part to change the world for the better, one random act of kindness at a time.

by Anita DiGregory

“The Mommy Survival Guide for the Month of February”

Okay, so it is no secret that February is definitely not my favorite month of the year. It’s dark and cold; generally the pretty white snowfalls of December and January have accumulated into giant muddy, slushy heaps. The cars, roadways, and walkways are covered in black sludge and salt that always seems to find its way into the house. 

Of course, let’s not forget that little scruffy weather prognosticator (otherwise known as Punxsutawney Phil), the chunky rodent, who always seems to delight in announcing many more wonderful weeks of winter. 

And then there’s the big Valentine’s Day plopped smack dab in the middle of the month…the time when (depending on the age of your kids) you get to add more to the to-do list, fun things like (1) go searching for the perfect little (cool but cute) cards to be handed out, and, undoubtedly, (2) stay up all night signing them all, and then, (3) prepare the perfect snack for the big party. Ah, yes, Valentine’s Day, the day the little ones get to feast on cupcakes, candy, and sugar, only to be stuck inside with all that energy because it is just too cold to go out. 

Ah, February, it’s the month that sticks in an extra “r” and sometimes even an extra day, just to throw us all off. And here is the big question; why is it that February is the shortest month on the calendar but actually feels like it goes on forever and ever and ever with no end in sight?

So, what do we do when it’s not quite apocalyptic outside, but we are going more than just a little stir crazy inside? Here’s some tips from the experts.

Get Out. Often the weather makes it difficult, but when possible try to get out of the house at least for a little while each day.  Take the kids to the library.  Go on a fieldtrip to a museum.  Meet some friends.  Go bowling.  See a movie.  Go ice-skating.  Visit a family member.

Get Moving. The physical and emotional benefits of exercise are innumerable and unquestionable.  Exercise increases energy levels and boosts mood enhancing chemicals in the body. When possible, try walking outside in the sun. But when the weather makes it impossible to get out for a brisk walk or even to get to the gym, try a workout at home.  These days there are so many options from which to choose. From DVDs to apps to live streaming, the choices are endless. Many choices offer workouts for all levels, from beginner to advanced. For example, instructor Leslie Sansone offers walking workouts that the whole family can do at home. 

Let the Light Shine In. Getting out during the day when the sun is brightest is helpful. Doctors do, however, recommend wearing sunscreen even during the winter.  When inside, keep the blinds open to let in the sunlight.

Talk to Your Doctor. If winter months are especially tough for you, try talking about different health options with your physician. Some options doctors may recommend are light therapy, vitamin D supplements, or even aromatherapy.

Get Rid of the Clutter. Research has found that clutter has a negative effect on our mood and, in fact, causes stress and anxiety. Try taking 20 minutes each day to declutter, or work on a certain area in your home each day.

Keep a Journal. Evidence suggests that keeping a journal can have health benefits. Additionally, reflecting on and adding three things each day for which you are grateful has proven beneficial to our mental health.

Plan a Vacation. Studies have shown that vacations reduce stress, improve cardiovascular health, increase productivity and creativity, and facilitate better sleep. But, surprisingly, the health benefits are not just limited to the get-away, but actually begin with the planning.  Studies show that just looking forward to a trip has many physical and mental health benefits.

Help Someone. Did you know that doing good is actually good for you? Go ahead and look it up. Study after study, scientists find that the positive effects of helping others is undeniable. Benefits include reducing stress and anxiety, boosting the immune system, increasing longevity, reducing chronic pain, providing a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and decreasing depression. Surprisingly, these benefits have a long-lasting effect, continuing long after the helpful actions are completed.

Talk to Someone. Winter can make us feel even more isolated. It is especially important during these times to reach out to a friend or family member. Just talking with someone can help reduce stress and make us feel less alone.

Don’t Ignore Your Spiritual Life. Statistics show that more than 55 percent of Americans pray every day. Many people attest to the importance of prayer in their personal lives. Recent studies have found that prayer, meditation, and reflection do have many health benefits such as decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Whatever you do to get through the bleak days of winter, please always know (1) the sun will come out again; (2) in this whole crazy universe, there is only one you and you are pretty amazing; and (3) you are loved!

So, hang in there; brighter days are just around the corner.

“Home for the Holidays”

by Anita DiGregory

Snow, twinkling lights, Christmas music playing on the radio. Just like that, the holidays are upon us. I love this time of year! But it can also be a very stressful season, especially for moms and dads. The struggle to meet regular schedules and family needs doesn’t take a holiday; instead, parents must find time for cleaning, prepping, baking, traveling, finding the perfect gifts, attending and hosting parties, and taking part in festivities.

While children may sail happily through the season with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, parents instead have the countdown time clock ticking loudly in their heads. (Imagine the movie Speed; replace the bus with the family SUV.). Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but with financial strains, extended family friction, crowds, lines, and holiday shopping, it isn’t always the scene painted in T’was the Night Before Christmas, either.

According to The New York Post, this holiday anxiety is termed “festive stress.” Citing a study commissioned by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, 31 percent of Americans classify the season as frantic, with 49 percent of moms suffering stress to create an exceptional holiday experience, and 6 in 10 moms finding it hard to take the time to enjoy the season.

Quality family time may be the cure for “festive stress.” According to the research studies, spending time together reduces stress levels. It also builds self-confidence, creates strong bonds, and nurtures a healthy lifestyle.

Below are some ideas that may help de-stress the season and enable you to slow down and enjoy the little blessings all around you.

Bake together. Cookies, fruit cakes, pies, or whatever your family favorites may be, some of the most delicious memories come from baking with mom and dad.  Family baking is not only fun, it can be educational and informative, teaching children concepts such as measuring, nutrition, food handling, and safety.

Create greeting cards. Get out the scissors, glue, stickers, construction paper, and even pictures or text from last year’s recycled cards. Many kids love to get messy and be creative, and this project can be both. Plus, making cards helps with reading and spelling.  Grandparents, neighbors, and friends will be delighted to receive these priceless, handmade masterpieces.

Make and deliver gifts. This doesn’t have to be costly. Many sites, such as Pinterest, have fun and inexpensive gift-making ideas. Whether it be jars with hot cocoa fixings, homemade candles, or tins filled with candies or cookies, everyone will enjoy these personalized items delivered with love.

Read together. Get a warm blanket, some hot chocolate, and cuddle together as you enter a new land or visit a different time period in your favorite holiday storybook.   Family read-alouds are not only fun, they can foster a love for reading that can last a lifetime. Choose a classic like A Christmas Carol, Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or an old family favorite.

Have a movie night. Light a fire, pop some popcorn, and settle in together to enjoy a family favorite holiday movie.

Take a drive. With Christmas right around the corner, many homes and businesses are decorated with lights. Put on some holiday music and take a family drive to explore the sights and sounds of the season.

Teach a lesson. Often, Christmas can be a time of the “gimmies.” Take the opportunity to teach your children the joy of giving.  Help them collect some of their own toys and clothes to donate to others.  Many churches or businesses offer opportunities to sponsor families in need or to collect for the homeless or Toys for Tots. Talk to your children about the importance of giving and helping others. Perhaps they may even enjoy taking some of their own money to the store to purchase a gift for donation. By encouraging them to think of others, children learn compassion and empathy, virtues that are extremely important, especially in today’s world.

Make a visit. The holidays can be a very lonely time for many. Take the kids to visit a local hospital, an elderly neighbor, or a retirement home. Sing carols, play a board game, or just chat. Just having a visitor can bring some Christmas joy and brighten someone’s day.

Get outside. Studies show that physical activity helps reduce anxiety and stress. Bundle up and take a holiday walk and look for Christmas decorations. Go for a hike, or, if possible, go play in the snow together.

Help someone. Talk to your kids about the importance of helping others in need. Shovel a neighbor’s sidewalk. Help an older relative decorate their home.

Reflect together. Talk to your children about the true meaning of the season. Many churches host special holiday events, such as live nativities or Christmas concerts or pageants. Take time to pray together and celebrate special holiday traditions.

This season, like most, will be gone in the blink of an eye. By counting our blessings and spending quality time with our children, we can create memories and instill virtues that will last a lifetime. Taking time to breathe, remembering what is really important, and celebrating the true reason for the season will turn any Scrooge’s “ba humbugs” into a “Merry Christmas, one and all!”

 

“Importance of An Attitude of Gratitude”

by Anita DiGregory

 “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~William Arthur Ward

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the spirit of gratitude is typically celebrated in the month of November. However, increasing scientific studies are verifying the importance of fostering and demonstrating an attitude of gratitude year-round.  Science continues to confirm the myriad of benefits from gratitude, including, but not limited to: improved health, happier disposition, career boosts, better sleep, and longer life, as well as increased energy, spirituality, relaxation, self-esteem, and positive feelings, and decreased anxiety, depression, self-centeredness, and envy. Remarkably, scientists studying gratitude have witnessed the correlation between thankfulness and better marriages, stronger friendships, deeper relationships, better decision-making, productivity, and overall management. With so many positive effects, gratitude is a simple, yet powerful, characteristic we can strive to practice, emulate, and model, not only for ourselves but also for the benefit of our families, children, and communities.

“It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me…if much has been denied me, much, very much, has been given me.” ~Helen Keller

 

Of course, life isn’t always easy, especially in today’s climate.  In fact, in today’s world, an attitude of gratitude can almost seem counterintuitive or even countercultural; however, here lies the powerful paradox. In a time when there is so much anger, discontent, judgement, and pain, this humble, seemingly inconsequential virtue becomes a powerhouse of healing.

In his article “3 Reasons You Should Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude,” Adam Toren states, “Adopting a gratitude practice takes you out of a problem and towards a solution. It removes you from complaining mode and into a best-outcomes mindset. That’s a skill you need in your life and in your business decision-making. Whole companies and industries have been created from seeing solutions where others only saw obstacles.”

 

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Focusing on gratitude is a life skill that benefits not just the person practicing the virtue but also that individual’s community. The proven benefits are so numerous that companies are providing gratitude workshops to their employees.

 

“I am happy because I’m grateful. I choose to be grateful. That gratitude allows me to be happy. ~Will Arnett

 

Gratitude is contagious. People who practice thankfulness tend to be positive individuals. As a result, others want to be around them.  Those who demonstrate gratitude tend to create an encouraging ripple effect, which can be felt by those around them. This is even more evident within families and among children.

 

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ~A.A. Milne

 

Fostering gratitude and instilling this virtue in our children is beneficial to all. Practicing thankfulness helps children develop a positive outlook. Teaching our kids to reflect on the day’s blessings helps them to appreciate more and to stop taking life’s gifts for granted. Practicing gratitude can also foster increased compassion and altruism. Teaching the art of gratitude can be quite simple and rewarding.

 

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” ~Maya Angelou

 

Model thankfulness. Children are always watching. By mindfully exhibiting thankful behaviors day-to-day, we can teach our children the virtue of gratitude. Looking someone in the eye, smiling, and saying “thank you” are all ways to exemplify gratitude. Allowing our children to observe us leaving a positive review, completing a complimentary comment card, or even informing a local business manager of their employee’s helpful service empowers our kids to become grateful as well.

Count your blessings. Take some time, perhaps in the evening, to reflect on the day. Set aside in your mind those blessings, small and large, from the last 24 hours.  Help your children reflect on their day and center on three things for which they are thankful. Teaching our children how to take time each day to do this helps them to not only focus on the positives, but to also celebrate them.

Create a journal of blessings.  Journaling can help in the articulation of feelings. It also reinforces memories, emotions, and feelings of thankfulness. A gratitude journal does not require a huge time commitment. Studies have shown positive results from merely five minutes a day of journaling.  Journals can be handwritten or typed.  Even young children can participate by illustrating in a sketchpad their thoughts on the day’s blessings.

Form a habit. Practice makes perfect, so practice the attitude of gratitude. By making thankfulness a daily practice, it becomes an automatic behavior and part of who we are.

Have share time. Gratitude is contagious. When parents model gratitude, children will be positively influenced, learn how to be grateful, and mimic that behavior.  By setting a regular time each day, such as at dinner or before bed, for each family member to share their blessings, parents can help foster the spirit of gratitude, its importance, and its positive effects.

 

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~John F. Kennedy

by Anita DiGregory

“Lessons Learned from the Chicken Guy”

It was one of those horrible, awful, no good, really bad days. I was rushed, not Mary Poppins “spit spot” rushed, more like Dirty Harry “make my day” rushed! The day was a recipe for disaster…start with a frazzled, working mom of six…add in hosting a get-together at the house…mix in that the house is already a huge mess…stir in some extended family drama brewing in the background…top it off with no idea of how many guests will be arriving the next day for said event, and you have the recipe for my day:  the perfect storm!

I was more than just a little stressed when I headed off for the day, my giant to-do list in hand. I had to drop off my daughter at work, shop for gifts, shop for food, pick up my daughter, drop the carload of supplies off, get to Mass, and get home to resume cleaning and prepping, all within a matter of hours.

Well, drop-off and gift shopping didn’t go as planned, so by the time I arrived at the store, I was focused on getting it all done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Grabbing a cart, I mapped out in my head each stop I would make, the last one being the meat department where I would grab the rotisserie chickens for the gluten-free chicken salad.  And that, my friends, is where it happened…right there in the meat department.

After running all over the place, adding this and that to the cart, I stopped by to grab the chickens.  The few that were left had been hanging out for a while. So, I grabbed a couple more groceries from here and there and came back…still no fresh chickens. The checkout lines were growing, and it was getting dangerously close to my daughter’s pick-up time. I zoomed around and made a couple additions to the cart. I returned and still no chickens! Now, by this time, I was pretty confident that the store employee tasked with preparing and stocking the chickens, whom I affectionately shall refer to as “the chicken guy,” had seen me in my harried trips back and forth through the store. I was also pretty sure I had unintentionally irritated him on past shopping expeditions by sifting carefully through the chickens, looking for the most well done bird. But, today, with the time clock clicking loudly in my head and visions of my daughter standing out on the street waiting for me, today after he carefully and methodically prepared the chickens for sale and placed them out and I scooped up the first four without delay, TODAY was the day he chose to counsel me on my chicken-choosing strategies.

Well that, my friends, was it. Mic drop, game over. That quick little interaction was the proverbial straw that broke this harried mother’s back. As I pushed my overloaded cart to the register and waited in line, I played the interaction over again in my head.  By the time I had everything in the car, I was wondering why, out of all the customers this store must see, why did my chicken choices frustrate this person so much he chose to counsel me. Having safely retrieved my daughter, I continued to focus on the day’s dramas and felt increasingly insecure and upset.  There was a huge backup on the way home; we had to take a detour and just barely made it to Mass on time.

Silent and still for the first time that day, I felt the tears well up and then the insecurities circled round; “You are a mess…even the chicken guy hates you!” Okay, this was definitely not my finest moment, but true nonetheless. Now, in reality, the chicken guy had probably had a bad day, and I had definitely had a bad day. But in those moments, all my insecurities and baggage that I carry from other hurts translated in my mind to, “Everyone hates me!”

God and my family helped me sort through things and see the truth. But here’s the kicker: Later that very evening, I ran into a good friend who happens to be a new mom. After talking for a while, she confided through her tears that she felt like she couldn’t do anything right, and she believed no one liked her. It broke my heart that this sweet, loving, devoted mom was feeling this way. Having felt this exact way just hours earlier, I understood how she was feeling and convinced her that her assertions could not have been further from the truth; in fact, she is a wonderful mother and friend, and people really do care about her.

I am not sure why we moms fall into this trap so often. It isn’t like this mom thing isn’t hard enough!  Maybe we need to do a better job of building each other up and supporting one another. Sometimes, we need to work on changing how we look at things, our paradigm.

Dr. Stephen Covey said, “Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world… If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm.”

So, sometimes, we might have to force ourselves to realize that maybe the chicken guy was just having a bad day, too.

“A Resting Place”

by Anita DiGregory

We all have our heroes, our role models, those who inspire us, and those who we aspire to imitate. Ever since I was a little girl, I had a special love for Mary. As the Blessed Mother, she was my heavenly mother; I confided in her, telling her my scariest fears, hopes, and dreams.

As I have grown older, my love and admiration for her have only grown. I still confide in her, asking her to whisper my prayers to her Son. But now that I am a mother myself, she has become to me the Model of Motherhood. Think about it; she has experienced it all!

Newly pregnant, she traveled (probably on foot) to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, where she stayed to help care for her, support her, and eventually assist her in the care of her newborn baby. Later, when she was in her ninth month of pregnancy, she accompanied her husband, traveling far from home to a foreign land where her husband would have to beg for shelter. As if that was not enough, she then gave birth in a manger.  She swaddled her baby, loved Him, and protected Him. A brand new mother, Mary held her Son in her loving arms, and she became his resting place.

What a mom! But it does not stop there. She had to relocate to a new home with her family. She suffered terribly when her young child was lost and could not be found for days. She had compassion for a young bride and groom who ran out of wine at their wedding feast, and she interceded for them to her Son.

She must have suffered silently when her Son grew older and traveled far from home, spreading a message that often earned him many enemies. And, I imagine after long trips away, he would return to her and receive her motherly love and care, and even then, she would become his resting place. Eventually, Mary witnessed her Son being bullied and tortured mercilessly. Helplessly, she watched him suffer a long, agonizing death.  And after, they placed his lifeless body in her arms, where she again became his resting place.

These days, I find more and more that she is my resting place as well. She gets it; she’s been there.  And with her I can (almost) exhale.

Let’s face it: this motherhood thing is super hard. Logically, you would think it would get easier as they get older. Maybe in some respects it does. But honestly, for me, as my children have gotten older and their struggles and challenges have gotten tougher, this motherly load has gotten a lot heavier. My mother-in-law was visiting recently and randomly remarked of her own experience, “As a mother, you never stop worrying…no matter how old they get” (and her oldest is 57).

Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are MOMents of unimaginable joy, celebrating in their happiness, successes, and triumphs! Recently, I had the absolute blessing of becoming a grandmother for the first time! The delight of watching my baby become a father is indescribable, not to mention the joy of meeting, holding, and loving my new grandchild. She is the most beautiful blessing!

But before she was born, I witnessed her mom suffer tremendously for months with terrible “morning sickness” morning, noon, and middle of the night. As my daughter-in-law suffered a long, hard pregnancy, she provided for this beautiful baby a safe resting place. After days in labor, with hours of pushing, their precious baby arrived. And when she was born, the hospital staff (who were all amazing) laid that sweet little one on her mom, skin-to-skin, where this newborn found her safe resting place.

I guess that demonstrates the exhilarating, exhausting rollercoaster ride that is motherhood: the sadness and tears, the worries and anxiety, the utter joy and celebration. This is the undeniable part of being a mother: to be a mother is to be a cheerleader, intercessor, consoler, crier, worrier, celebrator, confident, and resting place. (This is why, even at my advanced age, I still feel better when talking with my mom!)

Personally, this rollercoaster ride has been quite intense these past few months, lots of changes. As I try to prepare physically and emotionally for another little one leaving the nest, I must say it has been rough.  Today, at Mass, she laid her head on my shoulder, just like she had done when she was little…and I soaked in the joy of that MOMent…and again being her resting place.

“There Goes My Life”…Because Kenny Chesney Just Gets It

by Anita DiGregory

Can someone please answer this question for me? Why? Why? WHY do the months of January and February seem to drag on for what feels like an eternity, while the months of June and July speed by in the blink of an eye? I have consulted the calendar! Theoretically, they both appear to have the same amount of days in a week, same amount of hours in a day. So what is the deal with that?

I think I may have cracked the code and figured it out…at least for me, personally. See, during those winter months, I am just starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel, and I am pushing ever so hard to reach it! However, those summer months fly at lightning speed, because no matter how much I want to live (and set up permanent shop) in denial-land, August is there waiting for me, complete with all its forms, fees, and back-to-school meetings…and then, BOOM, just like that, I am sucked back into that long, dark tunnel!

Okay, okay…it isn’t really that bleak and sinister. August isn’t really circling around me while the theme music from Jaws plays in the background. But sometimes, especially at 3:00 a.m., when I wake in a panic, heart and mind racing, with an ever-growing “to-do” list running through my brain, it sure feels that way, maybe even more so this year.

Yup, as much as I’d like to deny it, August is upon us. With it, another little bird is about to spread her wings and leave the nest, flying northward for her freshman year.  With her will go another very large chunk of my heart. It is truly one of those miracles of motherhood, that we can still walk around and function when so many pieces of our heart are missing; but that’s just what we do. We don’t have a choice.

For my husband and I, this isn’t our first ride on the “send your baby off to college” coaster, but it just doesn’t get any easier. You’d think it would! Maybe I have learned some lessons along the way (valuable lessons like: they aren’t really going to use an iron, so don’t buy them one—even if the college prep sheet lists it—and they probably aren’t going to need the biggest meal plan).  Maybe I am a little more prepared for the mid-terms and finals panic calls or the homesick calls. Maybe not.

Here’s what I think I am supposed to learn. I have to learn to let them fly, which sounds good in theory, right? But letting them fly also includes all the turbulence, soaring, and crashing that come with flight.  See, that is where the problem lies. I want to protect them from the falls, the mistakes, the pain. But, maybe, they learn more from their struggles than from their successes. Maybe, in trying to protect them from getting the same scars that I have, I am denying them huge life lessons that they need to succeed. Maybe, I need to pray more and trust Him more.  Maybe, these are the lessons I need to learn. Problem is, I am not a very quick learner!

You know, I used to think that when I was knee-deep in diapers and completely sleep-deprived that that just had to be the hardest of times. Deep in the diaper trenches, with bags under bags under the eyes, no shower for days, and no rest in sight…there is absolutely no denying that that season of life is incredibly hard and stress-filled. But with three heading out into adulthood, this mom thing just isn’t getting any easier. I am still sleep-deprived—only now it is because I am waiting for one of them to arrive safely at home, or because I am praying for them all and all their different needs, or because I am just worrying about them. And for the most part, their struggles are a lot bigger now, their decisions carry a lot heavier consequences, their heartaches and pain generally can’t be healed with a hug and a Band-Aid anymore. Yup, this mom thing is crazy hard. I don’t know, maybe I am doing it all wrong (a haunting question I have pondered since they were babies!).

But, here’s the thing: I don’t know how to do it any differently, and I don’t think I would even if I could. They have my heart and all that comes with it (the hugs, the tears, the lectures, the scolding, the celebrating, and everything in between). And as much as it hurts to walk around with human-being sized holes in your heart, I wouldn’t do it any other way.

Making July a True Blast

by Anita DiGregory

Mmmm…July! What a wonderful month. Typically, the pace of life slows just a bit. As we begin to relax and exhale into summer, we, as a country, come together to celebrate the birth of our nation.

This year, we observe our 242nd birthday—that’s a lot of candles!  During those years, our country has experienced joys, sorrows, successes, heartache, victories, sufferings, triumphs, and rebirths. Through it all, in July, as a nation we unite to celebrate independence and freedom, dedication and service, equality and diversity, family and friends.

With parades, concerts, memorials, and fireworks, we proudly commemorate our nation, our flag, and that for which it stands. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This month as you and your family hit the beach or pool, visit local carnivals, host cookouts, or attend local firework displays, I wish you all a safe and blessed time, filled with beautiful family memory-makers. Here are some additional fun activities to share with the ones you love.

 

Share a story. Studies have repeatedly shown the importance and benefits of reading aloud with our children. These storybooks make explaining the birth of our nation more understandable to even young readers (and listeners): The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia Pingry, The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing, The Berenstain Bears God Bless our Country by Mike Berenstain, and The Fourth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh.

 

Host some games. Celebrate with family, friends, and neighbors. Try hosting backyard olympics. Games could include a volleyball tournament, water balloon battle, egg toss, kick-the-can game, relays, and a hopscotch competition.

Fashion food festivities.Organize a fun, old-fashioned block party. Invite neighbors to bring their favorite foods to share. Or host a family barbeque. Create yummy red, white, and blue favorites. Finish the night with some delicious, gooey s’mores.

 

 

Let your red, white, and blue shine. Decorate your home in our nation’s colors. Have the kids help you display the flag. Take the opportunity to talk to them about our flag, its history and importance, and how to care for it.

 

Say “Thank you.” Take the opportunity to talk to your children about those who have served and continue to serve our country. Have them write a thank you letter or make a card or gift, and help them deliver it to a relative or neighbor who has served our country.

 

Take some time to reflect. Visit a memorial. Take a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. Visit your church and light a candle or say a prayer for our country and those who have sacrificed for freedom.

 

Create colorful crafts. Kids of all ages love crafts, and what better time for crafting than in celebration of the fourth of July. The Web and Pinterest have lots of ideas from which to choose, and they don’t have to be expensive. We took a trip to the local dollar store for supplies and created a patriotic lantern, centerpiece, and wreath. The kids had a blast and love seeing their creations decorating the house.

by Anita DiGregory

“A Tribute to Dads”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 72 million fathers across the country. This month, as we prepare to celebrate dads, their importance in society, communities, and families is palpable and unmistakable.

Recent research points to the importance of an engaged father in the development of his children.  According to Pennsylvania State University Sociologist Paul Amato, continued research points to “the father effect,” a term depicting the many positive effects that children with engaged fathers experience.  He adds, “Fathers and mothers are children’s most important teachers. Fathers might ask themselves, what are my children learning about life in general, about morality, about how family members should treat one another, about relationships from observing me every day?”

This sentiment seems to be shared by many. Former President George W. Bush, who himself is a father of two, stated, “By providing their sons and daughters with a positive example, fathers help give their children the necessary foundation they need to make wise decisions throughout their lives.”

Happy Father’s Day to all those dads out there working tirelessly and heroically for their families.  Although you may not own a red cape, you rise each day and fight the good fight. And, even though your days may be filled with traffic, board meetings, hard labor, dirty diapers, minimal sleep, and even teenage eye-rolling and attitudes, your dedication and commitment is making a positive difference…a difference you may not see now, but a life-altering difference. Thank you!  As a tribute, here are some words of wisdom from some famous TV dads.

 

Words of Wisdom from TV Dads

Philip Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)…“Before you criticize somebody, you find out what he’s all about.”

Ray Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond)…“Look, you want to know what marriage is really like? Fine. You wake up—she’s there. You come back from work—she’s there. You fall asleep—she’s there. You eat dinner—she’s there. You know? I mean, I know that sounds like a bad thing. But, it’s not. Not if it’s the right person.”

Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch)…“It may be the hip thing to call parents by their first names, but around here, we’re still Mom and Dad.” “Fighting isn’t the answer to anything. If it were, the biggest and the strongest would always be right. That doesn’t make any sense does it? Reasoning. Calm, cool reasoning. That’s a lot better than violence. And it’s the only sensible way to settle differences.” “Never open the front door without asking who it is.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Ward Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver)…“You are never too old to do goofy stuff.” “A thing is either right or it’s wrong. And if it is wrong in the first place…then it is still wrong no matter how many people do it.” “There’s nothing old-fashioned about politeness.”

Dan Connor (Roseanne)…“Someday, my precious angel, you will be a parent and you will realize that every day is Kid’s Day.”

Howard Cunningham (Happy Days)…“Richard, there is one thing that women like men to do. It’s what they call “a romantic gesture.” We men call it “eating crow.” ”Well, what can I say? Both of our children are married now, and they’re starting out to build lives of their own. And I guess when you reach a milestone like this you have to have to reflect back on, on what you’ve done and, and what you’ve accomplished. Marion and I have not climbed Mount Everest or written a great American novel. But we’ve had the joy of raising two wonderful kids, and watching them and their friends grow up into loving adults. And now, we’re gonna have the pleasure of watching them pass that love on to their children. And I guess no man or woman could ask for anything more.”

Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie)…“Everybody wants to know that they are loved, or needed, or cared about.”

Jack Pearson (This Is Us)…“Sometimes they’ll make good decisions. Sometimes bad decisions. And every once in a while, they’re gonna do something that’s gonna knock us off our feet. Something that exceeds even our wildest dreams.” “The kids are gonna be fine. We’ve shown them a healthy marriage…We’re their parents, Bec, but at the end of the day, what happens to them, how they turn out, it’s bigger than us.”

Danny Tanner (Full House)…“Just remember, when children seem the least lovable, it means they need love the most.”

Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)…“You do the best you can and that’s all I’ll ever ask of you.” “It don’t take courage to be a winner. It DOES take courage to be a good loser. Now, you wanna be a good loser, you’ll be proud of your friends that DID win and you’ll congratulate ‘em for it.”

Tim Taylor (Home Improvement)…“We are enlightened men, and enlightened men share in the household responsibilities, right?” “(On helping with math homework)…why don’t they just call it the bottom number? The denominator… that sounds like a Schwarzenegger movie doesn’t it?”

Carl Winslow (Family Matters)…“When you make a mistake, you fess up to it. Trying to cover it up would only make it worse.”

by Anita DiGregory

“May Musings and Motherhood”

I love May in Maryland. The sun has returned (for the most part) and has generally decided to stick around for a while. Bulky boots have been replaced with flip flops, or better yet, bare feet. It stays lighter longer, somehow promising a more potential-filled day. Lovingly gathered and gifted dandelion bouquets; the sounds of children’s laughter at twilight; jars filled with magical, glowing lightning bugs soon to be released…stir memories of long, lazy summers almost forgotten.

I must admit, I look forward to May and the beginning of summer, nearly all year long.  Summer’s promises of family-friendly opportunities, breaks in schedules, chances for much-needed reconnections, and occasions for memory-making moments generally sustain me through the long, cold, over-scheduled days of winter.

However, this May promises to be bittersweet for this momma. Two more will graduate and move on to the next exciting chapter of their lives. As proud as I am of them and as excited as I am for them to start new adventures, this momma’s heart will break just a little. I find myself holding on just a little tighter, a little longer, trying to press those memories tightly in my heart, like flowers pressed in a book.

I stumbled upon this quote from Robert Farror Capon: “To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered. She is geography incarnate.”

I think he is right about this. My mother succeeded in creating this. I guess this is why my siblings and I have been known to travel miles and pack our families—nineteen in all—into a tiny little home by the beach for a week. Through the good times and the bad, the fights and tears, the laughs and hugs, family sustains. In that safe space, I exhale.

I hope I have succeeded in creating this for my brood. Recently, on a really bad, horrible, no good day, my oldest (who is soon expecting his own first little one) told my husband and I not to worry; we had created a home where the children will want to return to visit, a safe place filled with love and memories. In that moment, he brought me much-needed peace and hope. I hope he is right.

So as May unfolds, I wish you the happiest Mother’s Day. I wish you long, beautiful days surrounded with family, filled with love, and lots and lots of wonderful memory-making opportunities.

We never know how many moments we have left…seize this moment and make it count!

Moving Mom Musings

 

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”

                ~ Abraham Lincoln

 

“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.”

~ Robert Browning

 

“[Motherhood is] the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary—it’s an act of infinite optimism.”

~ Gilda Radner

 

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

              ~ George Washington

 

“I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is.”

~ Oprah Winfrey

 

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

~ Sophia Loren

“Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”

~ Gail Tsukiyama

 

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

~ Washington Irving

 

“Having kids—the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings—is the biggest job anyone can embark on.”

~ Maria Shriver

 

 

“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

~ G. K. Chesterton

Monumental Mommy Movies

Mom’s Night OutThe Blind Side The IncrediblesBrave

The Sound of MusicAkeelah and the BeeFreaky FridaySteel Magnolias • my mom’s personal favorite: Terms of Endearment.

“Helping Our Children Cope in Times of Trouble”

by Anita DiGregory

To say that I am not a media news person would be an understatement.  My family and I actually avoid it like the plague. Being a communications media graduate, I guess that may seem to be a somewhat ironic fact.  However, with its incessant negative spin and masked agenda, mainstream reporting has become the opposite of all I studied. These days, I tend to agree with Luke Bryan, “I believe if you just go by the nightly news, your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose.” With today’s technology and the internet, the media is nearly impossible to escape. When the news is tragic and devastating, as we sadly witnessed again with the most recent school shooting, acts of violence in school and heartbreaking loss of life way too young, it is incredibly hard for us, as adults, to get our bearings. How do we help our children cope with the news of tragedy and loss?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) via its website healthychildren.org (Helping Your Child Cope, 2015), “a child’s reaction to a new situation varies greatly, depending on his or her developmental level, temperament, experience, skills, and the support that is provided by parents or caregivers. When children are exposed to circumstances that are beyond the usual scope of human experience…, they may have difficulty understanding and coping with the events and may develop a range of symptoms, including trauma symptoms, depression, anxiety, or, if deaths are involved, bereavement.”  No matter their age, it may be hard for children to understand these events or to verbalize their feelings.  It is quite normal for them to feel a wide range of emotions, including fear and sadness. Here are some ways to help your children cope with this trauma.

Get Involved

Speak with leaders at your children’s schools. Find out the school’s safety plans. Offer support and volunteer on different committees to help with safety.

Talk With Your Children

Regardless of their age and stage of development, you know your children best. Whether they have access to the internet or not, they have most likely heard from others about these recent events. Be proactive and ask them what they may have heard. Quietly listen to what they have to say. When they finish, address any misconceptions they may have. For example, younger children may hear about isolated events and think they are happening at their school. Don’t avoid their questions. Address their concerns honestly, but refrain from graphic details. Offer reassurance that you have contacted their school, and that the school is taking every safety precaution. Keep lines of communication open. Continue to “check-in” on how your kids are doing with regard to this for days, even weeks, after. Assure them that you are there for them, whenever they want to talk.

Limit Exposure to Media

According to an article published by the AAP in 2016 (Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents), “today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones, and other electronic devices.” Media images can be especially disturbing and threatening to children.

They add, “Children today are growing up in an era of highly personalized media use experiences, so parents must develop personalized media use plans for their children that attend to each child’s age, health, temperament, and developmental stage. Research evidence shows that children and teenagers need adequate sleep, physical activity, and time away from media.” These basic needs are even more essential in times of stress.

Enable Your Children

When children are faced with stress, they may feel they have no control, which may result in even more feelings of anxiety. By helping your children to be proactive, you will be giving them back that sense of control. Help them start or attend a prayer group. Encourage their involvement in positive student leadership activities.

Watch for Signs of Excessive Fear or Anxiety

According to the scientific community, signs of stress in children can include trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating on school work, or changes in behavior or appetite. If these symptoms last for more than a week or two, consult your pediatrician.

 Create a “Culture of Kindness”

According to the AAP (Kindness: How a Simple Act Can Make a Big Difference, 2018), “Teaching and modeling kindness gives children a life skill they will take with them forever. In a world where media bombard us and our children with talk of dislike, impatience, and intolerance, teaching kindness to children is an important part of their healthy development—and their role in our communities. And the first lessons on this skill start at home.”

They recommend modeling kindheartedness by cultivating a “culture of kindness” in the home, where everyone is treated with fairness and respect. Get involved with groups and activities that promote kind acts, talk with your children about the importance of being kind to others, and offer concrete suggestions for ways to demonstrate kindness to others, whether it be sitting with them at lunch or simply smiling and saying, “Hello.”

They further state, “Now more than ever, learning to be kind to others is an important lesson and an ongoing process that should take place throughout your child’s life. Teaching children to be kind creates a supportive, positive environment, making children—and those around them—feel better about themselves and others.”

“March Madness”

I am pretty sure that “March Madness” means something different to some moms than it does to some dads. “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” March is generally that month when the plagues of winter—snow, frigid temperatures, endless sicknesses—start to recede.

With the melting snow, the reintroduction of the sun, and the kiddos temperatures starting to return to normal, we moms start to see the light (pun intended) at the end of the long, dark, cold, winter tunnel.  We look for relief from the forced hibernation (which feels more like being under house arrest) that comes from all the illnesses spread back and forth on the family share plan!

This year was particularly hard for many. With a virulent flu being passed around, many of my family and friends experienced extensive sickouts and multiple trips to the doctor’s office and ER.

As a result of winter and its assorted plagues, it is about this time of the year that many experience a new, contagious fever: cabin fever. Cabin fever is real, alive, and one of the most prevalent causes of March Madness. For all those who were more than a little discouraged with the groundhog’s shadowy prediction, before you head back into hibernation or head up to Punxsutawney with torches, pitchforks, or protest signs, here are a few encouraging ideas.

 

  1. Look for the light. Literally! Daylight Savings Time is in sight! At 2:00 a.m. on March 11, we will “spring forward.” As a result, we will begin to see more light in the evening, a sure sign of spring!

 

  1. Continue an important journey. For many, the month of March is right smack dab in the middle of Lent. Although this season is a time of sacrifice and self-discipline (which includes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving), it is also a period of renewal and rejuvenation, culminating in the celebration of Easter and a closer, more intimate relationship with God. This time of reflection and preparation makes this path a true spiritual journey from darkness to light.

 

  1. Declutter your life. Both the season of spring and that of Lent are the perfect time to declutter. A popular challenge, “40 Bags in 40 Days,” encourages participants to break down areas of their home into more manageable chunks, collect unnecessary or non-used items, and bag them. Once collected, the bags can be disposed of, gifted, or donated to others in need. Some wonderful outlets for donation include: church thrift shops (such as St. Peter the Apostle Thrift Shop in Libertytown), animal shelters and rescues, Dress for Success (a program offering low-income women needed business attire for the workplace), homeless shelters, consignment shops, and used bookstores. The end result is both freeing and rewarding.

 

  1. Be inspired. March 10 marks the celebration of Harriet Tubman Day. A model of courage and heroism, Tubman, born a slave, was a humanitarian, American abolitionist, a spy for the U.S. Army, an Army scout, a women’s suffrage movement activist, and a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Nicknamed “Moses,” Tubman continually risked her life to lead countless slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Marylanders can conveniently visit many sites, marking the history of this amazing woman. Only about ninety minutes from Baltimore, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center is easily accessible to guests. Here, visitors can learn more about Tubman and her remarkable life.

 

  1. Enjoy a new “spring” in your step. The 2018 Spring Equinox is March 20 at 12:15 p.m. Astronomically, this event marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere (see me do my happy dance!). Historically, this event usually sees a decrease in new flu cases. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), although the cases of the flu are generally seen throughout the year, “flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.” (Happy dance reprisal!).

 

  1. Appreciate the circular…or at least consume it. March 14, otherwise known as 3.14, marks the celebration of Pi Day. Those of us who aren’t math enthusiasts can at least do our part in upholding the celebration by enjoying a slice…be it peach, apple, or pizza pie.

 

  1. Immerse yourself and the kiddos. With the National Education Association’s (NEA) Read Across America Day (weekday closest to March 2), Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2), and Tolkien Reading Day (March 25), all falling within the month of March, how can we not take some extra time for reading this month? According to the NEA, “motivating children to read is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers. Research has shown that children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.” Experts recommend reading aloud to your children, as well as motivating them to read daily.

 

But no matter how you choose to spend your March, truth is you survived another Maryland winter, and, for that, you are to be commended. May you and your family have a blessed spring.

by Anita DiGregory

Well, it is that time of year again. No sooner do we take down that tree and put away all the holiday decorations, that we stumble uncontrollably, head-first, into the peak of yet another cold and flu season. If your home is anything like mine, once one child gets sick, it’s only a matter of time until it makes its rounds around the house…just like dominos (only a lot more frustrating and a lot less fun!).

As of their last reporting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted Puerto Rico and forty-nine states were already experiencing widespread flu activity.  According to the CDC, “Seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round; however, seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue to occur as late as May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.”

The CDC, of course, highly recommends getting the flu vaccine.  Because receiving the vaccine does not necessarily mean you won’t get the flu, nor is the vaccine doable for everyone, here are some other helpful tips for you and your family this cold and flu season. Several of these guidelines you may have heard from your grandma, and may have been dismissed as old wives’ tales (where did that saying even come from?). However, many of these tips are now backed by scientific studies, proving once again that moms (and grandmas) know best!

 

  1. Stay healthy. You’ve heard the best offense is a good defense; well, the best defense in the fight against colds and germs is keeping your immune system strong. This would include getting enough sleep; exercising; eating healthy, balanced meals; taking a multi-vitamin; avoiding stress; and staying hydrated.

 

  1. Wash up. This one is backed by the CDC. On their website, they even tell you how to do it properly, recommending you to wet, lather your hands (front and back, between fingers, and under nails), scrub for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and dry. According to the CDC, “Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.” If handwashing is not an option, the CDC recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. They do warn, however, that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

 

  1. Drink up. Staying hydrated is key to staying healthy, and drinking water can boost your immune system. Additionally, consuming lots of fluids when sick helps loosen mucus and break up congestion. My pediatrician used to swear by hot tea, adding that nutrients in the tea help stave off common stomach bugs. I have several friends who highly recommend drinking grape juice for the same reason.

 

  1. Feed a Cold. Maintaining good, balanced nutrition can boost your immune system. However, several studies also suggest that eating during a cold can speed recovery time during an illness. According to a study published in Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology, eating increases important chemicals in the body, which boosts immune response.

 

  1. Eat your Soup. Believed for years to just be a comfort food, good ole’ fashioned chicken soup now seems to have scientific backing, with regards to its health benefits. Often rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene, protein, and amino acids, soup seems to be helpful in boosting the immune system. Dr. Stephen Rennard published his scientific study with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, regarding the positive effects of soup. Using his grandmother’s chicken soup recipe, Rennard found positive physical changes in the immune system with the soup. Additional chicken soup ingredients such as garlic, onions, and ginger have also been studied and found to have positive effects on the immune system. Another study conducted in 2000 and published in CHEST (the official medical journal of the American College of Chest Physicians) found chicken soup to have anti-inflammatory effects.

 

  1. Give Grandma’s Home Remedies a Second Look. Several age-old remedies actually have been proven to be quite helpful in staying healthy or getting back to health quicker during a cold or the flu. A 2007 Penn State University study showed that one to two teaspoons of honey not only helped alleviate night-time coughing, but also was more effective than a leading cough suppressant. Other tips such as safely inhaling steam and gargling with salt water have also proven helpful in the quicker recovery from illnesses.

 

  1. Consult your physician. Some studies suggest that certain herbs, vitamins, or supplements may be helpful to the immune system. Many swear by the healing effects of Echinacea, probiotics, vitamin C, and other supplements. Before administering, make sure to talk to your doctor. Some supplements can be harmful to children or even to adults, in certain amounts.

Just remember, spring is right around the corner. Wishing you a safe and healthy February.

And don’t forget what ole’ Ben Franklin said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

by Anita DiGregory

2018: Renewing, Reflecting, Resolving

It’s January, the start of a brand new year, full of exciting possibilities and new adventures. The beginning of 2018 promises a clean slate, a fresh start. Logically, it seems like the perfect time to reflect, make some changes, and set some new goals.

As it turns out, making New Year’s resolutions is not a new idea. In fact, people have been doing it for more than 4,000 years. The ancient Babylonians and the Romans made promises to their gods to amend their ways in the new year. The knights of the Middle Ages took vows to recommit themselves to their Code of Chivalry.  Throughout history, people of different faiths used this time to reflect, repent, and make resolutions.

Most recently a New Year’s resolution statistics research study conducted by Statistic Brain Research Institute (January 1, 2017) found that approximately 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. Although this time of the year lends itself to personal reflection, it is also the perfect time for family members to work together to discuss and set important resolutions.

According to child psychotherapist and parenting educator Katie Hurley, LCSW, “Teaching kids to establish and work toward goals has many benefits.” These include establishing a sense of responsibility; mastering time management; and gaining self-confidence, resilience, and perseverance. The author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World, Hurley advises parents to assist their children in setting and attaining goals, rather than choosing goals for them or pushing them too hard.

Although Statistic Brain found that only 9.2 percent of those studied felt they had successfully achieved their resolution, working together as a family actually may help with accountability and overall success. It also has the added benefits of facilitating family time and increasing family communication. However, it is important for parents to model positive behavior by demonstrating their own commitment to working hard to reach their set goals.

While Hurley recommends setting realistic goals, she also suggests the resolutions should be just out of reach. She adds that by working to reach these goals, children are enabled, “to push themselves to meet a new challenge.” She also suggests helping them set a specific goal, rather than a general one. Additional research shows that setting resolutions tied to personal core values makes us more likely to achieve our goals. Therefore, our resolutions should reflect these key personal values. For example, a person who believes faith is vital will work harder to attain the resolution of spending more time in daily prayer. Additionally, choosing one specific resolution is more doable than trying to focus on several different goals.

Once a specific resolution is set, it should then be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps. This process of setting these attainable checkpoints along the way increases self-confidence and assists in the overall successful achievement of the goal. Once these smaller steps are established, a plan can be constructed and written down. Parents and children alike will benefit from planning and writing out the goal and the smaller checkpoints along the way. Journaling can be a helpful tool along this journey. Developing a concrete plan increases the likelihood of success. In fact, according to Statistic Brain, “people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.”

Families who work together on personal and group resolutions will undoubtedly see many benefits. According to Hurley, “When families make goal-setting a family effort, they learn to support each other. This fosters a family environment based on cooperation instead of one grounded in competition. It also reinforces the fact that although all people are individuals with their own unique interests, we can all work together and provide support and help when needed.”

Whatever your resolution, try to: reflect on and encourage each other in times of disappointment, celebrate successes together, spend less time on social media and technology and more time together, don’t compare your life to those represented in other’s Facebook or Instagram posts, eat and pray together, smile more, hug tighter, say “I love you” more often because this year will be gone in the blink of an eye, and remember that this parenting thing is crazy hard so don’t be too hard on yourself. Do what you can and put it in God’s hands. You got this, Momma! Have a wonderful and blessed 2018.

by Anita DiGregory

Memory-Making Moments

Last month, when we visited together, we talked about fostering an attitude of gratitude in our little ones.  This transitions beautifully into the mystical season of Christmas. But if your home is anything like mine, this season can get more than just a bit stressful. As lovely and magical as this time of the year is, it is always a challenge to get everything done in time: the cleaning, the baking, the purchasing, the decorating, the mailing, the visiting…just thinking about it all makes me think about hibernating for the winter. But before I go all “Bah…humbug,” I am trying something different this year, a new twist on an old family tradition. This year, we will be filling our Advent Calendar with opportunities for memory-making moments rather than candy and little trinkets. It is my hope that by focusing on Faith and family, we will slow down and center on the true reason for the season. Here are a few ideas for fun family time, along with a couple of memorable quotes from some of my family’s favorite Christmas characters.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” —Buddy, Elf.

Invite friends over and go Christmas Caroling. Visit the local hospital or nursing home and go caroling there. Have a Christmas carols karaoke night.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” Clarence, It’s A Wonderful Life. 

Make Christmas cards for family members and friends. Mail cards to Veterans. Hand-deliver thank you cards to community helpers, coaches, and teachers. Host a Christmas Movie Night and invite some friends over for hot cocoa and snacks.

“But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.” —Narrator, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Donate gently used toys to a shelter or church thrift shop. As a family, buy some gifts to donate to families in need. Dress up like elves and deliver handmade cards or gifts to children at your local hospital.

“Eat, Papa, eat!” —Mrs. Claus, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Spread out all the cookbooks and pick favorite cookie recipes. Bake Christmas cookies together. Deliver some home-baked cookies to elderly neighbors. Build a gingerbread house. Make ice-cream sundaes.

“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.” —Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street.

Cut out snowflakes and decorate a room with them. String popcorn and cranberry garland. Make paper chain garland. Make some handmade ornaments. Visit a miniature train display. Attend a holiday play or event.

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”  —Hero Boy, The Polar Express.

Visit a local tree farm and cut down your own Christmas tree.  Decorate the tree while listening to Christmas carols. Decorate the outside of your home together.  Help the kids decorate their rooms.  Drive around together looking at the lights and decorations. Attend a Christmas Light display.

“You see, children hold the spirit of Christmas within their hearts.” —Bernard, The Santa Clause.

Hold a Christmas movie night with hot cocoa, popcorn, and yummy snacks. Have a Christmas picnic by the tree. Make a bonfire and enjoy s’mores. Have a Christmas sleepover by the tree.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” —Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Attend a live nativity. Put up the nativity set but wait until Christmas to add baby Jesus. Read The Christmas Story and act it out.  Hold a birthday party for baby Jesus and bake a cake. Make an Advent wreath and light the candles each night at dinner.

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” —Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

by Anita DiGregory

Thanks & Giving

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  I love Thanksgiving—the faith-based tradition, the family-time, the fun, the food, and the feasting.  Quietly nestled between the sugar overload of Halloween and the incessant over-commercialization of Christmas (I honestly think some retailers had Christmas decorations displayed in September this year!), Thanksgiving has remained a humble holiday, steeped in tradition and rich in meaning. Even in a time when patriotism has somehow become controversial, Thanksgiving continues to bring people together and unite them around tables across the country. Although the holiday only happens once a year, teaching, modeling, and reinforcing the ideas of “thanks” and “giving,” has scientifically been proven to help both adults and children to be happier and healthier.

Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California has conducted numerous scientific studies on gratitude. The findings reported from experiencing and demonstrating gratitude included many psychological, physical, and social benefits. Researchers found that gratitude resulted in feelings of alertness and wakefulness and higher levels of joy, pleasure, optimism, and other positive emotions. Benefits also included improved immune systems and blood pressure and decreased aches and pains. Grateful individuals were more apt to exercise, practice healthy living, and experience healthier sleep patterns.  Thankful participants were less lonely, demonstrated better social interactions, and displayed more signs of being forgiving, outgoing, helpful, compassionate, and generous.

Instilling a strong sense of gratitude in our children is a necessary and powerful tool in equipping them to become happy, healthy adults. According to Halloween author Christine Carter, Ph.D., grateful children may grow into happier grown-ups. Carter, director of the Greater Good Parents program at the University of California at Berkeley, states, “Pioneering social scientists think that 40 percent of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities throughout the day. Thankfulness is not a fixed trait. It’s a skill that can be cultivated, like kicking a soccer ball or speaking French.” Therefore, consistently teaching and encouraging our children to be grateful is vital. Here are some ideas for helping children to grow in gratitude.

 

Lead by Example. Children are great imitators, and little eyes are always watching. As parents, we can send a powerful message to our children by modeling grateful behavior. By taking the time and effort to say thank you and being openly and enthusiastically thankful to others for opening a door, making a meal, or helping out, we demonstrate gratitude.

 

Put it in Writing.  Help your child write a thank you note to someone who has helped them, perhaps a teacher, coach, bus driver, or school crossing guard. Help them hand deliver their special note.

 

Make it Fun. Children learn more when their lessons are real and entertaining. Try doing an ongoing gratitude activity. Last year, during the month of November, I constructed a gratitude tree with my two youngest children. We designed the trunk out of construction paper and taped it to a prominent wall in our home. Each day, they wrote on colored, construction paper leaves one thing for which they were thankful. By Thanksgiving, we had a wonderful, colorful display of their gratitude for all to enjoy.

 

Make Gratitude a Habit. Help your children to be thankful each day. Help them design a gratitude journal, where they can draw or write about what they are thankful for that day. Incorporate giving thanks into nighttime prayers, when each child can think back on the day and list those things for which he or she is grateful.

 

Thankfulness goes hand-in-hand with giving. Thanksgiving.  By teaching our children to give of themselves—to give their time, talent, and treasure, one small act at a time—we empower them to make a difference in a world that could use a lot of work. With small acts of kindness, we can change not only ourselves for the better, but the world as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”  There is no better place or time then right here and right now to make a difference.

According to studies, kindness is actually contagious. David R. Hamilton, PhD., author of The Five Side Effects of Kindness, states, “When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and studies show that it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends—to 3-degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.”

Additionally, scientific studies suggest that being kind is actually highly beneficial for us. A study conducted at Emory University found that when a person is kind to another, the giver’s pleasure and reward center of the brain is stimulated to that of the receiver.  This increase in pleasure is known as the “helper’s high.” Other studies have found that acts of kindness increase energy, happiness, lifespan, and serotonin, and also decrease pain, stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and depression in the giver.

Here are some things we can do with our children that may help nurture a spirit of kindness in them:  model kindness; smile; spend time with an elderly relative or neighbor; donate gently used toys, books, or clothes; visit a nursing home; help a friend in need.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD., author of The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, But Does, states that almost any type of act of kindness will boost happiness in the giver. Quoting one of her study’s findings, she adds, “when 9 to 11-year old kids were asked to do acts of kindness for several weeks, not only did they get happier over time, but they became more popular with their peers.”

As parents, we are greatly helping our children, ourselves, and the world by instilling in them a sense of gratitude and a genuine desire to be kind to others…true thanksgiving.