Gratitude is a huge buzz word at the moment. There's articles, blogs, inspirational quotes, banners and bunting, journals and more.
And partly this is for a very good reason. It can change your mood from "woe is me" to "actually, I'm a pretty lucky gal" with a swift gaze at your tiny person's toes or the thought of that glass of wine and the big exhale as your backside meets the sofa once the kids have gone to sleep. It can be a powerful tool to start your day off on the right foot or shift a chaotic turn of events into something more manageable. And if practised regularly, looking for things you are grateful for in every day life, creates pathways in your brain that will make it easier to see the positive in all sorts of situations and life events. You're hard wiring your brain to seek out the good. Not too shabby.
But one thing gratitude is also capable of is to make you feel guilty. And there's enough of that in motherhood already. The constant barrage of "enjoy every moment, they're only little for such a short time", "be grateful for what you have" or "count your blessings" can make you feel guilty for struggling. For finding it hard. For wanting a break and mourning your pre-kid life (like most Sunday afternoons, when I'd love a nap and a movie on the sofa). I very much disagree with the old "they're only little for the blink of an eye" statement by the way. The first year of my eldest's life was the longest I've ever lived through. Possibly because we were up so much. Time did not fly. And I did not enjoy every minute. In fact, I didn't enjoy many minutes at all. And a year is a bloody long time! Does that mean I was ungrateful though? Resentful, yes. Ungrateful, no. I am simply not a fan of the baby stage and that's that. And that's fine. Nothing wrong with that at all.
"I AM grateful, now eff off" is what I felt like shouting at "helpful" strangers who gave parenting advice and urged me to "enjoy them while they're little" because "just wait until they're teenagers" or similar nuggets of screwed up wisdom. I mean, what a twisted way to encourage a new parent - "enjoy this bit, it's going to get really shit in a few years!"
What I'm trying to say is, don't mistake gratitude for having to minimising how you're feeling. You can be grateful for your kids but still be overwhelmed and bored and miserable and hate it sometimes.
When my second little girl was a baby and I struggled getting her to sleep for naps, I absolutely hated it. Every minute of it. And no amount of gratitude, positive intentions or mantras were going to change that (heck, even the medication I was on for my anxiety didn't change that!). And believe me, I tried. But it sucked. 3 - 4 times per day. Pure and simple. It wasn't until I accepted that it was going to suck that it got any more manageable. It wasn't gratitude that helped, it was embracing the struggle and the suckiness and the discomfort.
This concept of realistic gratitude obviously translates to other areas of your life as well. You can be grateful for your job but still hate the commute or the annoying colleague that chews really loudly. Thankful for the roof over your head but dislike cleaning the house and the tap that won't stop leaking. And it's also ok to wish for a better job with a quieter colleague and a bigger house with better plumbing! That's not being ungrateful, that's having aspirations and goals.
If you would to include some simple ways of showing more gratitude in your day to day, I have 3 very doable suggestions for you, that won't require you to walk around all day appreciating every flower and shape in the clouds, while you'd actually much rather crawl into bed.
1) Start your day with gratitude.
Either write down, or simply think of, 3 things that make you feel thankful. They can be big things, like the people in your life, or something small, like the taste of that first morning coffee. But it should be something different each day, to get your brain used to seeking out the good things around you and becoming more creative. And you know what? Sometimes I'm simply grateful that I can crawl back into my comfy bed in 14 hours time. And that's ok.
2) Set an alarm.
If you know that a certain time of the day gets a little frantic and overwhelming for you, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stop, take a few breaths and think of a couple of things you're grateful for. And that can be feeling thankful for doing your best and getting through the day. In fact, I encourage you to be more appreciative of yourself as part of any gratitude exercise. Because you rock pretty hard.
3) End the day with gratitude.
Much like the morning version, it's also nice to end the day on a thankful note. You could simply pick a few things from the day that made you feel grateful (like siblings playing nicely for a split second or that the sun came out for a bit), or think of three things that you did well that day. Once again, time to big yourself up, don't be shy. Bask in your magical brilliance, even if it was surrounded by messiness and tantrums.
Have a play around with which approach to gratitude brings you the biggest benefits. But don't ever feel like you need to say "this sucks, but it could be worse", and soldier on with a forced smile on your face so that no one thinks you're ungrateful. It's OK to find stuff hard. Just because you don't have it hardest doesn't mean you can't be sad or upset about it! It's not like only the person whose life is the hardest is allowed to feel bad about it. That's not how it works.