Every day I try to think about how I can make meaningful changes in my parenting to help improve how my child approaches the world. What will help him establish meaningful relationships? How can I help him learn to cope with any problems he may encounter? How can I instill a gracious and positive outlook on life? In this blog, I will highlight some of the little things I do to encourage him daily. I will discuss gratitude beginning in romantic relationships and as new parents, as a resiliency factor, the importance of building a secure attachment, the relationship between forgiveness and gratitude, and mindful parenting.
The Role of Gratitude in Romantic Relationships
According to some research studies, high levels of attachment insecurity are associated with lower relationship satisfaction and decreased feelings of gratitude towards the partner (e.g., Vollman et al., 2019). In other words, when we feel safe and secure in our romantic relationship we are more likely to express gratitude toward our partner and feel more satisfied in our relationship. For individuals with avoidant attachment, ingratitude stems from the distance and distrust of others, which may cloud the positive view that we would have if we felt more secure. If we can push ourselves to resist barriers we have put up and let ourselves rely on others and trust them to be close to us, we can see positive attributions that we would have otherwise missed out on.
Algoe et al. (2012) produced the find-remind-bind theory highlighting the formation and maintenance of gratitude in relationships. According to this theory, our view of the contributor is refreshed in the moment that we feel gratitude, which helps us find new or reminds us of existing quality relationships and therefore binds the relationship closer together. Additionally, the theory describes gratitude as a “booster shot” for relationships. No matter the level of our relationships, acts of gratitude can be an opportunity for growth and a stable connection.
Being mindful in our interactions with our partners is vital to reducing conflict; this includes viewing our partners holistically (Morris et al., 2023). What is meant by viewing our partners holistically is taking the time and effort to think and look at their whole picture. Each partner should consider the outside world and how that impacts the other. Think about how fast conflict can escalate when we pile assumptions and accusations where they do not belong.
Being mindful becomes especially vital in our relationships when we enter parenthood. Leavitt et al. (2023) found that fathers’ trait mindfulness awareness connects to higher parenting satisfaction in mothers and lower parental stress for themselves. Along with the many good things that becoming a parent brings, there are also many stresses. How each partner reacts to the transition to parenthood impacts the other person greatly. When we focus on the stresses of new parenthood, we miss out on the good stuff. We can set the tone for mindfulness and gratitude in those early days and set us up to teach our children how to react mindfully too.
Hussung et al. (2021) reviewed the Raising Grateful Children (RGC) project and the focus on gratitude as a socio-emotional process that begins in the first decade of life and continuously evolves. This process describes children as moving from verbal gratitude, like vocalizing thanks, to concrete gratitude, which includes recognizing appreciation for objects to connective gratitude and appreciation for relationships. The study examined whether parental gratitude socialization influences children’s moments of gratitude. The project found positive correlations between three factors:
- Modeling – Parents reflected on their gratitude and the importance of gratitude as a parental goal. This may be the main form of socialization and motivate other gratitude socialization efforts.
- Niche Selection – Parents higher in trait gratitude were more apt to select their children’s experiences or niches. These experiences were meant to encourage in contexts of valuing, engendering, and teaching gratitude to children.
- Scaffolding – Parents may provoke children to take notice, make meaning, and express appreciation for things received.
Attachment and Resiliency
When I was pregnant, a close friend told me she worried I could not provide a warm emotional relationship with my son. Although this was difficult to hear, it was not surprising because expressing loving and warm feelings has never come easy to me, especially to those closest to me. My family of origin did not express warm feelings toward each other, which I thought was normal. I learned I had developed an avoidant attachment style because of my early family relationships. This has mostly meant avoiding confrontation in relationships and learning not to rely on other people. Avoidant types are less likely to experience positive emotions, including love, closeness, and trust (Park et al., 2022).
Creating a warm and loving environment for my child became more possible for me than expected; much of that concern my partner’s caring nature. We have worked together to provide our child the emotional stability necessary to grow into a secure and stable individual. In developing a secure attachment, we must be consistently responsive in our caregiving efforts (Scott et al., 2021). This means reacting appropriately to difficult situations, like when someone makes a mistake, and approaching with patience and understanding. Gratitude is a resiliency factor for children with secure attachment, which decreases the chances of depressive symptoms in adolescence. Additionally, insecure attachment (anxious and avoidant) is linked to less trait gratitude, increasing the chances of adolescent depressive symptoms (Scott et al. 2021).
Gratitude and Forgiveness
Rodrigues et al. (2022) studied the impacts of the mediating roles of gratitude and forgiveness on parent-child secure attachment and adolescent depressive symptoms. These researchers while emphasizing that gratitude and forgiveness link to their well-being and relationships due to the ease of adaptability and overall optimism. The study revealed that when a secure attachment was established in the parent-child relationship, the likelihood of child depressive symptoms lessened as the children were more likely to possess dispositional gratitude and interpersonal forgiveness. The findings suggest the importance of quality parent-child time to reduce the chance of depressive symptoms in adolescence. The findings also highlight the importance of helping parents develop strategies to encourage the child’s gratitude and forgiveness to support children best if they display depressive symptoms.
At my child’s age, we teach interpersonal forgiveness by example; as he grows, we can have more intentional conversations about the importance. For me, interpersonal forgiveness means striving to take the higher road by fighting off the urge to make judgments of others and working to avoid resentful feelings. In teaching my son these virtues, the most important process I can teach him is to consider other people’s perspectives. In considering others’ viewpoints, he can approach future interactions empathetically. One way I can teach him this is how I respond and react to the unexpected in my interactions with others. I must be mindful that he is watching me and learning to approach these situations himself.
As Dr. Sibley has explained previously on this blog, we need to process the violations of love, trust, and loyalty we have experienced in this life so that we act more constructively in our relationships. We can move forward in a positive direction by releasing the negative emotions tied to situations where we feel we have been wronged. I try to show my son the importance of this by conversing when I upset him. As a parent, it is important for me to admit if I have overreacted and take responsibility for my actions with him. This will help him trust me to listen and understand him throughout his life. This may help him slow down, see situations more thoughtfully, and try to understand people more.
Reflection and Meaning Making
My hope for my child is that he adopts gratitude as a trait. It is easy for us to reflect on moments or visit a state of gratitude when we are prompted to do so, and I do prompt him to highlight the positive moments of his day. He will carry This mindful practice into adolescence and adulthood and use it as a tool during the more stressful times. By focusing on the positive, we can improve our subjective well-being or our interpretation of our own quality of life (Li et al., 2023). How we view the potential in everyday life could be how we approach our romantic relationships, friendships, and careers.
When do we take time to practice reflection? We use dinner time, car rides, and bedtime to reflect on our day in our home. To effectively use dinner time to reflect, we do not use electronics when we sit down to eat at home. This is vital in keeping our child’s attention on the conversation and maintaining our presence. At bedtime, we usually will replay our day out vocally and point out the more exciting moments, large or small. I will ask him what his favorite part of the day was and then tell him my favorite part.
We, of course, talk about the bad parts of our day as well, but try to highlight the positive to overshadow the negative. We talk about the things we could have done better or how to accept the things we could not do anything about. By telling the story of our day, we attempt to make sense of the facts by evaluating them and putting meaning into the context (Bauer et al., 2018). When we attach meaning to our experiences, we can view them from a new perspective where we decide the effect. We may experience adversity but ultimately choose how to react and learn from it.
None of us are perfect regarding parenting, and it is a never-ending learning experience. However, it is our responsibility to our children to take the time to teach them simple things like caring for others and themselves. There are little things that we can do that will make a big difference in who they become and how they will cope in their lives. We can begin practicing gratitude and mindfulness before our children come into our lives. By teaching our children to be mindful and have gratitude, we are preparing them to have meaningful and satisfying relationships in their future.
- Algoe, S.B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 455-469.
- Bauer, J.J., King, L.A., & Steger, M.F. (2018). Meaning-making, self-determination theory, and the question of wisdom in personality. Journal of Personality, 87, 82-101.
- Hussung, A.M., Coffman, J.L., & Halberstadt, A.G. (2021). Parenting and the development of children’s gratitude. Child Development Perspective, 15, 235-241.
- Leavitt C. E. Wikle J. S. Kramer Holmes E. Pierce H. Eyring J. B. Gibby A. L. Brown A. L. & Leiter V. (2023). Mindfulness and individual relational and parental outcomes during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 1422–1447.
- Li, B., Zhu, Q., Li, A., & Cui, R. (2023). Can good memories of the past instill happiness? Nostalgia improves subjective well-being by increasing gratitude. Journal of Happiness Studies, 24, 699-715.
- Park, Y., Sanscartier, S., Impett, E.A., Algoe, S.B., Leonhardt, N.D., Schrage, K., Carmicheal, C.L., Collins, N.L., Conte, F., De Rosa, O., Ficca, G., Fredrickson, B.L., Harris, P., Keltner, D., West, T.N., & MacDonald, G. (2022). Meta-analytic evidence that attachment insecurity is associated with less frequent experiences of discrete positive emotions. Journal of Personality, 00, 1-16.
- Rodrigues, G.A., Obeldobel, C.A., Kochendorfer, L.B., Brumariu, L.E., Fareri, D.S., & Kerns, K.A. (2022). Parent-child attachment security and depressive symptoms in early adolescence: The mediating roles of gratitude and forgiveness. Child Psychiatry & Human Development.
- Scott, V., Verhees, M., De Raedt, R., Bijttebier, P., Vasey, M.W., Van de Walle, M., Waters, T.E.A., & Bosmans, G. (2021). Gratitude: A resilience factor for more securely attached children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20, 416-430.
- Vollmann M., Sprang S., & van den Brink F. (2019). Adult attachment and relationship satisfaction: the mediating role of gratitude toward the partner. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 3875–3886.
I just graduated from Northern Illinois University, majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences with an emphasis on Family Relations, Prevention, and Wellness. I will be entering the Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program in the Fall, also at Northern Illinois University. My partner of 12 years and I are the parents of a soon-to-be 5-year-old boy.