How active appreciation can shape a family culture
In the last Article I’ve shared with you how active appreciation has changed my life. How Benny brought this into our marriage, and how it transformed me over the years.
Today, it is not only our marriage that is bathed in active appreciation, but it has turned into a family culture I cherish dearly.
You see, active appreciation is so much more than making a compliment.
It rather is a life attitude, a commitment to find the gold in the other person.
This is true for a marriage, and it is certainly true for interacting with our children.
I will try to describe in a few points what this means to us and how we apply “active appreciation” into the lives of our children.
- We never attack their personal worth. We would never call our children a “liar”, “lazy”, “rebel”, “clumsy” or any terms like that.
As I explained in this Article, even when they behave in ways where such “labels” would fit, we refuse to go that path. We rather show them that we appreciate and love them – even if they don’t behave. We have seen the greatest effect of our attitude and actions of warmth and empathy towards them in times they don’t behave.
Today I had a great personal experience with our youngest. He gets very irritated and angry when he can’t have something he decided to have.
As I was watching him standing there, terribly angry and irritated for not being able to reach this chocolate he decided he wanted to have, I asked him, my voice filled with compassion: Oh my boy, are you irritated and angry? “NO!!!” he shouted in an angry tone. After a few more words to him, which he had answered with this same “NO!!!” I tenderly looked at him, saying in a soft tone: “Yes my boy, this feeling is called irritation: Everything in you wants this chocolate and you can’t have it. This is as well called anger, frustration, you know.” He paused for a short moment, then he cried even more. I stretched my arms that he could come into my arms – he came and softly cried on my shoulders.
I don’t know if this was pedagogically correct behavior of mine. What I do know is that he felt the compassion and the softness I was extending to him. And he took it and calmed down.
Of course this will not be the end of his struggle with dealing with “no’s”.
However, this was a great reminder for me that compassion and warmth often work much better than looking down at the problems of a little child, calling him “stubborn”, “in his terrible two’s” or “stiff-necked” or anything like this.
- We never talk bad about our kids.
Here again, that doesn’t mean that we are not aware of the challenges we have or the issues we have to address. However, we try to always keep this active appreciation intact.
If there are situations when we lack the knowledge of how to handle it, we search for help.
Sometimes this means we talk with a good friend or an extended family member. Sometimes we ask an expert for help.
However, we never – be it in the presence of our children or in their absence – talk about them in a negative or complaining way.
- We never tell them – or any other person – that we are looking forward for the holidays to end/ school to start or that they finally enter playschool/kindergarten.
First of all, because we don’t feel that way.
Second, we know that it would hurt this beautiful appreciation inside our family. Simply because personally, after spending holidays together, it wouldn’t feel good to tell Benny: Oh, I am so happy that you go back to work next week! It was about time!” He definitely would feel unloved and I think so will they.
Right now, I have my two youngest at home. They keep me busy. They play, they fight, they have many creative ideas – I do not like all of them.
I know how many things I would be able to do without them at home. I know how I could spend my mornings.
I could tell them how much I am looking forward to the time they are away as well. I could tell my older one that it is about time he goes to kindergarten.
However, I refuse to go in that direction. I decide to have fun with these two little ones. Time will pass by so fast; this is the time to cherish my boys.
Active appreciation is something that – like honor – touches lives beyond the own loved ones.
Let me tell you about one experience I had about a year ago on Christmas. We had – like every year – a big Christmas party with my side of the family. Siblings, nieces and nephews, my parents, everybody is reunited.
I was kneeling in the entrance, on the upper end of a big wooden stairway.
One of my sister arrived with her family, and my little nephew, age 5, came up the stairs. I greeted him warmly,
“Hey boy, how are you? Welcome, I am so happy to see you! ¨How are you!? Wow, I like your jacket!”
He looked at me with a big smile and passed by.
A couple of days later, my sister wrote me.
She told me:
“I asked my son what he appreciated most of our Christmas party.
He told me: “Jeanne!””
I was so touched and impressed to hear that.
Since that little encounter when he and his family arrived was the only conversation we had during that evening. I don’t remember giving him special attention away from that moment.
And still, my warmth and empathy left such an impression on him, that he told this to be the best experience of that Christmas party.
Personally, I love to get insight through books, teachings, and seminars on how to be a better parent. I love insights and understanding on pedagogical and development concepts.
However, active appreciation – to have this capacity of giving warmth, empathy, mercy and love – is what I cherish most of all.
There are times I miss the point, where I am not this warm, affirming person that is full of empathy, mercy and love. But again and again, I come back to this focus: To become a person that is, even in midst of personal challenges, tiredness or pressure this kind of person that leaves a permanent imprint of active appreciation in the life of those around me.