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Glass Half Full: parenting through teenage years

Updated: Nov 13

Most people tend to have either a positive or a negative outlook. Because a fruit of the Spirit is joy, I'm betting those in Jesus' camp lean toward the positive side. At a certain age—sometime during the teens—even the most optimistic children can lose their charge.

What’s a Christian parent of a brooding or disagreeable teenager to do?

I, for one, wanted to hide from my kids during those years. As locking myself in my room wasn’t an option, I worked on a game plan instead. My husband agreed to install a levee against the tide of frowns, gloom, and doom in form of a family gratitude journal.

As expected, gratitude journaling met with similar responses to family fun (some might call it "forced family fun" because at a certain age, who wants to do anything with their parents, especially if it revolves around prayer time?).

Forced family GRATITUDE (FFG) consisted of each family member stating something for which he/she was grateful. It could be as simple as eating a favorite dessert or getting a good grade in school. Because there is so much for which to be thankful, we encouraged originality—no copying others’ answers.

One child penned our answers; she took great ownership (maybe even a heavy-handed approach) in how our gratitude should be recorded (the less to write, the better). Coming up with one answer for which to be grateful was easy, but it took deeper digging for multiple unique responses. "Ummm ..." and "Hey, you took my answer!" were common.

Over time, we evolved from the obvious like new tennis shoes, to the not-so-obvious, like clean socks, to the novel, like Chapstick. It became a fun game to see who could come up with the cleverest responses. We soon forgot to be grumpy during this so-called "forced" exercise.

As grown-ups complain plenty too, the gratitude journal helped my husband and me keep our complaints in perspective. A unique response was when my husband was grateful for our high heating bill. Why? Because our family had stayed warm.

Guests and visitors humored us by eagerly participating in our gratitude journal ritual. They started out by saying they were most grateful for their gracious hosts—us! Of course, we never disagreed with their obligatory assessments.

Ten years into our routine, we are delighted to discover our journal is thick with history. Not only have we accumulated an account of family and friends who had come to visit, but we had recorded major life events such as college acceptances and rejections, big and small travels, and other poignant memories. Fortuitously, our forced family gratitude has evolved into a family journal.

No longer grumbling about gratitude journaling, we enjoy reading through entries and recollecting the stories behind them. In an entry from 2014, one child said she was grateful for not hitting her head on a rock. This prompted a memory and laughter about the time we went rock climbing for the first time with their cousins. As newbies, we were grateful for getting out unscathed from climbing, although there were a few close calls. Reminiscing about events by reading past entries is an added benefit to our gratitude journal.

We still grumble a lot. It takes work to ward off negativity and to consistently adopt a positive outlook. But the journal has made us grumble less. For that, I am grateful.

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