By Mary Ellen Christy
(Editors note: Classic Chicago interviewed our Parenting Expert Mary Ellen Christy on the importance of gratitude. Christy, the founding head of St.Chrysostom’s Day School, has now started Christy Rozenberg Consultants with her partner Claudia Rozenberg. Christy Rozenberg Consultants is a concierge educational service whose goal is to help determine the best educational service for the child by working with the whole family unit. They support in everything from finding the right school placement to assistance in choosing the best therapeutic intervention for the child.)
CCM: Why is the virtue of gratitude all-important, not just at the Thanksgiving season?
Christy: “Children have to learn at an early age to stand for what is good and kind and recognize it in others. It has never been more important for our own emotional and mental health as well. Gratitude, like happiness, is a choice.”
CCM: What are tangible ways children can learn to express their gratitude?
Christy: “In the past articles I have written about how children learn to manage money by incorporating sharing. The world right now is so complicated, it is important doing the thing that we have always done. As winter approaches, families should work together to find places to donate warm clothing. My list includes the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Revive, Deborah’s Place, Grace House, and St. Leonard’s Ministries, parents who are able to lead by example by taking from abundance to share with others.
“Most important is to be introspective about gratitude. Tell your children about all the wonderful people around us whom we almost took for granted pre-COVID. Take dry cleaners, these thriving businesses are almost irrelevant these days when we are all living in exercise clothes most of the time. So many times I would call up this kind man from work about something I needed and hadn’t picked up. He would call drop things for me even though they didn’t have a delivery service. I have told my grandchildren that we must find ways to let people know that they matter and that we will be back even if we can’t give them business right now. Saying thank you to anyone who helps you is good for your own soul.”
(Child enjoying nature)
CCM: What are tangible steps we can take to boost our sense of gratitude?
Christy: “Taking a walk every day to appreciate nature, even if it is cold outside. There is a new therapy now being used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression where therapy involves going out into nature. Take your kids to North Pond with the assignment to watch for signs of life not usually evident to you. Are bubbles coming up? When you close your eyes do you hear birds chirping? Take kids out into a garden and look at the soil, study the root systems, be scientists. You could even suggest that you dig for dinosaur bones and then learn things about the soil in the process. These opportunities lower the blood pressure of adults as well.
“Last year, I loved reading The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees and Colin Tudge both talk about the intense relationship of trees, their intense emotions, and their ability to communicate with one another. Topics like this make us as parents make a more accurate judgment of our role and importance in the universe. We are lucky to have the opportunity to be in an integral relationship with nature.”
CCM: Thank you for these tangible suggestions, what about the intangible, spiritual lessons about gratitude.
Christy: “Perhaps we can consider giving over the things bothering us in the pandemic to a higher power. That might be the silver lining in this terrible time. If you study religion, follow astrology or quantum Physics there is food for thought about this time. People are looking for the essence of who God really is.
“It is intriguing to me that in 2021 we are moving from the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius. It takes a full 2800 years to travel through the full zodiac calendar. Pisces is the era of poetry and artistic achievement and Aquarius is about the development of the human spirit. With the world surging out of control people are so frustrated and there is so much anger out there. The Age of Aquarius could be about the opening up of everything.”
CCM: How do you teach patience to children when so many things seem so out of control?
Christy: “Start by practicing it yourself. Let them know that you share their frustrations. “I know it is so hard to not be able to do what we want.” Or, “Mommy and Daddy are lonely, too.” Anxiety and depression in children is on the rise. Do something simple such as buying a goldfish or making a terrarium. Tell your children that you understand what they are feeling, and even practice taking three deep breaths together.”
CCM: How will children under the age of 10 remember this time?
Christy: “What they will remember is how it was handled in the family. They may even romanticize this time. I know of several people who are buying those small outdoor fireplaces and having a friend over for a picnic, even though it is getting colder.
“When I was a little girl my father always took my sister and me to The Nutcracker. I continued the yearly tradition with my own daughters, and then with my little granddaughters. This year we will all get dressed up, have lunch at my house because we are in the same bubble, and watch a recording of The Nutcracker. You can find a way to honor what the traditions are. You could even put on music and dance your own ballet.”
“Children love that many parents are working from home. They will remember that as well.”
CCM: Is gratitude something you are born with or that you only learn?
Christy: “I have always said that children are human beings as God intended us to be. They are often more aware of a spiritual voice speaking to us, and are better at hearing sounds in nature.
(Vinnie the Cat in the Boxed and Burlap Mug)
“But sometimes a lesson in gratitude comes to a child in a very special package. There is a little coffee spot called Box and Burlap where Highways 67 and 50 come together in Delevan, Wisconsin. Even though his parents had cautioned my young grandson Augie against taking Vinnie the cat, his little stuffed animal, along on a walk, he had insisted. Somehow, he was lost along the way. The family had gone back and looked for him, but to no avail. Weeks later, a photo appeared on the Facebook page for the coffee shop, showing a tiny cat in a box, looking for all the world like the velveteen rabbit. The accompanying caption read: “Hi, I have having a pumpkin latte at Box and Burlap in Delevan. But I can be picked up here if I am yours.
(Augie with his cat)
“Children are born with a spirit. The kindness of the strangers who returned Vinnie the cat to Augie taught him more than enough about kindness. I am grateful to every person I have met who is like this. Stories abound about people who gave out a dry pair of socks to soldiers or meals to families in the middle of the influenza epidemic of 1918. Those are the kinds of things that are good for your soul and keep others in your heart. Children learn fast.”
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