‘Tis the season for teaching gratitude

By Kelli Smith

The holiday season arrived, and this year is unlike any other! We are all dealing with more stress and uncertainty, and if the holidays didn’t drive you to drink in years past, stock up, hunny, because we’re in for a real nice surprise. Add to this, finding the time and energy to continue devoting to your little ones. 

Yet, not that the pandemic has been a blessing in any way, but in searching for small upsides, I have reflected on what is most important and what we’ve gained through this massive upheaval of our most basic routines. The holidays, now more than ever, offer us a time to reflect, a time to reconnect with what is most important to us and to find gratitude in all things. 

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For the past three years, my family and I have contributed to the Summit County Children Services-Adopt-A-Family program, an extraordinary and well-run operation. We began this at the recommendation of a friend, in honor of our late daughter, Finley Genevieve. Each year we purchase gifts for a child who is the same age that Finley should have been. 

Savannah and Pierce. Credit: Kelli Smith

This year, I find myself wrapping gifts for a 3-year-old little girl whom we’ll never know. The joy this brings is extraordinary; the collateral sadness brings tears, yet is quickly eased in imagining her opening these gifts on Christmas — darkness in my life transposed to light in hers. 

Gratitude seldom comes without sacrifice. This past year, we all have sacrificed much and so have our children. The scale of our shared loss is at levels no generation alive has truly experienced. As parents, we know a great deal about what sacrifice is. We do it all the time for our children, constantly giving up the things we, as parents, want and need for the betterment of our little ones. 

Through this, we can also teach our children the joy of gratitude and service and gain so much by doing it. Even when times are tough and uncertain as they are this year, we can find ways to give back to children whether it is by donating food or gifts. It is a fantastic way for our children to witness giving back to our communities and hopefully, they will continue the tradition when they have their own families. Our 11-year-old, Savannah, has helped us shop for these children the past two years, and now it’s something she asks if we can do right after Halloween! As our 18-month-old Pierce Finley gets older, we will involve her as well. 

And, on top of it all, doing these things will give you the greatest gift of all: time with your children

Kids love quality, uninterrupted time with their parents. As parents, we spend our time keeping our kids safe, fed, clothed and entertained. How much of what we do is considered quality time? How much of it do they? According to one 2018 study, American families spend 37 minutes of quality time together a day. And yes, while during this pandemic we’ve all been spending an inordinate amount of time together, how much of it is truly of good quality? How much of would-be quality time has suffered because we simply weren’t paying attention? In my own life, I’ve had multiple near-misses. The most recent one was after Thanksgiving dinner where my Savannah asked me if she and I could go for a drive. I wanted to say no, but in saying yes, we had a remarkable time together. This was the best gift we both could receive: the gift of time.

This holiday season, be sure to pay attention to opportunities. I don’t know what your losses include this year, but I know they exist and I know they are immense. I can also tell you from great experience we can turn loss into so much more. Whether it is through creating gifts, providing support, fulfilling basic needs, honoring or serving others, and/or building quality time with our children, we, as parents, hold the keys to create the experiences that make the world go ‘round. And now we are needed more than ever. 

Kelli Smith, MBA, is a proud mother to four girls, wife to my best friend Kevin Smith, program director for local nonprofit cancer charity Life Is Good No Matter What, and lastly, she’s been a human resources professional for over 12 years.