Parenting Gratitude Hack: What is 'The Three Things Project'?

Last week was a crazy week. My husband has been away all month and although his work schedule always includes frequent travel, last week I struggled to cope. Tuesday of last week was particularly shameful. I lost my cool. I raised my voice and complained. Sadly, the children witnessed mummy at her worst. I was complaining about everything, from missing the tram to the taste of my morning coffee and guess what happened on Wednesday? I picked up my children from school and they both complained about their day. So much for my “do as I say and not as I do” parenting mantra. 

I felt embarrassed, I have many flaws but a lack of self-awareness is not one of them. I acknowledged that my behaviour was not up to scratch and the truth is I have no one else to blame for my children’s lack of gratitude but myself. But I am not one to stand defeat. 

Parenting is a tough gig, an important job that requires constant audits and reflection. The problem is external auditors cannot be trusted (other parents and strangers can be too critical) so with this job, you must self-assess. Your KPIs and strategic household management skills can only be assessed by you, the parent, which poses another problem – being too critical of one’s self. So instead of feeling disappointed for not being the best example for my children, I did what every diligent responsible adult would do – I ate chocolate…and came up with a plan. My plan was to wake up feeling grateful and hope the children would feel the same. 

On Wednesday of last week, the day my ‘plan’ was meant to take effect, we missed the tram by literally two seconds. I was so excited! Something going wrong was a perfect real-life example of how to be grateful, so I improvised, I told my children a story about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain. I told them about how Mr Complain always saw the worst side of life, how he missed the tram and groaned and looked at people angrily. Then, I told them about Mr. Grateful, who missed the tram but was so happy to be outside that he smiled at strangers, he appreciated the birds chirping and the trees swaying. Mr. Grateful knew that being late was not the end of the world and that he was lucky to live in a country where another tram would be there to pick him up from the next stop. My children recognised themselves (and me) in a series of stories I told them about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain and then I presented them with a ‘Mummy Project’ I called 'The Three Things Project'. I told them that when I picked them up that afternoon they had to tell me about three things that they were grateful for that day and that they would be graded by me based on their thoughtfulness and it worked!

My son, who is almost five, told me about how his friend asked him if he was okay when he felt sad. He told me about how helpful his teachers were when he was making a Gruffalo and about he felt happy about what he had for lunch. 

My daughter, who is seven, said she enjoyed learning about sustainability and that an excursion to a plastic-free supermarket changed the way she perceived toys. She was grateful for her friends and the fact that she had warm clothes on a cold day. 

I was so proud! I gave them both an A+. They loved ‘The Three Things Project’ so much they continued to do it on their own. 

The next morning, we caught the tram on time and back by popular demand was another story about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain and although I tried to keep my voice down, my children were very excited about hearing about how Mr. Complain hated working on the farm. My son laughed so loud at the antics of Mr. Complain that a woman took off her headphones and looked at me. I was worried she was going to tell my son to be more respectful in German (we are working on our inside voices) but instead the woman, who had an American accent said: “Sorry, I overheard and I love that you're teaching them to be grateful, that made my morning.” Turns out not all strangers are critical auditors and I am so grateful for strangers who share kind thoughts (and grateful for those of you who read this blog, of course). 


Later Alligators,

Nomad Naomi aka Mrs Grateful