“Looking for the Goodness” Published in Tumbleweeds Newspaper Spring 2014, Santa Fe, NM
“You did great mommy,” the four year old exclaimed as his mom pulled a perfectly browned marshmallow from the fiery orno. “Well thanks sweety,” she replied tenderly as my husband and I cooed nearby, nibbling on the marshmallow-chocolate sandwiches we had made minutes earlier. We sat at La Posada’s Tuesday evening s’mores station in the courtyard of their patio café. The dusky sunlight streamed through the lush courtyard, bringing the first tinges of cool air as the evening waned on that August night. The din of meals coming to a close combined with the gurgling water fountain completed a moment in time that I will not soon forget.
Witnessing this sweet reversal of roles between parent and child immediately plucked my heartstrings. How wonderful to hear the words of encouragement and positivity come out of such a tiny being! All the encouragement in his life must have grown out of somewhere. Positive observations make us happier as individuals, but they also make those around us feel happier.
In my husband and my preparations to become parents for the first time, we took a parenting class offered through the Santa Fe United Way office. Our class took place over three Thursday evening sessions last September, 2013. The intimate group included just the two of us, our teacher, and another father from India. I was surprised at the low attendance, especially considering the class was held at New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD). Since the class is targeted at parenting children ages two to eight, I think we were a little preemptive, but we vowed to take a refresher course in a few years. Our facilitator, who we later followed to her birth preparation class at The Birthing Tree, informed us that United Way holds these and other sessions regularly in Santa Fe.
The Positive Parenting Program (or Triple P) was originally developed out of Australia, where it is widely taught. The Program bases their practical strategies on more than 30 years of ongoing research aimed at confidently managing children’s behavior, preventing problems from developing and building strong, healthy relationships. While I had already considered many of the strategies before, there was one particular lesson that stood out above the rest: Look for the Goodness. For the sake of our children, the class teaches that parents should point out good things in life, from the simple pleasures that make us happy to commenting positively on another person when we observe behaviors we wish to emulate. This structure of framing the positive things around us helps our children to see the world in an optimistic light.
That’s not to say we should shelter them from negative experiences, but we should train them to notice when good things happen. Practicing this strategy also trains us to take the good things in life as gifts and not birthrights.
“Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnections in which we alternate between givers and receivers,” writes Robert Emmons, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center’s Gratitude Project. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.” This practice is just that: a practice. We need to train ourselves to find the positive side of a situation.
Looking for the Goodness relates to mindfulness, one of the habits that have been found to correlate with happiness. The Greater Good Science Center out of UC Berkeley hosts a subsection of research on raising happy children. I found out about this center from the author of the book, Raising Happiness, Dr. Christine Carter. Mindfulness, compassion, altruism, empathy, forgiveness and gratitude are all traits that lead to happier children and happier people. Practicing the skill of recognizing the individuals and natural world around us makes us feel more connected and biologically trains our bodies to feel at peace.
When I was going to graduate school in Ithaca, NY, the endless gray days really got me down. On my way to the bus on these cold mornings, I started reminding myself to look up and observe the world around me, instead of charging head-down into the mist. I noticed that if I looked close enough, I could see the tiny purple, green and pink buds appearing on branches, sheltered petals wrapped tightly in the shell of the trees’ bark. Daily, I watched as spring slowly unfolded around me, smiling to myself and wondering at the beauty of life’s cycles. One day, I walked down the street and without consciously taking note of this phenomenon I just started smiling. I couldn’t stop myself, as if I had accidentally tapped into a cosmic current of happiness. Once we feel good, we start to be receptive to possibilities for growth and outreach, both as adults and as children.
Even though my children are not yet born, I find being present enough to acknowledge the positive things around me is a good practice. I know I will be a better mother if I am a happier person. Reflecting on my positive observation of the mother and her son this summer, I am reminded that parenting is a process of reciprocal giving. If I can give my child one gift, I hope it will be the ability to Look for the Goodness.
For information about the Positive Parenting Program classes and others offered through United Way, contact:
Santa Fe Children’s Project Director
United Way of Santa Fe County