Confession time: when I was a teenager and young adult I wanted to be a model. Or I thought I wanted to be a model. Perhaps I only wanted to be so beautiful, or to be so recognized. Given what I saw on America’s Next Top Model I can’t say I actually envied the model’s lifestyle or career requirements, but I admit I longed for the affirmation I felt sure came with such a line of work—the world looks to you for beauty; the world looks to you for the way they ought to be.
If only I had known where the power of a model really lies.
Now that I am older I see how foolish and shallow our admiration of the beautiful and famous is. Maturity will do that for a person. But I do think my turning point was when my kids were born and I realized, with a greater sense of gravity and empowerment than any modeling agent or hiring director could bestow, that my birth into motherhood was my inauguration into the most important modeling gig I could ever undertake. I am finally a model, in every sense of the word.
My kids look to me for beauty.
My kids look to me to discover the way they ought to be.
As I recognized this I began to recognize, too, the awesome responsibility of this role. As a parent I am a model of behavior, a model of decorum, a model of thought and of presentation. I can easily forget how powerful that model is and yet my kids constantly remind me that, consciously or not, they are adopting and adapting what they see in me and making it their own all the time. The other day my son told me a story of when he was getting off the school bus—“I mean, disembarking,” he corrected himself. And I could hardly deny both my glee and my amusement at his choice of words, even as I recalled the countless times my husband admonishes me for my flowery vocabulary. What can I say? I had flowery models to learn from.
I only hope that as I continue honing my craft at this modeling gig that it causes me to grow in the areas I want to see grow most in my kids. Recently I have been pondering gratitude—the feeling, the expression, the lifestyle. I find myself noticing and being discouraged by the number of times we seem to linger on all we don’t have or all that’s not working the way we desire. Yet how do I cultivate gratitude as a deeply rooted way of life? I know that when I genuinely feel most grateful my mood lightens, my outlook improves, and my contentment increases. I know that study after study indicates that people characterized by gratitude are happier, healthier, more adaptive and resilient, more generous and less lonely. I see the same obvious indicators in my kids when we take the time to name our blessings, express gratitude, or talk about what’s going well. Gratitude is a game changer for the better.
In our family we have many times practiced noticing all we have to be grateful for. We have a chalkboard in our kitchen where we list things we are grateful for, from friendships to chewy bread crusts. We have a blessings jar where we collect written treasures and we have started a list, posted on our basement stairwell, a running log of all the things for which we are thankful. Yet even with all that, how easy it is to lose sight of the good in a quick moment of disappointment or frustration. How quickly we lost our grasp of what we have in light of what we lack. And how very sad for all of us to recognize that this is the case.
So we soldier on, in search of gratitude, cultivated in our own hearts and expressed every avenue of our lives. I want gratitude to be our way of life, so that even in the dourest of circumstances we never lose sight of the good gifts that flow our way. I know, as a parent, that how I cultivate this practice will leave lasting impressions on my kids, who are watching me all the time. They are looking to me for beauty; they are looking to me to discover the way they ought to be.
This is an awesome responsibility, yes, but also a great privilege. For that, I am grateful.