Wednesday, May 4, 2011

World’s Best Mother’s Day Present (Even After the Fact)

What if I told you it was possible for you to give a present to your mother (or arrange for your kids to give a present to their mother) for Mother’s Day that had four characteristics: (1) it costs only a few pennies, (2) it takes little effort for most people to create it, (3) it had a high probability of making her cry (in a good way) and (4) it would be one of the things she’d be sure to grab in the (hopefully unlikely) event of a house fire? Interested? Well that gift is to write her [or arrange for your kid(s) to write her] a gratitude letter.

Gratitude letters are usually around 300 words in length, but can be as long as you’d like. (Kids in elementary school might write briefer letters and/or draw pictures instead.) The letter is in the first person (i.e., “you are so loving in how you treat me when I am sick” not “my mom is so loving when I’m sick”). To be more personal, write it out by hand. The letter should express only positive thoughts and feelings and should not include direct or indirect statements regarding your mom’s failings or opportunities for growth.Try to include examples of specific things that your mom has done or said that cause you to feel gratitude; these examples can be recent or from a long time ago. When it’s time to share the letter it’s best to read it to her (kids might rotate doing this one-on-one on Mother’s Day); don’t chicken out and hand it over for her to read. You may start to tear up or get emotional. That’s okay (you'll probably find you're not the only one). When you’re finished give it to your mom. Allow the positive moment to linger as long as she’d like (i.e., some of us, though we enjoy it, may start to feel a little uncomfortable with the intimacy that can emerge); in other words, your mom should decide when to end the moment or change the topic. (If you are reading this after Mother’s Day don’t let that stop you from trying it!)

You can also find a lot of satisfaction in writing gratitude letters for others, in your family or otherwise, towards whom you have unexpressed gratitude, be it ancient or recent. The experience is usually very positive, and often to a surprising degree.

BOTTOM LINE: Surprise your MOM or ANYONE you love with a "gratitude letter", and I'll bet YOU will be delighted as well. Thanks to Dr. Palmiter for today's guest blog entry.

Dr. David Palmiter is a practicing clinical psychologist and psychology professor in Scranton, PA. He is also the President-Elect of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and the author of Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies that Make a Difference His blog can be found at

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