With Mother’s Day coming on Sunday, I’m again missing my own mom (who died in 1995), but I’m also asking, and more fervently with each passing year, “what kind of a ‘mom legacy’ am I giving my own kids?”
The new book “Words Kids Need to Hear” by David Staal (Zondervan Books) is calling me to account. Though written from a Christian perspective (the subtitle is “to help them be who God made them to be”), it’s wholly appropriate for a secular world in driving home the power of words, especially to our kids.
We’ve heard the ridiculous aphorism, “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Who came up with that nonsense? Wrong words, or the lack of right words, can hurt us profoundly.
Staal, who heads the Promiseland children’s ministry at Willowcreek Community Church in Barrington, Ill, is a friend of mine whom, I happen to know, lives what he writes. So I paid attention as he recounted in the opening to his book attending a funeral at which three adult children spoke movingly of the wonderful father they had just lost.
He says the way they remembered their father’s words was as if the conversations had taken place the night before not during their childhood. Staal asks himself, “under similar circumstances, what would my kids say about me? What messages do I send them that will make a difference in their lives?”
And so Staal began to research, seek advice, and ask questions, in order to come up with something of a checklist for the statements (backed up by action) our kids need to hear from us as their parents:
This little book has called me to do some big accounting in my life as a mom.
Staal says the statements kids need to hear (each given their own chapter) are:
— “I believe in you.”
Not the “you are great” self-esteem platitudes, but rather in the encouraging sense that we believe in our children’s ability to face a challenge. Moreover, Staal says we parents should find (sometimes from other adults in their lives) our children’s strengths and encourage those, instead of focusing on their weaknesses:
— “You can count on me.”
To care for and just to be there for our kids, or be present with them in the moment, and to listen and communicate that we are really hearing them (This is the one I struggle with the most — just putting down the task of the moment for my kids):
— “I treasure you.”
This doesn’t mean worshipping our children, or having them think we love them because of something they do, as in, “you are so good at math.” But rather seeing them for who they are, giving them the freedom to fail, and letting them know they are loved like crazy no matter what, simply because of their position they hold in being our children.
— “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
When we go to our children and ask forgiveness, we are conferring on them a care and an understanding of their human dignity, and training them to ask for forgiveness, in an extraordinarily powerful way.
— “No.” (full disclosure, Staal kindly quotes me in this chapter.)
Personally, I’m fond of saying that parents should more often use “no” as a complete sentence, only I don’t do it nearly enough myself.
And of course:
— “I love you,” backed up by real and affirming actions.
Staal says a healthy does of communicating to our kids “because,” as in, we say and do these things “because” our kids really matter to us, is icing on the cake.
This is one mom who needed to hear that reminder about legacy shaping words that, well, kids need to hear.
Happy Mother’s Day.
(Betsy Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com.)