How to (and how to not) Speak Love
Updated: Feb 3, 2019
I recently was speaking to my friend about our first grade sons. 6 to 7 year old boys. They’re both our oldest, we have no idea what we’re doing and we are both overwhelmed at times. My friend confided that she was considering starting counseling for her son to help figure out some of his behavior, and I told her I had considered the same for mine.
This stage seems really hard. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ll kindly and lovingly giggle at myself 10 years from now and think, “Remember when you thought first grade was hard?” But here is my truth: I have a son. I’ve never had a son. I’ve never even had a brother. I don’t know how boys work. I don’t know if something is “age appropriate” or an “ADHD warning sign.” And while parenting in 2019 is amazing for so many reasons, it also really sucks because we have so much information and so much comparison happening.
This past summer my family went to Disney World. I will pause here to say that Disney World is the ultimate place of parent solidarity. It could easily be renamed, "World of all the Emotions." Every child melts down, I'm convinced of it. I spent a lot of time walking around the park with my daughter who was too little to ride the roller coasters that my boys were riding. One of my favorite things to do during those walks was encourage the struggling parents, "You're doing awesome!" "We've all been there!" "High five!" All you have to do is look kindly into fellow parent's eyes at Disney World and you give and receive the message of, "I see you." Our first day at the Magic Kingdom was 16 hours of pure magic. The following day at Animal Kingdom was still wonderful, but it was a little harder.
My husband and I were starting to feel frustrated at our son’s inability to listen. It wasn't just the trip and being at "World of all the Emotions," it had been weeks and weeks of not listening. Was it end of summer? Was it his age, entering first grade? Was it an underlying issue? So many questions, so many things. My husband was having a hard time keeping his cool and I was, therefore, overcompensating. I was doing a great job. Until I wasn’t and I lost it.
We were waiting in the amphitheater for the Lion King show to start and my two boys were being squirmy. Beyond squirmy. A 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, unable to keep their hands off of each other, bored and waiting for a show, kind of hot because it’s Orlando in August, at Disney World squirmy. (I hope someone is saying, “uh huh! Been there!”) I decided that it was my job to guide this situation, but I was exhausted from trying to overcompensate and be the mediator between my husband and son for too long.
My conversation started with, “Hey boys, there are people all around us. We want to make it pleasant for them to be around us. To do that we have to keep our hands to ourselves, use inside voices, etc.”
This is helpful, this is how you should handle a situation.
However, my gentle guidance failed and it quickly turned to me hissing in my oldest son’s ear, “What is wrong with you?! No one wants to be around you when you act this way. Pull it together! Why can’t you listen?!”
This is not helpful, this is not how you should handle a situation.
Eventually the show started and my boys settled down, but my reaction was not what made them settle.
Sometimes, still to this day, I lay in bed at night and I replay that scene. I picture all the lies the enemy will tell my son throughout his life. And then I recall myself whispering those same lies in his ear:
“What is wrong with you?” “No one wants to be around you.” “Why can’t you listen?!”
This is not who I am as a parent. This is who I am as a sinner. So to parent as best as I can, I need Jesus. Because, don’t be fooled, the enemy will speak those lies into my son’s ear and the last place he needs to hear them repeated is from the mouth of his own mother.
I want to speak God’s love and God’s truth over my kids every day. And on those days where I majorly mess up, I want and need to ask for forgiveness. I have asked for forgiveness from my son and from God for that moment. My sweet son hugged me and said, “I forgive you. I remember that, it hurt my feelings. But you’re still the best mom ever.” Sometimes my fear that I’m failing my kids is so big that I can’t imagine God saying that same thing to me, but I know he is covering me in his grace. He is with me and goes before me in every parenting moment. So maybe first graders don’t have to be as scary because I know my God goes first. Even if (when) I mess up, he is there to catch me.
That Lion King moment was kind of a wake up call to how I speak. I try to give my children life-giving, encouraging words whenever I can so that they are surrounded by those truths from their most trusted resources, and as their parents, we really are just that. Since then I have tried to be very intentional with my words in every day moments, which is hard, and on special occasions too.
Here are some ways I speak love to my kids:
On their birthdays my husband and I pick out two birthday cards: one to give them and one to keep. In the one we keep, we take the age they are turning and write that many things that we love about them inside of it. We will give them these cards when they turn 18.
I love to bless my kids before I send them to school every day. We talk about it a lot here because it is such an easy and sweet way to speak positively and prayerfully to your kids. I literally do it as the bus is pulling up or as we leave the car for preschool, it doesn't take long.
I try to use holidays as a time to build my kids up and show them love in a creative or thematic way. I figure we fill them up with sugar and presents for as many holidays as we can, we might as well use those special occasions to fill them up with encouragement too.
This year for Valentine’s day, I wrote something that I love about each of my kids and my husband on a heart shaped piece of paper for every day of February leading up to Valentine’s day. 14 days of loving encouragement. I tape a new heart to their door every night before bed so that they see them when they wake up in the morning. On Valentine’s day they will have 14 reasons I love them on their door. This is so easy. I did all of them at once because I’m lazy like that, it took me minutes to do. Some are more general than others, but I know that it will make an impact on them. I know that the more I do those things, the more they will internalize those positive messages. At the end of my life I want my kids to think of me as a mom who whispered greatness and love straight from God in their ear and these hearts are just a small part of that.