When I was handed a beautiful 5 pound, 13 ounce baby back in 1992, I took a very big gulp. The first thought that ran through my head was: “My life has changed forever.” The enormity of the responsibility hit me full force. Yes, I was thrilled. But I was also completely terrified.
Babysitting as a teenager had never been my strong suit. To say that I lacked control would be a humorous understatement. On one of my more memorable babysitting jobs, the kids literally tied me up until their parents returned home! Those nightmarish experiences made me fear how I would handle motherhood. I’d never, ever even BATHED a baby when I brought one home from the hospital! When it was time for Anne’s first bath, I called my dear friend, Barb, in desperation. She was a mother par excellence. She quickly arrived at my door and patiently showed me how to bathe my infant daughter without drowning her.
Slowly but surely, I gained confidence about doing all of those “motherly” tasks. But what mattered most to me was loving (and not smothering) my daughter effectively and helping her grow into a young woman of sterling character who loved God and others well, and who was developing her God-given potential.
I realized that I DID actually have some transferable skills for that task. Whether it was leading people at IBM or discipling a group of teenage girls at my church, I knew the importance of affirmation and encouragement to help people develop and blossom.
For mothers or mothers-to-be, here are a few of the lessons I have learned about affirmation over the course of my “career” as a mom:
-Realize that your children are entrusted to you by God, but they are not your property. The first time I laid Anne in her crib, I prayed this prayer from 1 Samuel 1:27-28: “I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give her to the LORD. For her whole life, she will be given over to the LORD.” Having that mindset, and continuing to recommit to that attitude, provides a wise perspective for motherhood. Healthier choices are made when you see your child as someone precious, entrusted to you for a season, instead of an extension or reflection of you. You allow your child to make mistakes. You try to control less and coach more. You encourage relationships with other godly role models. And you pray a LOT as you surrender.
-Look for the qualities in each child that are unique and special and encourage those attributes. Paint a mental picture for your child of how those qualities will serve them well in life. Continue to remind your child that they are “uniquely and wonderfully made” by God and that they are an original. They don’t have to copy anyone else. No one else has their fingerprints. Encourage your child to be the best they can be, not to be the best copy of someone else. Remember to put as much emphasis on character qualities as you do on accomplishments and abilities.
-Be a noticer. And keep notes! I began writing an annual birthday letter to my daughter on the day she was born. And every year, I would write a letter describing how I had seen her grow and develop over the past year and highlight special memories. I affirmed the most beautiful character qualities I had seen and gave supporting examples. I didn’t give her those accumulated letters until she was 20. Each year since, I have continued to write her an annual birthday letter, encouraging her for who she is and not just for what she accomplishes.
-Bite your tongue every time you’re tempted to compare your child to one of their friends. Continually praising another child’s positive qualities or accomplishments makes your child think they’re not enough. And lauding your child over a friend gives them a sense of pride and superiority. Neither is good. “Of all the little girls in the world, I’m so glad God gave me YOU and let me be your Mommy,” is a wonderfully affirming thing to say to your child.
-Write little notes of encouragement on a regular basis. As soon as my daughter could read, I would enclose a note in her lunch every day. I used an index card affixed with a sticker and a short note of affirmation. I wrote things like “Have I told you lately how much fun you are? Thanks for making me laugh!” or “Annie, Always remember how precious you are to God and to us.” Some moms write notes like that on napkins. I used index cards and saved them, wanting her to have evidence of my love for her in case I didn’t live a long life. Several years ago, my daughter wrote me an amazing letter listing things she loved and appreciated about me, and these were her words: “My lunchbox notes! Best tradition ever. I was the luckiest and most loved kid at school every single day.”
-As your child gets older, help them find their passions and strengths. It’s so easy to try to fit a child into our own mold and direction, and that’s not fair! We’ve had our chance pursue our dreams. Let’s encourage our children to do the same. Careers exist today that didn’t even exist when we were children! I’m a real advocate of the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (JOCRF.ORG) for helping a teenager understand their natural aptitudes and how those might be applied for a fulfilling career. My daughter showed aptitudes indicating a proclivity for public relations. Coupling her aptitudes with her great love for football, she has pursued a thriving career In Media Relations in the NFL. (And has earned Super Bowl rings from two different teams!)
-Remember that there’s no expiration date on their need for encouragement. As an adult, your offspring need your affirmation more than ever as life’s challenges become even harder and more complex. Taking the time to put those words in writing gives them something to read and reread. Yes, text messages are nice and immediate, but they don’t last.
Children do not come with any guarantees. They can be loved, affirmed and encouraged throughout their growing up years and still make terrible decisions as adults. You can't be responsible for that. But there is no greater career, calling or privilege than to be a mother. And no greater sense of peace and satisfaction than knowing that we’ve done our very best to raise them.
Please be intentional about affirming your children. That doesn't mean not to tell them when they are wrong or to correct behaviors as needed. But only YOU will be their mom, and you're the greatest cheerleader they'll ever have.
"All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."