“Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will be.”
To the person who said my child would set a world record for longest period of time any human has gone without brushing the back of her head …
To the person who said she’d get her driver’s permit before she learned to ride a bike …
To the person who said she’d always move at a snail’s pace …
You were wrong.
To the person who said my child would never enjoy running unless it was to the ice cream truck …
To the person who said it would take a miracle to get her to dive off the starting blocks …
To the person who said she’d be sucking her thumb during the SAT test …
You should see her now.
To the person who said she’d always be a bit of a loner …
To the person who said she would probably get married in stretchy pants …
To the person who said she would live happily ever after among clutter, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, and snack wrappers …
I’d like to give you a piece of my mind.
But then I'd have to give myself a piece of my mind. Because it was me. I was the one with these future-diminishing thoughts about my child. I was the one who had her pegged from an early age, as if I had a crystal ball that predicted her destiny. Good thing I never said these things out loud … or so I thought. At a recent swim meet, I learned that my thoughts had the power to influence, and it wasn’t necessarily for good.
My daughter had just completed her team warm up and was making her way down the stairs for her first event. This competition included hundreds of swimmers from several states and took place in a massive natatorium.
Olympic-size pools used to make my child cry and now look at her! I thought proudly as she walked off confidently to her first event. She’d overcome that fear, along with many others, in the past twelve months.
At the sound of the buzzer, my daughter dove off the blocks like a pro and stayed neck in neck with the other swimmers in the 50-yard freestyle event. I felt my eyes fill with joyful tears. She has come so far! I thought to myself for the second time in five minutes.
My daughter climbed out of the pool and made her way to where I stood at the steps. From twenty-five yards, all I could see was her smile. It was like one gigantic grin walking towards me with little pale legs.
“Wow!” I said as I hugged my goggle-clad child. “I love watching you blast through the water like a rocket!” I exclaimed.
“I sure did!” she agreed. “I never thought I’d be competitive,” she said beaming up at me.
Huh? What eight-year-old child says that?
Suddenly I felt two inches tall.
What eight-year-old says that? The one who heard it from someone bigger … from someone she wants to please … from someone who greatly influences her self-perception.
I remember thinking she didn't have a competitive bone in her body many times, but somehow those thoughts became known by my child. How long did she desire to be “competitive,” thinking that “non competitive” was not the preferred trait? How long had she felt the need to change who she was?
All at once, I could recall other dismal outcomes I’d jokingly predicted in my head based on her abilities, interests, or preferences. But that wasn’t fair, kind, or helpful. She is a human being with thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. She is a child who is learning, changing, and growing by the day. My bleak predictions (whether thought or spoken) did not help her reach developmental milestones or mature more quickly. Those processes typically happen in time—in her own time. And insinuating she needed to change the characteristics that made her uniquely her could be quite damaging.
I considered berating myself for this almost decade-long mistake, but then I decided to do something productive instead. I decided to use my child’s poolside words as a gift—a gift of awareness, another step toward being the best version of myself that I can be.
I knew exactly where I could find inspiration for change. I’d recently saved a frame-worthy article entitled, “Love and Wealth Are Not Enough.” In it, Dr. Joince Webb reveals the primary ingredient needed in childhood to produce a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult. I’d already read the article three times to soak up the Hands Free inspiration it contained, but I read it twice more. In light of my child’s words, this section really resonated with me:
“Beyond feeling loved, a child has to feel known. A child has to feel that her parents know her and love her for who she truly is: strengths and weaknesses, personality traits, preferences, foibles and quirks. She must feel that her parents see the real her and know the real her. That’s the only kind of love that feels true and genuine. It’s the only kind of love that produces a child with healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of identity, and resilient self-worth.”
Right then and there, I made a vow.
I will celebrate my child for who she is right now—not what her current skills or interests indicate she might become. In addition, I will refrain from writing off any future possibilities for my child just because she struggles with something now.
I cannot predict. So let me stop.
I cannot accelerate. So let me pause.
I cannot control. So let me release.
But there is something I can do. There is something we can all do for the people we love, no matter what life stage they are in: We can wonder.
Take a look at this beautiful three-part definition of wonder:
- a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
- to desire or be curious to know something
- to feel admiration and amazement
To wonder about you is to know you … to see you …to delight in you just as you are.
To wonder about you is to love you in the most powerful way possible.
My friends, if you would like to join me in the Act of Wondering in an effort to enhance futures rather than diminish them, perhaps this will inspire you:
To the child who rather catch butterflies than fly balls …
To the child who wants to play catch ‘til the sun goes down …
You are a wonder.
To the child who prefers quiet solitude …
To the child who prefers an audience …
You are a wonder.
To the child who does things in her own way, in her own time …
To the child who is forges ahead with no signs of slowing down …
You are a wonder.
To the child who wears his heart on his sleeve …
To the child who wears a costume through the supermarket …
You are wonder.
To the child whose butterfly colors light up a room …
To the child whose firefly light shines quietly from within …
You are wonder.
To the child who questions everything about life …
To the child whose innate knowledge runs deep …
You are a wonder.
So go on, extraordinary one.
Live and let live.
Love and be loved.
Bloom in time—in your own time.
Now I see you for who you really are.
You are a wonder.
I’m sorry I didn’t see it before.
But I see it now.
I see it now.
You are a wonder.
And with glistening eyes, I’ll be watching proudly to see what your future holds.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, please share your thoughts, stories, and aspirations. The comment section of this blog is so affirming and supportive because of your willingness to share.
Please take some time this week to read the article I mentioned in the post. It describes the difference between feeling love and being loved so you are better able to incorporate both types of love into your daily interactions. The article also addresses what you can do as an adult if you did not receive this true, genuine feeling of love growing up.
Georgia friends, I am thrilled and honored to be part of the LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER Atlanta production. The mission of each show is to take the audience on a well-crafted journey that celebrates and validates mothering in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor in the form of original readings performed live on stage by their authors. What began six years ago as one show in Madison, WI has grown to 39 shows across the United States. Click here for tickets to the April 25th show that I am honored to be participating in or click here to see the 39 cities where LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER will be happening!
A special thanks to my Indiana friends who came to my speaking and book signing events last week. I am still smiling from the Hoosier love you bestowed on me.
I can’t tell you how much i love your posts…literally every single one of them brings me to tears. Your words, your strenghth, your encouragement all help to guide me to be the mom i want to be to my beautiful three year old daughter. Even in trying moments im reminded of your insight which helps me to redirect myself….they bring me peace, even if for a moment….and for that i cant thank you enough. Sincerely Jennifer from Buffalo
I just discovered your website and I absolutely love it! I find myslef trapped and pushed by the ever speeding world. I look at my 7year old and worry all time, am I doing enough to help him be the best he can, to achieve his full potential? I’ll take your advise from now on and look at him in wonder instead and let him be who he is. Thank you, your words gave me hope today.
Lori Wiggins says
Thank you so much for these words that so resignate with me at just the right time..I needed them!
Leslie Swathwood says
Thank you for another post that totally resonates with me and inspires me, to improve myself for my 8.5yr old daughter Claire! 🙂
And Jason, Claire and I so enjoyed your presentation on Saturday in Indy….it literally made my day, week, month and more!
Please keep writing and sharing your tremendous gift with all of us.
You are amazing! xoxo
MS Davis says
You always strike me right at the moment I need it the most! I have been struggling with my darling child, and her difference from my familiar self. I am so afraid I am going to ruin her, but you give me hope. You truly are an inspiration, and have opened my eyes like you will never know.
This post brought me to tears! You and you alone are my inspiration to be a better mother. I come to your site everyday to find hope. Thank you!
I wonder about my children all the time. I wonder about their present and I wonder about their future. What will they become?
Of course, there is some worry. That’s what we parents do.
It’s great that your daughter is moving forward and proving something to herself and you.
Oh, Rachel, you’ve done it again– your article has moved me to tears, given me hope that I can change and shown me that I am indeed not alone in some of my thoughts and fears about my child’s future. My son NEVER ceases to amaze me, especially when I least expect it, and it has filled me with a sense of wonder. I just need to make the Act of Wondering, that sense of awe and acceptance and joy, into more of every single day. Thank you for your beautiful and always meaningful posts.
Merci Moulder says
I wonder how many times I have predicted the future or narrowed down what my kids will be like, even good things. They are so young – 4,6 and 8 – and will change so much. Thanks for showing me what I’ve done.
I enjoyed meeting you on Saturday and hope to have you come to MOPS soon!
-Merci (Jenn’s friend)
Rachel Stafford says
I loved meeting you, Merci! My time in Indiana was so rewarding and refueling to my writer’s heart. Thank you for these kind words. I sure hope we get to see each other again at the MOPS gathering.
I know how hard it must have been to write this post. I just wanted to say thank you. We have all been there because we all really want what we think is best for our children. You are right though – we don’t know, we can’t predict, and we really shouldn’t try to. Thank you for another powerful message. I’m hanging your words from today up on my medicine cabinet, where some of your other posts live, so I can look at them each morning.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Ellie. Yes, this was difficult to share and your understanding of that makes me feel so comforted and loved. I am grateful to know my words are hung up on your cabinet. You have touched my heart today.
Lori Ray says
Hi Rachel, I have left a few comments here and you have always been generous in your reading. I often go back to try to find some of the books and sites you highlight but struggle for time, memory, etc. I am the single mom trying to keep up with a more than full time career and raise my two daughters. You have been gracious enough to reach out to me before with help….Could you please list two great resources, maybe the first two that come to your mind….again here for me? I just know if I start small as I did with your book, I can continue on the road to being a better parent for my girls. We are making vast improvements slowly, but I need to keep finding my way.
Thanks so much.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Lori – I am so glad you are here walking beside me faithfully on this journey. My colleague, Sandy Blackard, often helps me respond to the many email messages I receive from people seeking help with specific challenges in their parenting. Her responses always enlighten me and inspire me. Therefore, I recommend her book: Say What You See. It is a very easy read and you can put the wonderful approach to parenting right into action. It is free if you read it online. Here is the link: http://www.languageoflistening.com/resources/read-swys-book/. I also love Yell Less, Love More for it’s practical tips and hopeful inspiration: http://www.amazon.com/Yell-Less-Love-More-Alternatives/dp/1592336337/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426619785&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Orange+Rhino. Peaceful Parenting by Laura Markham is also one of my favorites: http://www.amazon.com/Peaceful-Parent-Happy-Kids-Connecting/dp/0399160280/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426619845&sr=8-1&keywords=peaceful+parenting
If you want to work on YOU and loving yourself so you can better love your children, I encourage you to read anything by Brene Brown. I have healed so much from her books. My favorite is: http://www.amazon.com/Gifts-Imperfection-Think-Supposed-Embrace/dp/159285849X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426619893&sr=8-1&keywords=brene+brown
Much love to you, friend.
Lori Ray says
Thank you so much Rachel. I will be picking up these reads and appreciate so much your help!
Dear Rachel – I have to wonder at you, and how you so often provide me with exactly what I need to shake me up and center me again. Over the last 2 weeks I’d been going over and over in my head all kinds of traits in my 10-year-old son and wondering if and how I should encourage him to adjust in some way. I cringe at even writing that; it horrifies me that I even considered it. He doesn’t ride a bike yet, and doesn’t swim on his own yet although he likes his swim lessons and teacher. He can get carsick (like me) and is nervous about riding on buses. And he is a great baseball and basketball player, a voracious reader, and a deeply caring big brother. I thought and thought all week about whether he’d miss out on things, or be teased by others who are already on the swim team or riding to the store with friends. I didn’t say anything, but it also idn’t occur to me that kids are so attuned they pick these things up, they feel the messages. I’m so grateful for your post so that I can start to love better the child in front of me. He’s a miracle in exactly this moment, and the next. Thank you for reminding me.
Rachel Stafford says
This is so beautiful and heartfelt, Illana. Thank you for sharing your story. I am deeply touched and inspired by your honesty, your openness, and your love for your son. He is a wonder. Please hug him for me. Sending you a big hug. Thank you for “wondering” about me. That made me smile.
Sandy Blackard says
You just gave thousands of parents the gift of wonder instead of doubt, and children the freedom to grow into their full potential. Truly inspiring post! Thank you for sharing your insights and also for sharing my book with your readers. I’m honored.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Sandy! What a beautiful way to say that: the gift of wonder instead of doubt for parents and the freedom to grow into their full potential for children. I love your perspective and your generous heart. You help so many, including me!
This was just what I needed to read tonight. My husband and I were just discussing our 4 year-old’s meltdowns and often rudeness to others, as well as what my husband saw when he went to Dad’s day at preschool, which was how shy he is, and how cripplingly uncomfortable he is in a crowd or when put on display. He curled up in a ball when he was supposed to be the flag holder with all of the grown-ups in the room, and refused to sing the songs, preferring to play with blocks off by himself in the corner. My husband was/is also like this, so his triggers were triggered watching out son’s discomfort, and his heart bled for him. Tonight we got into a discussion where we agree that we don’t care if he doesn’t want to do those particular things, but then were worrying about at what point would/could that cause him social issues. Would other kids think he is the weird kid off in the corner, etc.? Should we be doing something to help him with this? Should we see a family therapist to see if there is some strategy to help him with this? Is this area in ehich we live (ridiculously competitive about EVERYTHING) the right place to raise him and give him the best shot at a happy life? I NEEDED theses words tonight, as I worry about what I am/am not doing to help them grow up to be their best self – not monetarily, or status-wise, but good, happy, caring people. I am excited to try to look with wonder instead of worry tomorrow. Thank you!
It was the same kind of reassurance for me as I probably feel the same as your husband when I watch my son, I’ve suffered with depression since I can remember, and I can see traits of it in my boy sometimes and I don’t want him to suffer like me. I’ve spent most of my evening pondering over what I’ve read here and I feel hopeful today, he will be fine, he’s kind and clever and we all love him.
Sandy Blackard says
Rachel has invited me to respond to some of her readers with parenting concerns. I am so glad you took her words to heart. Watching your child with wonder will feel like a gift to your son.
I have one observation that I’d like to share with you about “shy” children that I think may make it even easier to relax into the knowledge that your son will be OK. It’s this:
A shy child is probably the most powerful person in the room.
When you think about it, could you keep your eyes averted when great big adults twice your size demand you look them in the eye; could you hide behind another person when scary relatives require a kiss and know you are right there, or like your son, could you curl up in a ball and refuse to come out when everyone else in the room wants you to hold a flag?!! I hope you are at least chuckling by now, but it’s really true. Under pressure like that, most people would fold. Not a shy child!
No one can make a shy child do something he or she does not feel ready to do. That’s the strength that most “shy” kids and their parents do not realize they have.
When you see shyness this way, you naturally change how you talk to children. Instead of coaxing them with concern in your voice, you find yourself saying things with confidence like, “You don’t want to do that yet. You’ll know when you are ready!” Messages like that help children develop self-trust and confidence in themselves…exactly the strengths they need to eventually leave “shy” behaviors behind…but again, only when THEY are ready.
Then when they peek around your legs, or look up from their blocks in the corner to observe the other children, you can recognize that as forward movement in their self-paced challenge to join in. And you can comment on that, too, but if they are peeking or sneaking glances in a way that tells you they don’t want to be noticed, it’s best not to say anything in the moment. Later, you can say what you saw something like this, “When you were playing with your blocks, you were glancing up and checking to see what the others were doing. You like to observe first. That helps you decide when you are ready.”
Once they set a challenge for themselves, children begin moving closer to their goal, but at their own pace. When you see their small steps as joining in instead of holding back, it’s easier to watch with wonder.
Julia Kurskaya says
What a revelation to realize that shyness shows power! This never came into my mind. I thought about it as some sort of chronic sickness and felt many times embarrassed by it. My almost 5 year old daughter when greeted by other adults either just ignores them or says firmly, “No, I am not saying anything!” I’m telling her “You’re not ready YET” so many times but I have been wondering whether she will ever be ready, you know.
Now, I have tears in my eyes and more power to look into other people’s surprised eyes. Thank you, Sandy! And thank you, Rachel, for another beautiful post. You’re right – we don’t have to change anything, we cannot accelerate, we cannot predict. We are here to know our children and wonder. 🙂
Nicole Schwarz says
Beautiful. I can only imagine how wonderful it would feel to be loved like this…with wonder instead of judgment or forecasting. I hope I can have this mindset more often when I look at my kids. Thank you!
Rachel, thank you. As a mom to a sweet little with some special needs, who has overcome SO many challenges in his short life, I still find myself quietly placing limits on him. I used to think he would never walk correctly, talk and communicate well, even become potty trained (I even inwardly used to joke about things like – “they say kids won’t go to kindergarten in diapers…well, they haven’t met my little guy!”). And he’s proven me wrong time and time again. But your article made me sit back and think – how much does he perceive from my inward dialogue about his development and abilities? How much am I holding him back, just by thinking too far into the future and placing unspoken limits on what I think he will be able to accomplish in time? I needed this SO much and appreciate your heart. I am going to stop worrying and begin seeing the wonder in my sweet boy (in all of my little ones!)…and love him for HIM, in every single moment. Thanks again.
Lori Carter says
Thanks so much for this post and the reminder to bring and give the gift of wonder to our children. Congratulations on being cast in the Listen To Your Mother show! How exciting! I auditioned for the Raleigh-Durham show this year (an honor in itself), and attended last year’s show here. I love LTYM! Break a leg!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Lori! I appreciate those kind words!
Amanda Vieira says
When will you allow me to translate your book to Portuguese?….
I’ve embarked on this journey of Motherhood almost two years ago, but things CHANGED since I was led by a friend of mine to read one of your articles.
And now, reading this one, I’ve read another thing that deeply grabbed my attention. You wrote
“So go on, extraordinary one.”
And that defines EXACTLY who my son is: AN EXTRAORDINARY ONE.
Thank you for helping me to see the poetry and the amazement of being a Hands Free Mama to him…
And if you ever decide to translate your articles and book(s) to Portuguese, please, give me the HONOR to do it. I wish all moms I know could read your words. And I would GLADLY help you to spread the BLESSING of being a Hands Free Mama to over one hundred million women, all Portuguese speakers.
I love you, my dear friend I’ve never met.
Thanks for all you are doing for all of us.
Go ahead, and be encouraged!!
My “Extraordinary Davi” needs to be better known by his Hands Free Mama!
And she is greatly blessed by you everytime she reads the things you write.
You have the ability to “translate” everything that is in all of us to a piece of paper… And this changes us.
Go ahead, my Amazing Rachel.
With all my heart,
[…] “Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will …read more […]
[…] let me stop. I cannot accelerate. So let me pause. I cannot control. So let me release. –From Before You Predict a Child’s Future, Try This Instead by Hands Free […]