On the same day I heard from a woman about her non-existent relationship with her teenage son, my daughter created a wave erosion project for middle school science class.
She did it all by herself except for cutting the foam with a sharp kitchen knife. We huddled together on the floor the garage as I chipped away at the dense foam.
“Just a little more, Mama,” she directed.
I chipped away at the structure so it would appear battered and beat down by waves so powerful they altered the form forever.
But he has bad breath, so I tell him.
But he needs to shower. Is that so wrong to point it out?
But he never remembers to do what he’s supposed to so I nag.
I did not personally know the woman who was reaching out to me in desperation, but I knew exactly where she was coming from. I could hear the corrections in my mind as if they were my own. From personal experience, I knew her intentions were good—perhaps thinking her commentary would help her son fit in or become more responsible. But not only were the corrections ineffective, they were also driving the teen away from a mother who loved him dearly. That’s where they were now—far apart. The mother wanted to know if she could bridge the gap between them after years of chipping away his spirit.
I did not know, but the fact that she was asking … searching … taking a difficult look inward made me hopeful.
I joined my child as she put the final touches on her project. Her capable hands knew exactly how she wanted to apply the sand and paint. When a little sand spilled on the floor, she didn’t look up from her task. “I am going to clean it all up at the end,” she told me as she kept working.
There was no bracing for impact, no look of fear, no “I know what’s coming” expression on my child's face. I exhaled.
Yes, there was hope.
I stopped chipping away four years ago when my constant correcting turned into lip picking on my child’s upper lip and defeat took permanent residence in her eyes. My once happy child who was willing to share her creative ideas and take risks, became sad, anxious, and withdrawn.
My corrections, sometimes spoken, sometimes huffed in annoyance, and sometimes yelled in frustration, were altering her form. She was not the same as she used to be.
But it was her closed bedroom door that woke me up.
I remember reaching for the handle one day and all the red flags rose at once.
My child would rather be alone than with me.
After all, who wants to spend time with someone who can never be pleased … who dictates everything … who never sees your good, only where you’re falling short?
With tears in my eyes I acknowledged I must make changes if I didn’t want to be standing on the other side of this door until my child left home and would be gone for good.
I prayed for the strength to step back and let her do for herself without judgment, commentary, or criticism from me. I prayed for the ability to notice the things she was doing right instead what I perceived to be “wrong”. And finally, I prayed for the wisdom to consider there might be times when her “mistakes” didn't need to be mentioned at all. After all, she was a child who was learning and growing; there needed to be room to try, falter, and try again without a critic standing over her shoulder.
The phrase, “Only Love Today” became my mantra. It was my starting point towards seeing the positives and my stopping point of voicing the problems. Over the past several years, Only Love Today has helped me say and do five connection-building strategies with my daughter I never thought I be able to do. And with them, there is great hope …
Four years ago, if there was an issue with my daughter, I would have demanded we discuss it right then and there, even if I wasn’t calm, even when I knew I would say things I’d regret.
Now if there is an issue that needs addressed, I wait until tensions are not running high. Besides when we’re upset, I’ve learned that early morning and directly afterschool are not good times to talk to her. At those times, she is often tired and sullen. But in the evening, right after swim team practice, she is open and talkative. We use car time or bedtime to discuss tough issues. I try to speak in the manner I wish to be spoken to: calmly and respectfully. I often use my colleague Sandy Blackard’s empowering question when my daughter has an area that needs improvement: “Hmm … there must be something we can do about this. What do you think we should do?”
Bridge the gap
Bridge the gap
Four years ago, when my child was in a bad mood, agitated over not being able to find a sweater or something that seemed insignificant to me, I would have matched her foul mood or agitatedly dismissed her feelings by telling her it was nothing to get upset about.
Drive a wedge
Drive a wedge
Now I try to say, “You seem upset. How can I help?” This response brings down the defenses, validates her feelings, and puts us on the same team working toward a common goal.
Bridge the gap
Bridge the gap
Four year ago, if my child was eating something unhealthy I might have inadvertently shamed her by saying, “Do you think you should you be eating that? It has so many calories.”
Now I convey the choices I’d like her to make by using actions rather than words. I model healthy eating habits, have nutritious foods on hand, and invite her to do physical activity with me so she is aware of what builds strong bodies. Sometimes she chooses foods for herself that I would not choose for her. But because I want her to be a capable and independent thinking teen and adult, I hold my tongue and let her make her own choices. As a result, she’s learning for herself what foods make her feel badly and how a little is better than a lot when it comes to certain treats.
Bridge the gap
Bridge the gap
Four years ago, I harped on her about her messy room and messy ways until I blew up.
Drive a wedge
Drive a wedge
Now I use Sandy Blackard’s positive approach of saying what I see: “Your clean clothes are on the floor,” instead of, “Pick those up.” This way, my daughter is the one who comes up with the solution. From Sandy, I’ve learned the power in leaving out all suggestions unless I know my suggestions will feel like help to my child. My daughter knows what is expected of her (she has a list) and that the fun things she likes to do cannot be enjoyed until her family contributions, like cleaning her room, are complete. Because her family contributions (adopted from Amy McCready’s terrific book) no longer need to be completed on my timetable, there are fewer battles.
Four years ago, I would have overreacted in response to a low grade or a poor choice.
Drive a wedge
Drive a wedge
Now my child checks her grades online and shows me where she would like to improve or where she is struggling. She takes responsibility for speaking to her teachers about improving her grades rather than me doing it for her. When I am tempted to take over something she can do for herself, I simply imagine her in her apartment or dorm room as a young adult effectively problem solving for herself. This image motivates me to step back and let her lead.
Bridge the gap
Bridge the gap
Until one day you look up and see the person you love
is not so far away anymore.
Criticism separates, but validation connects.
My daughter and I watch a suspenseful teen drama series together several nights a week. When the show gets a little scary, she reaches out from her place at the end of the couch. Without saying a word or even looking my way, I know I’m supposed to grab her hand and hold it.
From my spot on the couch and her spot on the chair, we bridge the gap between us.
And when the scary part is over, she takes her hand away, and I study her. I see the way her ponytail drapes over the pillow and the beautifully unique and interesting person she is becoming.
I have shaped her.
She has been shaped by the waves of criticism that crashed on her small, but sturdy shoulders. But with the loving light of validation—no judging, no fixing, no correcting, no controlling—she has also been shaped. But that is not all. Through the loving light of validation, we find our way to each other.
Because when you love someone “as is”, it bridges the gap and offers hope.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, if this post inspires you to build a more positive relationship with your child or someone you love, please consider my latest work of heart as a gift to yourself or a loved one this holiday season. ONLY LOVE TODAY was designed for people with busy lives. You can literally open the book to any page and find stories and intentions that will change the way you respond to yourself and the people you love. Readers are experiencing major shifts in their hearts and homes as a result of reading this book daily. I recently received just this beautiful story:
“My teenage daughter came to me the other night fresh out of the shower and told me how stressed and overwhelmed she was about a problem that I didn't think was that big of a deal. My gut reaction usually would have been to tell her exactly that, give her a quick kiss and move on to the next task — instead I remembered ONLY LOVE TODAY and took a 3 second pause, looked my daughter in her eyes, and said, “How can I help?” My daughter's eyes immediately filled with tears and she took a big breath and just sagged into my arms. She cried and told me all the things that were upsetting her and I just listened and nodded and loved her. When she was done speaking, she hugged me and told me how much she loved me and thanked me for listening. What could have been a quick, meaningless interaction or trivializing my daughter's problems and hurting her feelings was a beautiful moment we shared together where we both left feeling better than before.”
The ONLY LOVE TODAY mantra that was the most influential piece of my transformation from bully to encourager is inscribed on a gorgeous bracelet to use as visual reminder. There are leather and non-leather options in brown, lavender, navy blue and orange available, as well as metal cuffs. Thank you for your support of my work. I am incredibly grateful.
Rachel, as always your words give me hope and strenth, thank you!!!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for taking the time time to tell me this, Emila. I read and cherish every comment everyday, but especially needed to hear this today.
You’re very welcome Rachel, it’s so nice be aknowledged!
I feel like each of your posts is a gift, truly. Something to be turned over in my mind, processed, re read – enjoyed, even if the content speaks to fixing hurtful things. You speak in such a gentle, guiding way – it’s like listening to soothing waves at the beach!
I know that you personally get overwhelmed – maybe you never knew Hands Free would get so big. But I am so grateful that you’ve chosen to be brave and share all of this with the world. I know that I’ve needed it very much, some days more than others. You don’t just talk about the what, you talk about the how – and so few people do that!
Thank you so much. Truly.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Lynn. You just gave allowed me to take a big exhale. I so appreciate your acknowledgment and understanding that I did not fathom Hands Free Mama would grow to this level and that so many people would seek answers from me. You remind me that I am making a difference even when I feel like I should be doing more, answering more, helping more.
So needed to hear this today! Along with your writing on connecting, not always correcting, I read about complimenting a child for a job (like sweeping) as them doing their best. I am really working on building that connection. Thank you so much. Many blessings to you.
How do you avoid correction and criticism when you feel like there’s no need for your child to do something, but he wants to, anyway?
For instance, my son has fallen into a lackadaisical habit of wanting this and that before bed. He’s five years old. As a result, he tends to sleep late and wake up late. It drives me crazy, because, more often than not, he’s the latest one in his class to reach school. Lessons have already started, and it’s become so common that he’s become used to getting there late. His form teacher has already told me, many times, that it would be much better if he reaches early. So, the pressure is on me to send him early to school.
Tonight, for instance, he wanted a watermelon slushie after dinner. I said that he can have it tomorrow, after school, because it was just 15 minutes before the bedtime I’d set for him. While in bed, he asked me to read the same book to him twice. However, I no longer feel the intimacy I used to when I read books to him. It’s become something to rush through. Later, I got frustrated when, after he went to the bathroom, he wanted to change his pajama pants because: 1. they might be wet 2. he doesn’t like the pair with drawstrings. I lost my patience with him. I took out my phone and showed him picture after picture of children in Third World countries. Living in filth and squalor. Having to work. I told him of how, in Cambodia and Bali, when my husband and I went to those places, kids his age now would harass us to buy their necklaces, bracelets and keychains. They didn’t have nice toys to play with or beautiful clothes to wear. I told him that those kids would LOVE a pair of pajama pants like his. They wouldn’t be saying that they don’t want to wear it because they don’t like the drawstring. I showed him a picture of a child wearing oversized sandals, meant for an adult. I showed him pictures of kids sitting or walking or standing in filthy surroundings. I showed him a picture of a boy, squatting by a dirty river, getting water (to drink, I assume). I showed him pictures of children wearing dirty clothes. I told him how privileged he is, and how, maybe, I’ve spoiled him, by getting him what he wants, most of the time. Granted, he doesn’t kick up a huge fit when I tell him we can’t buy a toy at the moment. However, last week, I caved in to his request and to a couple of other external influences, to buy an expensive toy for him. I couldn’t really afford it at that time, but he promised he’d play with it. He played with it ONCE after I brought it home. He’s gone back to playing with his favourite toy, the marble run I got for him. He’s obsessed with it, and it’s a great toy to have, because it requires him to play with someone, and to use his mind to build new structures (not just following the layouts in the booklets provided), and it builds his hand-eye coordination…I’m just resentful that he asked me to buy the other toy and doesn’t play with it. I feel cheated.
So, back t0 the original question: how do I avoid correcting and criticising my son? It seems like that’s what you’re asking us to do with our children. If I give in to him when he says he doesn’t like that pair of pants, aren’t I making him soft?
Rachel Stafford says
Dear K –
Thank you for your desire to build up your son while keeping your boundaries and instilling responsibility in him. Here are some suggestions:
1) As a special education teacher for 10 years I learned that children are much more apt to do as they are told when the adult notices the POSITIVES on a daily basis. I would suggest that each time your son does something you asked of him or something kind/helpful, you mention it:
“I love how you hopped right into bed.”
“Thank you for setting the table. You are such a big help!”
“You remember to put your trash in the trashcan!”
“Look how quickly you put your shoes on this morning! WOW!”
You will find that simply noticing his positive acts, they will increase.
2) As far as getting to bed or school on time, I learned that giving my students (as well as my younger daughter) a 5 minute warning helped them more than a longer time period. For instance, you might say, “We are going to leave in 5 minutes. I need you to put on your shoes and pick out the toy you want to take.” For my students, I used a kitchen timer or a sand timer so they could SEE how much time they had and monitor themselves independently. They loved this and it helped tremendously. You might also try giving your child one task at a time. Like, “You have 5 minutes to get dressed.” Then set the timer for 5 minutes. Then you may give her 5 minutes to put on her shoes. My students learned to set the timer themselves and actually loved to be in charge of setting it. You might have him make a duty list with pictures or easy words that he can follow himself. This is what my daughters did. Be sure to notice the positives. I learned to give my daughter time to just go at her pace when we could, but there are times in life when we must be punctual. This is when a kitchen timer would be helpful. My daughter did not need the timer for long, but an advanced warning worked well. I really focused on praising her when she did what she needed to do without stopping to play.
3) Bedtime suggestion – This is something I used with my daughter until age 8 at bedtime. I said, “At 7:45, I am going to begin reading stories. In the next 15 minutes you need to get on your pjs, brush teeth, and put your dirty clothes in the hamper. (This was on her visual duty list). It is up to you how much of the story you hear. I will read from 7:45 til 8.” This really motivated her to get what she needs to get done so she could hear the story. It is important to stick to what you said. If you said “lights out at 8,” and he did not hear the story, that is the consequence. The next day remind him that he missed the story so he will need to do his nightly duties more quickly if he wants to hear it. Maybe you could apply this to morning departure by telling him if he is in the car when you need to leave, he can pick out a music CD to play. We used to get them from the library and my girls loved listening to stories on CD when they were young. Here is one more great article I read today and this might also help you: http://www.ehow.com/ehow-mom/blog/how-i-got-my-preschoolers-to-get-themselves-fed-and-ready-every-morning/
Whenever you do happen to have time and are not on a schedule, be sure to say things like, “It’s okay, we have time today. You don’t have to rush.” Or “Take your time,” — to our little Noticers of the World those are very loving and affirming words.
4) I appreciate you trying to make him aware that children are less fortunate than him. Since he is only 5, this is probably difficult for him to grasp, but I would continually open up that discussion as you are traveling or in a city area where there are homeless people. I would take it a step further and do things as a family to provide for those in need. My children & I have helped serve at shelters for battered women, visited nursing homes, and packed many shoeboxes for orphans through Operation Christmas Child. Your son might be less to ask for toys he doesn’t play with and instead want to give to others once he exercises his compassionate heart under your loving guidance.
This is a brilliant response Sandy provided to someone with a similar question that you might also find helpful:
I just wanted to pop in here to say that in addition to the great suggestions provided by the other readers above, the answer you are seeking is in your description of your daughter.
You have already observed her per Rachel’s pledge , and recognized what love looks like to her. You know she loves to move at her own pace and discuss everything, which also means she likes to try things out and think things through WITH YOU.
Whether you have time to do that with her or not, saying exactly that will help you stay connected in the moment, help her feel loved, keep her in touch with her strengths, and help her cooperate with your boundary, much as I described in my reply to Megan above:
My little handbook, SAY WHAT YOU SEE teaches you how to set the kind of loving boundaries you are looking for and more. The biggest trick for you will be in changing how you see your morning boundary.
You asked, “How do I explain to her that we have to get to work without her feeling like she is less important to us than work?” The thing is that children don’t automatically think that meeting a schedule makes them less important. That kind of painful thinking comes from us and is usually based on something we decided as children. When you step back and look at the other possibilities, you will see that being on time can actually be a point of pride for a child, especially if she is the one to come up with the solution for how to get that done.
What happens when you hold the belief that hurrying a child means she is less important than the end goal (work, school, etc), every morning will feel like you are crushing her spirit! Instead of saying, “Hurry!” to her, in your mind what you hear and react to is, “You’re not important!” No wonder you hate it and find it hard to do. That would be painful!!!
But what if “Hurry!” just meant “I want to get to work on time” or “I want you to know the joy of mastery of time”? Then it would not be a painful thing, but a way to accomplish a goal together. Throw in some how-fast-can-you-go or some silly how-slow-can-you-go-and-still-get-this-done games, and mornings can actually be fun. I know making mornings fun is a stretch, but I hope it helps you see that so much more than pain is possible when it comes to getting out the door. It really is all in how you see it.
If you want more help shifting your belief about importance vs time, let me know. Meanwhile, you can also try this:
Since you have an infant, Nora may need more time for connection with you than before, and her slow and deliberate ways that involve you might be her way of meeting that need. When her way doesn’t work for you as in crunch time in the morning, you will need to come up with other ways that do like cuddling her awake, having her tell you how many hugs she wants before getting in the car, games, etc.
Games help keep a child’s “cup” full, as Dr. Lawrence Cohen describes in his classic book, PLAYFUL PARENTING. So does setting aside more time during the evening or weekends for just you and her alone together. Connection can make a huge difference as you can see in all of Rachel’s posts. My colleague Theresa’s book: THE PARENT SURVIVAL GUIDE teaches you how to set up weekly 30-min playtimes that can meet a child’s need for connection so well that the effects last all week and ensure connection for a lifetime.
You can find all these books and more on the recommended reading page of my website:
Dixie Duncan says
Thank you I needed this today. I just finished your second book this morning and then saw this in my box. My daughter is 12 and I needed these words and these reminders. Thank you.
Rachel has previously recommended (see above, Amy McCready’s terrific book) for setting boundaries, time management, etc. that help you to stop nagging your kids about things. It’s been a tremendous help in regards to getting ready in the mornings, etc. I also love the ‘Love and Logic’ series and the one specifically gears towards younger children. Both are very practical and beneficial!
I found this post so difficult to read. I am worried about the little boy subjected to photos of starving and neglected children right before his mother tucks him into his dark lonely room and shuts the door. I bet she doesn’t allow him to have a nightlight, either, because it would make him “soft”.
K., I could pull out my Facebook app and tell you about all the moms in my support group who have children unable to walk, sit up, or even talk. They would give anything for their children to tell them they hate their pajamas and try to put on another pair. But I suspect showing you a billion photos would not change your behavior, or make you grateful for what you have, just as it did not work for you. I hope you are able to find a new path, one of love and acceptance, of adult behavior (staying in your budget, not blaming your behavior on someone else).
Children at 5 have active imaginations, and they are starting to have serious preferences and a sense of self. This is an amazing stage! Most 5 year olds just want to help their parents and show off their new skills and abilities. But it’s also a stage of irrational fears and magical thinking. You can harness your child’s new abilities to solve your bedtime problem. Ask your son what to add to your bedtime routine, and make a chart. Let him put a star on each task completed for a few weeks – but also let him add or remove tasks. Having a sense of ownership will help move him along towards bed. But you also need to honor his preferences for pajamas – some kids are more sensitive to textures.
We buy most of our kid stuff (clothing, supplies, toys) used at consignment sales/stores. It’s much easier to pass along clothing my kids just don’t like when I know I got them for a very reasonable price. I’m able to stay within my budget and get a much better value for my money. I pass along these ideas to my kids – value and a budget. I’m not very good at budgeting, and my girls see me struggle to make it work. We work together. I value their ideas and preferences – even from my 3 year old.
I think maybe you could use a little more adult “me” time. Do you have a support group or circle of friends? Maybe it’s time to start up a book club or something where you can have a little more adult time.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Laurie, for this meaningful contribution. I am grateful for your wise insight & heart for children.
Rebekah little says
Hi Rachel I’ve been searching for a little article you wrote on a child who is a perfectionist but can’t trace it I’m probably not looking properly. We have a little boy he is five and adoreably lovely and I feel we are breaking him due to his perfectionist little ways I’ve gotten into a tendency of yelling at him and I hate it I can see him cower away. I yelled at h last night over his insistence on expanding the Guinea pigs bed to outside the hutch with straw I felt so bad afterward my husband said he heard him repeating to himself over and over what I’d said to him ‘who’s going to clean it up’ that made me feel even worse I have to stop he has the most beautiful and kind spirit and I’m afraid he will only remember me for the yelling screaming and trembling I caused him. Our little girl is near 4 and I don’t want to hurt her either she is very stubborn but sweet and I’m doing the same chain with her too would appreciate a couple of blogs you have wrote ….I love your honesty of how it really is and not how people pretend it is you open up about parenting like I’m not the only one that can behave in ways which would embarrass anyone.thank you in advance Rebekah x
This line struck me today: “my constant correcting turned into lip picking on my child’s upper lip…” I chip away at my daughter daily and I hate it and I always promise to do better yet my chipping continues. Over the past several months my daughter has started picking at her upper lip and its just one more thing for me to snap at her about and tell her to stop it. I never stopped to think that it could be (likely is) MY behavior that is causing her to have this response. I’m so sad. I am commenting to make a promise to myself that I will do better. I will try harder and I WILL bridge the gap that is slowly creeping in between us. My daughter is amazing and deserves so much better.
Thank you. So beautiful.
Laurie Stone says
Love always gets us further than criticism. Believe me, I know after raising two sons. I can’t help but be proud when they still love to talk to me. Yes, I did my share of nitpicking over the years, but when I saw I’d gone too far, I backed off. I never regretted that. Thanks for the reminder.
Wow. Tears today. This is a really really good one. I chip away far too often.
Lindsay Burke says
I always look forward to receiving your blog posts. There’s always a message in for me and really puts the important things into perspective. Such a huge fan of yours! Thank you for the continued words of advice for all parents out there. Can’t wait to read your latest book!!
Refreshing. Inspiring. Thank you!!!
Thank you so much for these words. They are exactly what I needed to find in my path today.
Thank you so much for this post! I have to stop all of these behaviors!! I feel like if I am not in control everything will fall apart. Or never get done. I am so critical of my children and my husband. I am also very hard on myself. My daughter is 13 and just learned she has ADHD. She forgets things a lot, very poor impulse control, unmotivated and doesn’t learn from life experiences. Many things typical teenager with symptoms of ADHD thrown in. Its so hard to let her have freedom. I give her a inch, she takes a mile.
I have written every advice you have given and pray and hope I can continue to be positive and not be a mother I don’t want to be.
Beautiful post, as usual. I cried, as usual too! Good tips and excellent reminders. I know I often do things under my breath or put something down too hard and think I’m not showing my true emotions, but I am and my little one is starting to pick up on it. It’s so hard to be a good, thoughtful and cerebral parent! I think I succeed and fail every day! But quite poignant and beautifully illustrated reminders!
Oh, and I found your book at Target and bought it! Hope they’ll keep it there despite your ‘book hype’ moratorium!
rachel garlinghouse says
why is it that every.single.thing you right cuts right to the heart? i so needed this today, rachel. thank you, thank you, thank you for having the courage and conviction to write things, even when they are hard, even when they require humbleness. your writing is an incredible gift to me and to so many others. god is working in your life, and because of that, you are working in the lives of others. keep up! keep up! (oh, and by the way, I mentioned you in an interview for an adoption website today. see question #12: http://www.americaadopts.com/confessions-of-an-adoption-advice-writer/) CHEERS!
Thank you for writing this. This is timely for me as we just learned that my son has SPD (sensory processing disorder). I have made so many mistakes. Now it’s time to bridge the gap.
Amy McCready says
Rachel – this article is so important. You are right, parents “chip away” with the best of intentions. (How will they ever learn if I don’t correct them?”) Unfortunately, all of that telling and correcting erodes the relationship – day by day, week by week, and suddenly you have a teenager who wants nothing to do with you. Thank you for sharing this message with parents. It’s a powerful reminder for all of us.
Abby Moser says
Your analysis and understanding of your behavior is going to heal any wounds you may cause in relationships because you care so much !
At the end of a hard day with my twin 11 yr old boys I ask myself… what went right today and I find that much went well.
When I hear a mother being too hard on herself I ask them to read the most gorgeous poem I have ever read on mothering , your beautiful words soothe the soul Rachel…
When that little voice says, “You messed up again,”
Remember every tear you ever wiped,
Every knee you ever dusted off,
Every broken heart you ever mended,
Every disaster you ever fixed,
So someone else could be put back together.
When that little voice says, “You lost it again,”
Remember all the times you waited outside the school doors,
waited in the audience,
waited on the sidelines,
waited in the waiting room,
waited in the cold,
So someone else could be found.
When that little voice says, “You can do better,”
Remember all the times you put someone’s needs before your own,
Sacrificed sleep so someone else could rest,
Pushed away hunger so someone else could eat,
Gave everything you ever had,
So someone else could triumph.
When that little voice says, “You are missing out,”
Remember when you juggled a million things so you could be there.
When you smiled through your exhaustion,
When you crawled in the bed at midnight,
When you held a shaking hand,
So someone else could feel unalone.
When that little voice says, “You are ugly,”
Remember all the times you pushed your body beyond its limits.
When you endured the pain,
When you bore the weight,
When you ripped,
When you healed,
When you survived,
So someone else could live.
When that little voice says, “You are a failure,”
Remember all the times you protected,
You offered to lay down your life,
So someone else could be sheltered.
When that little voice says, “You might as well give up,”
Remember all the times you believed,
You rose to your feet and cheered with tears in your eyes,
So someone else could overcome.
When that little voice says, “No one needs you,”
Remember this: Someone does.
Someone counts on you to be there when he wakes up,
When she goes to sleep,
When he is scared,
When she is happy,
When he is sad.
Someone counts on you to be there.
Not toned, fit, and styled.
To be there.
Not always calm.
Not always smiling.
Not always pretty.
To be there.
Trying and sometimes failing, but getting back up and trying again,
Hoping to do a little better than the day before.
So when that little voice says, “It’s not enough.”
Gather all the strength you have in your weary soul and say these three words loud and clear, once and for all:
I am here.
I am here.
Someone is counting on me to be here, and I am.
And today, that is enough.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014
I have never commented on a blog. But today, I am. With tears in my eyes and the reality that I am constantly chipping away at my eight year old daughter. I have been reading your blog. I wear my bracelet, and everyday, I revert to my critical, controlling ways. I am a work in progress. But I wanted to say thank you. For being my daily reminder that I can change. And I can heal what I have broken.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Nicole. Your message means so much to me. It was just what I needed today. Wishing you many blessings as you continue to make positive steps forward. I am right beside you.
Today, I received an unexpected refund on a deposit I’d thought was long lost. The first thing I did was buy your book, and this year’s Christmas tree. My only daughter is 3. I’m forever holding my tongue while she takes 10 minutes to put on her coat and shoes, while she brushes her hair herself, while she gets distracted…well…with everything! She’s a light in everyone’s life, and this post is just a reminder that her dad and I are in charge of showing her how to keep that light on! Thank you for your insightful words, one day I’ll also have a preteen daughter who will know ‘Mama always shows up’.
Rachel Stafford says
Sweet Jenna, I had a hard day with three medical appointments. By the last one, my blood pressure was dangerously high. I was scared. It is much better tonight but I am exhausted. Waiting here for me was this gift in the form of a message. Out of all the things you could have bought with that money, you chose my book. This is everything. Everything. I go to sleep with peace in my heart and a smile on my face because of you. And boy, you got me with that last line. You have been reading my blog for awhile if you know that one. And that makes me smile too. Big love, dear one.
I know this is woefully late, but I’m still thinking of you and those darn medical appointments! This is a reminder to you that we’re here to hold your hand as well, and to lift you up like you do us! Hugs!
Rachel Stafford says
You are not late, Jenna! You are actually right on time! I have a CT scan on my abdomen and pelvis tomorrow. When I lay under that scary machine, I will think of your hand holding mine and it will give me peace. Much love and gratitude for remembering me and loving me.
I was on Facebook and came across this and click and began reading, and the more I read the more I cried, sobbing and choked up! Everything in your message is me and what I have been struggling with for years since Kindergar with my now 11 yr old son! I know and have know for awhile that my critical spirit is wounding his spirit! I need Help! I was blaming him and trying to get him help when I was the problem! We went to A Therapist several years ago when seem the Forgetfulness and losing things was getting more more frequent! Therapist diagonsed him with ADHD-inattentive which is total opposite of the hyper active! They wanted to put him on meds and I immediately was against that! I’ve prayed and put before the Lord! But I’m still struggling and I know I have not done all I can do on my part! Thank You for this information I will begin to apply your teachings immadietly! Please Pray for me and The Lord give me Grace and strength to bridge this Gap that I have created between me and my son! He’s hurting and the enemy is using me to chip away at his spirit! God Help Me!
Life Transforming educational information! Thanks a Million!
Loved this post! It spoke to me when you mentioned the closed bedroom door. I thought my preteen daughter was just trying to get away from her brothers and sister, but could it be me and her dad, too? I’m going to do my best to draw her out with kindness and love and open invitations to do something she would enjoy. She is amazing and helpful and tolerant of her younger siblings, but I’d love to see her more joyful. Thank you for this post!
Oh my goodness. I am in tears. I have literally become a bully to my 4 year old son and it is killing me, and I don’t know how to stop. Thanks to my awesome parenting (or lack thereof), he now feels like there is no hope. He is just a bad kid.
After he told this to me, I couldn’t help but go in my room and cry my eyes out. What have I done to this beautiful little soul? What mess of his sweet little life have I made? And was it possible to fix it? And how to I change?
I literally fell to my knees and prayed to God for help. I pleaded with tears streaming down my face. And know what? The weirdest phrase ever popped into my head. “Hands Free Mama.” I had no idea what that was, or what it meant, but I knew somehow that God was communicating to me. I jumped on the internet to do a quick search, and this is what I found. Hope.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Rachel Stafford says
Cindy, I am so thankful for this divine connection of two hearts — mine has enough hope for both of us right now. Have you read this post? http://www.handsfreemama.com/2013/12/10/the-bully-too-close-to-home/ Also, I have prepared a list of strategies for anyone who wants to be less critical of their child. Just email me and i am happy to provide it. (This is open to anyone who sees this message and would like the list) firstname.lastname@example.org. You will get an auto response, but I will be in touch in time. There is hope. Love, RMS
Paula Guy says
As always your writings tug at my heart and throw reality in my face. I am this person all I do is chip chip chip, thank you for sharing as now I can see what I am doing and I can start the bridge the gap. Thank you as always your amazing!!!!!!!! Xxx
Martina Clements says
Your words always inspire, refresh, remind and ground me. You seem to have insight into souls. The souls of women, daughters, mothers, those hurting, lost or grieving. You just seem to KNOW. And this post I have read several times. I never thought to leave a comment, but today I chose to finally leave my voice. This hurt. So very much to read. Because not only did it slap me in the face NOT to do this anymore to my 2 1/2 year old beautiful daughter full of innocence, dreams and wonder; but it made me hurt all over again for having been chipped away for 38 long years. I was chipped away at by my mother, who was chipped away by her mother, and my grandmother chipped away by her mother, and so on and so on. This stops here. I won’t be the one to chip away at my girl anymore, or my son. I never want them to become the “less than” and “not enough” that I was always made to feel or told by my mother.
My question to you is, how do you heal from that? I don’t know how to move on, forgive, and let this go. Forever. I sent it to my mother and told her I didn’t want to talk to her about it and I didn’t know what to say, but that if I could describe the way she made me feel over and over again that this blog post articulated it better than I could have done on my own.
I hope you had a wonder filled Christmas and peaceful New Years, and appreciate your vulnerability and honesty in sharing.
Grace & Peace,
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[…] The quickest way to destroy a relationship is to criticize. This is not to say that you cannot address your child’s grades if they are not up to ability, or address any other concerns. However, it can be done without using words that are perceived as critical. Remember that how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice, a favorite quote of mine from Peggy O’Mara. If you would like to read a great article on the subtleties of critical words, read this. http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/11/03/bridging-the-gap-created-by-waves-of-criticism/ […]