“I see the whole world in your eyes
It's like I've known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It's like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place
On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.
As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.
But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.
“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.
“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.
“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”
I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.
Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …
On very rare occasions, I find myself alone in the car with my six-year-old daughter. When I do, I try to stay extra quiet to see what gems my Noticer of Life child might feel like spilling out to the headrest in front of her.
On this particular day, we'd just dropped off her playmate. The setting sun was illuminating her tangled curls and freckled face as she gazed out the window with sleepy eyes.
Suddenly she perked up. “Could you play, ‘Daylight’ by Maroon 5?” she asked, sounding more like a sixteen-year-old than a six-year-old. “It’s my favorite song,” she added as if she knew her request might require some explanation.
She was right. Coming from her, it did strike me as an odd song request. For the past three years, my cheerful, little ukulele player had strummed and sang her way through the likes of Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Romantic ballads by heavily tattooed rock stars had never once come from this southern girl’s lips.
But I pushed ‘play’ on “Daylight,” and ever since then, I have been able to breathe easier, even on the most challenging days as a parent.
You see, as Adam Levine belted out the following lyrics in his signature falsetto, my daughter’s face turned wistful, almost sad:
“And when the daylight comes, I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.
Cause in the daylight, we'll be on our own,
But tonight I need to hold you so close.”
My child noticed me watching her in the rearview mirror. As we locked eyes, it was solemnly revealed why this particular song was her favorite. “That song is about morning when I have to go to school,” she said pushing up her little eyeglasses so they sat squarely on her face. “I don’t like morning to come. I like night when you hold me in your arms.”
For a moment, I couldn’t speak. My child’s interpretation of this blatantly obvious love song surprised me. How could she get that meaning from those lyrics? I thought. But then I reminded myself that children make sense of the world using their experiences as a frame of reference. In that respect, her lyrical interpretation of “Daylight” made perfect sense.
The reason this song wasn’t about two lovers parting at daybreak was because my child hadn’t experienced that. But she did know what it felt like to be so safe and secure in someone’s arms that she never wanted to leave.
And that’s when it hit me.
Warm, cleansing tears dripped down my face as a profound sense of peace came over me.
For the first time in a long time, I felt I’d done something right along this parenting journey. The nightly tuck-in had become my child’s frame of reference.
It was the one thing I managed to do consistently for all six years of her life …
Through the baby years when piercing screams of colic, cutting teeth, sleep deprivation, and sibling jealousy hallowed me until I was empty … I still managed to hold her every night despite my exhaustion.
Through the toddler years when pajamas were itchy, getting out of bed was her fulltime job, and lost stuffed animals ensued atomic meltdowns … I still managed to smooth her hair every night despite my frustration.
Through her preschool years when I was present, but absent, focusing too much on electronic screens, to-do lists, and keeping up the façade of a perfect life … I still managed to kiss her face every night despite my maxed-out existence.
Through the daily struggles of life, I managed to reach my child’s bedside. For a few minutes each night, I’d hold her and say, “I love you,” so those could be the last words she heard, even if I failed to say them in syllables or actions during day.
And through a catchy pop song on a Sunday afternoon drive, I learned this nightly ritual mattered; it mattered a lot. It was a beacon of light in a sea of failings, and I intended to grasp it.
Because let’s face it. We need this validation. We need to know we’re doing something right. We need to know things are going to turn out okay despite it all. We need to know love prevails over failures, flaws, and imperfect days.
Because sometimes the “experts,” the well-meaning friends, the sweet ladies behind us in the checkout line, and the critics inside our head suggest otherwise, making us feel like there is more to it than just loving them.
But then you attend an end-of-the-year school program. You see a child on stage scanning the crowd with eager, almost frantic, eyes. Then suddenly, her eyes stop. As she enthusiastically waves at a focal point in the crowd, a visible sigh of relief comes from her small chest. If you follow her gaze to see what brought her such great comfort, you will see love etched across the face of the person who met her gaze. That child found her reference point, her source of comfort, her go-to place in times of uncertainty and doubt—and it made all the difference.
I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.
Whether she’s walking out on stage or out of a bad relationship …
Whether he’s stepping into kindergarten or into battle …
Whether he’s taking an honest look inward or a stand for what he believes in …
Whether she’s reaching up to grab her dream or reaching down to help the fallen …
When faced with the fears, uncertainties, and worries of life, our loved ones need a reference point—a place in their minds and hearts where they feel loved and safe. And we can provide that. My friends, we can provide that.
So let’s not worry about doing all the things right in this lifetime; let’s just focus on doing one thing right in this day: a little love today.
Love them as they walk out the door.
Love them when they come home.
Love them when they mess up.
Love them when they succeed … soar … shine.
Love them when they’re scared.
Love them when they’re brave.
Love them as they pull away.
Love them as they cling with all their might.
Love them when they’re hard to love.
Love them when they’re utterly irresistible.
Choose love for your precious ones as much as you humanly can. May it become their reference point in a harsh world, like the lyrics to their favorite song that never quite leave their head or their heart.
My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for the incredible support you provide my family & me each week. My daughter was thrilled that so many of you watched her “Fight Song” Youtube video and left such affirming comments on our community’s page. When I asked for all the details about the talent show on Tuesday, she said everyone clapped “really hard” and a boy came up to her and said, “Dude, you are like the next Taylor Swift … no, the next Ellie Goulding … no, the next Adele.” She was literally glowing! That sweet boy made her day and so did all of you!
Denver friends, I am still feeling the love you bestowed on me when I took the stage last Saturday. I am still crying from the standing ovation you gave me. I am still inspired by the scars you revealed when I met you in line. I was 1400 miles from home, yet you made me feel like I was home. Your timing was perfect as I’m currently working through the first round edits on my forthcoming book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. You have fueled me during this grueling process. Since many of you have inquired about me speaking in your cities, I thought I would clarify that I do not plan these events. I simply go where I am invited if the details align. The best way to get me to your city is to recommend me to a school, organization, company, or church that is looking for a speaker. They can fill out this speaking request form on my contact page, and I will be in touch.
Thank you, dear ones, for being my writing fuel and my daily blessing. I love you dearly.
Renita Gallant says
Every single night without fail for the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve said to my son at bedtime, “I love you, every day, all the time, no matter what”. He sometimes interrupts half way through to talk about something else, like he’s not hearing me or it’s unimportant to him, but I finish anyway.
He’s 12, and I recently had to attend the intro night for parents at the junior high he’ll be off to next year, so it’s a scary time for me, and it’s hard to know if I’ve done enough so that he’ll be okay as he takes another huge step away from me.
But last night at bedtime when I said ‘the usual’, he said “Mom are you gonna say that for the rest of my life?” I said “Of course I am”. “You mean if I’m 27 and I’m married you’re gonna call me in the middle of the night to say that?” I told him I wouldn’t call, especially in the middle of the night, to say it but that I’d still say it everytime we say goodnight. He paused, and it really looked to me like it was relief that I saw briefly on his face.
I’m glad you made me stop and think about this a little longer.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Renita. It has been a gift to hear your beautiful ritual & powerful experience today. I will not forget it.
Tears are pouring. You write so beutifully. I look forward to your posts every day because they touch my heart and help me to be a better mom. I wish every single person would read your book. Can you imagine what a world this would be? You are wonderful.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Chris. This means everything to me. Everything.
Jenny Johnston says
Absolutely Stunning! Love is absolutely the only thing that matters. Everything else will fall into place. I cannot even imagine the gems you have tucked away in your little notebooks, but I am sure it is a diamond field in and of itself. I have already blocked off Sept 13th to see you in S.F. I keep checking back for more info because I will buy my ticket the MINUTE I know they are available. Thank you for shining your light in our world.
PS…I think I would have been an editor if I had known that job existed, I find myself edited every book I read! …let me know if you need another set of eyes to read your next bestseller!
Janene Frank says
You words are such a gift. I waited too long to tuck in my 11 year old last night. He was already asleep. Today’s words struck my heart. I am privileged to have the honor that something I started years ago is his frame of reference. I will cherish this ritual. I will.
Josey Borman says
This is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Every night I listen to my babies’ stories. I hold them tight and tell them I love them. No matter what. It is the small moments of pure love and joy that make it all worth it!
Laura Jane says
Tears, Rachel! Thank you so much for sharing. It was exactly what I needed to hear today. We are in the “little years”, and homeschooling, and I often struggle with my fears and shortcomings… but remembering that at the end of the day, for them to feel loved… that’s one thing I can do right. And your daughter’s got it right… I’ve often found how simple lyrics from a pop song can set things straight again! If we’re listening for hope, we’ll hear it, right? Thank you for speaking hope today.
My son often scans the crowd before his sports activities to be sure he spots us. I’ve always thought of it as something he’d outgrow as he matures and becomes more confident. Knowing he’s looking for us because we are his “reference point” is something I hadn’t thought of. I love the term and what it represents for both of us.
Rachel, this is lovely. Thank you for sharing. I treasure my nighttime ritual with my toddler, especially because I’m gone all day at work. It’s the one time we have to stop and connect (kissing baby dolls, singing songs, rocking or laying down together). My mom is still MY safe place and if I can replicate that for my daughter, it will be a life well spent.
On a side note, I have to stop reading your posts at work because my co-workers will wonder why I’m suddenly tearing up!
Roseanne V. Sabol says
I loved this, Rachel, and it brought back memories. My daughter will be 20 in a few short weeks….the years, they have flown. When she was younger, and I was still able to tuck her in at night, this is how our night time ritual went: “I bless your mind with love, I bless your body with love and I bless your heart with love.” If the day had been crazy and all I did was kiss her as I tucked her in, she would remind me that I hadn’t blessed her. She couldn’t know then what a blessing she was to her Dad and me. She always wanted her day ended this way. And so did I. Nowadays, as a college kid, we text our good nights every night over the ethers.
Thanks for this beautiful reminder of what’s truly important.
Lori Ray says
Thank you Rachel,
This article are the exact words that now define what I do with my girls every single night! Your words continue to amaze me!
Trina Bertoldi says
You are amazing! I volunteer in our local women’s hospital 2 days a week in the NICU with the preemies and I so wish All of the babies could have a mom like you! Sadly, many do not! I Love them, cuddle them and talk to them about growing up to be strong and good people for this world of ours, They fill my heart and soul with joy and happiness and more Love than I could begin to explain! Blessings to you and yours and I know in my heart that Love is the answer to all life’s problems!! You are an inspiration and example that if everyone could follow you, this world would be in Peace and such a better place! Keep up the good work and God Bless You!
“I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.” I. Love. This. It’s important to remember that loving our kids and showing up for them means so much.
Rebecca Chapman says
This gives me hope. Like you, the one thing I have always done consistently is sat with my son at night, every night and Red him stories and told him our special sleepy time poem. Even before I started letting go of my distractions, when all I wanted to do was race put to the living room to watch TV, i would still take time every night to sit with him before he went to sleep. Every night, the last thing he hears is me saying “goodnight I love you”.
Now that I am being more present, less distracted and more engaged the night time ritual has become even more special, he tells me about his day (hes only four so it’s usually about what games he played, i love hearing his funny stories) and we pat each others faces as we stare at each other while he falls asleep.
Although I might not always have been there for him in the way that I am now, I hope that like your daughter he finds comfort and feels loved from our nightly ritual.
I just read the piece you linked above under “maxed out existence”. Your writing almost always brings cleansing tears but this piece particularly touched me when you talk about realising that there is a better way to live and that it’s not too late to change. We have had a lot of challenges in the past four years – bereavement, depression, ageing parent health problems, a new baby, major stress at work – and we are constantly talking about how we just have to “survive” this period. I am so tired of just “surviving”; I constantly feel that there has to be a better way of living than this. Your writing always gives me hope for a happier, more peaceful, more fun life. I am going to reread your book (looking forward to the new one, too, although I am so sorry that the pressure of writing it has brought such stress and feelings of being overwhelmed) and try to bring some more intention into my life and not let myself be bounced about by events. Thank you. I hope you have a wonderful weeekend.
I so needed to read this today. I’m a homeschool mum who very much wonder if I do enough…My 12 yo son still wants to be ‘tucked in’ and I’m glad we do…my children know they are loved. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.
Melissa K says
Your speaking event in Denver still puts a smile on my face, brings hope to my heart and your beautiful words, I am still cherishing! I am grateful that you were willing to share your time, love, encouragement and hugs here. Meeting you was a dream come true. Your words in this post was a wonderful reminder as my mind wanders into the future and worries about a lot of what ifs. When I catch myself worrying, I stop and focus on the fact that I show more love than anger and will continue to love them unconditionally! Thank you again for being an angel in my life! Hugs, Melissa
Rachel Stafford says
I love you, sweet Melissa. Meeting YOU was one of the highlights of my trip!
Jen (In Due Time Book) says
Just watched the YouTube video. You must be so proud. What a brave and talented young woman!
What a lovely post and how true. We all need our emotional home, so to speak. We need that place and person that gives us unconditional love and strength to go back into our public lives. Because of you, your daughter finds the world a much more warm and comforting place, compared to other children who don’t have that.
Every night at bedtime we ask our two boys (8 & 11) what their ‘Thanksfuls’ are from the day, and my husband & I share ours as well. Sometimes if someone is tired they fall back on ‘Food, Family and Friends’, and sometimes we hear thought provoking things like ‘Electricity, my clothes, or the roof on our house’. (Those always lead to deeper conversations which I will forever treasure). But what I’m especially grateful for is when our 8 yr old shares his Thanksfuls, I am always his last thing that he says. ‘And I’m thankful for You’. Your story warms my heart and I hope and pray that this nightly ritual is helping frame a loving memory in our children’s lives. Thank you for opening up your special moments with your family. xo
Rachel Stafford says
That is truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It made my heart feel so happy.
Thank you, Rachel, for your beautiful writing. This one brought a tear to my eye. I am not a parent, but I had a great mom. I am 40 years old and my mom passed away from cancer over three years ago, but she loved me so well for each of those 36 years I got to have her that just thinking of her love for me is still my “reference point in a harsh world”. Bless you and your family. 🙂
Thank you so much for this! I am working through the first few weeks as a first time mom at home full time with my 5 week and I needed to remeber to love her through her little milestones, even the screaming, and stop wishing she was just go to sleep so I can do something else. I never realized love could beasily so hard!
Night is when I get it right but during the day I still screw up. Your message gives me hope that it can eventually be healed. I just so badly want the day when my mistakes are behind me. When the rice can be dropped to the floor and she doesn’t breakdown crying like I’ve already yelled. It makes it so hard not to get upset. I still struggle and in those moments I wonder if any night time ritual can ever heal things when I don’t even have to yell for my daughter to hear me yelling. I don’t have to criticize for my daughter to hear it, my mistakes are in her head and it feels so very hopeless sometimes. It makes me angry that I can’t be better because my past is still there getting in the way. I hope someday I will feel the things I read from you.
Love your page so much! What a blessing you are to means my children. Much love from Houston
This was such a beautiful post. Thank you.
Alicia (FreshBabyGear) says
“I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.”
You are right, Rachel. Your words really touch my soul.
“When faced with the fears, uncertainties, and worries in life, our loved ones need a reference point- a place in their mind & hearts where they feel safe & loved”…..Thank-you Rachel for being our reference point. I often refer back to your books & my favorite posts….especially on the hard days. Your words are always a soft place to land…
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for saying that, Shannon. That truly means everything to me.