Six Things to Start Saying in your Family

Language is a huge part of our world and of our daily experience. We encounter words all day long: in early morning talk shows, podcasts, books, newspapers, social media, conversations around the dinner table, and especially in 4 year old girls who don’t take breaths in between sentences or talk about topics that are linked together in any logical way. But I digress.

Words are powerful. As parents, we have often heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our examples matter greatly to our kids, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean we can discount the impact of our words. Especially when we are intentional about them. I love this reminder from author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

Here are six phrases that we strive to use intentionally in our family.

1) Everyone makes mistakes.

This one’s a no-brainer, for adults. Obviously we all make mistakes. To kids, however, mistakes can be a huge deal and can trigger frustration, anger, and embarrassment. Right now most of the mistakes in my house require paper towels and some sort of cleaning solution. However, there will come a day where the mistakes are bigger than crayons on the wall and milk splattered on the floor. When those ‘big’ mistakes happen, I want this phrase to be ingrained in our family’s DNA so that my kids know they always have a safe place to make, and share, their mistakes.

We also make a point to name our own mistakes, so that our kids learn that we are not perfect (duh) and don’t need to try to be, either. Proof that using this phrase is becoming a part of our family’s narrative? When my mom was visiting last weekend, she spilled barbecue sauce on the floor. She started to apologize and Charlee immediately said, “It’s okay, Grandma! Everyone makes mistakes!”

2) I’m sorry because…

This one goes in all directions in our family: grown-ups to grown-ups, kids to grown-ups, grown-ups to kids, kids to kids…you get the idea. There is no question of if we are going to do something that requires an apology; it’s simply when and how often. (See above!) And when those things happen, we apologize. We all expect our kids to say sorry to us, and to each other. How are they going to learn to do that if they don’t see it modeled first?

We also make a point to say more than the cursory “I’m sorry” which can be said so easily (and often without sincere emotion). When Charlee apologizes to Evelyn, or to us, we have her say, “I’m sorry because I didn’t use nice words” so that she actually links her action with the apology, and we do the same for her.

3) I love watching you __________________.

I read an article suggesting parents use this phrase with their kids a few years ago, and I have found it very valuable. We can inadvertently put a lot of pressure on our kids to perform in a certain way, simply with the language we use. For example, if your child plays soccer and they score a goal, you naturally want to focus on their great accomplishment. “That was an amazing kick! You scored a goal for your team! I’m so proud of you!” While this is absolutely positive and will make your child feel good in the moment, it can also convey the message that you are happy because of what the child did.

Using the phrase “I love watching you ______” takes the pressure off of the kids. A simple “I love watching you play soccer!” makes your child feel affirmed whether they kicked the game-winning goal, or spent the game picking dandelions in the field. We say this to Charlee and Evelyn often. “I love watching you sing/dance/dress-up/draw/ride your bike!” tells them that we enjoy seeing them do what they enjoy, whether or not they are “good” at it. (::cough:: singing ::cough::)

4) You worked really hard.

I love using this phrase because it praises effort instead of a fixed attribute such as intelligence. For example, when Charlee completes a task such as a difficult puzzle, I would say “Wow! You worked so hard on that puzzle, and kept going even when it was tricky!” instead of saying, “Wow! You’re so smart!” (Of course, I only say this if she actually was trying hard, so that it’s not empty praise.)

When we focus on effort, kids realize that they can affect their outcomes by how hard they try, and the strategies they use. If intelligence is praised, they just think they are smart; which means if they fail, they believe they are not smart. There is a lot of research and buzz around this concept of “growth mindset” right now, and it’s being implemented in many schools. Here’s some more info about how parents can help their kids develop a growth mindset.

5) I love you when ________ …..and God loves you MOST!

Whenever we are having a discipline conversation, this is the phrase we start with. (Try to start with. Discipline is always a work in progress.) More than anything else, I want my girls to always know that they are loved, regardless of their actions. This does not mean that I always love the way they act, or that they will not have consequences. In fact, giving consequences is actually a really important way that we love our kids, but that’s another post.

So if, hypothetically, Charlee were to be sent to her room after not sharing with her sister (purely hypothetical), our conversation would start like this. “Charlee, I love you when I’m frustrated. I love you when you’re upset. I love you when you don’t share. I love you even when you’re not being kind to your sister.” We’ve done this enough times in our house that at this point she usually chimes in. “And God loves me most!” Then we discuss the issue and the consequences.

6) In this family we ________

Okay, this one is not just a shameless plug for the name of this blog, we actually use this phrase often! Having a strong family identity helps kids to be confident in who they are and lets them discover their own place in the world, from the safety and security of their families. This is the base level of beginning to develop a family identity, as we name for our kids what we do, or do not do, in our families.

We use this in many different contexts. In this family, we use kind words. In this family, we help each other. In this family, we don’t say “_____.” This is the first way that we, as Christian parents, start to teach our kids that our families are going to be different from others they observe or interact with, without pronouncing judgement. As a bonus, it’s also a great way to remind a kiddo of appropriate behavior, without engaging in the power struggle of a direct command. Try “In our family, we sit in our chairs at the dinner table,” instead of, “You need to sit down in your chair!”

What else do you say in your family?

Allowed to Grieve

Just a few days ago, on October 15, people across the nation lit candles in remembrance of babies that were lost too soon. There was a candle flickering at our house, too. I haven’t shared this part of our lives with many people, but I have since learned the great power there is in sharing our journeys with each other.

In February 2015, we found out that we were expecting and we were so excited! Charlee and the new baby would be almost exactly three years apart. I had just officially been offered my current position as Children’s Ministry Director at Community of Hope, and the baby would be due before our crazy month of December (Charlee’s birthday, our anniversary, AND Christmas). I felt like God was showing off and had handed me the perfect little package of answered prayer requests.

Then, a miscarriage in the first trimester. We hadn’t even told people that we were pregnant, so it felt even weirder to share that we were no longer. And yet, how could our lives continue as they were when we had just lost a child?

The ob/gyn dismissed it: “Well, it’s not like you were trying for too long. You’ll be fine in a few months.” The statistics that were meant to comfort (15-25% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage) only made me feel like I shouldn’t be upset. It happens to lots of people. You’re fine! I already had a healthy daughter. I had only known I was pregnant for a short time anyway.

I felt like I wasn’t entitled to grieve.

Here’s what God taught me through friends who showed up on my doorstep and cried with me, through family who showed up with bags of groceries and tight hugs, through scripture that does not contain empty promises, and through prayer that didn’t change my circumstances, but changed me.

I am allowed to grieve.

I grieve because that life growing inside of me was made by God and known by our family.

I grieve because we bought a sweet, soft blanket that will never be wrapped around the child we lost.

I grieve because we will never know who that baby may have grown up to be.

I grieve because our family will never be whole this side of heaven.

I am allowed to grieve, and you are too.

If you have been affected by miscarriage, or have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, I grieve with you. But here’s the good news. God meets us in our grief. He is not scared by sadness, or anger. He never tells us that something is not worth grieving over and He never says, “Get over it.” Instead, he comes near to us. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV). Jesus weeps with us, and then wipes away our tears. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3, NIV)

There’s no neat, tidy ending to this story. We have since been blessed with our sweet Evelyn, but grief never truly goes away. I do know that my God is in the business of redeeming broken things, and He is continuing that work in my life daily. And so I continue to cling to this truth from one of my spiritual mentors and favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot. “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends in ashes.”

Your story won’t end in ashes either. God is at work.


A few extra things:

No Longer Slaves by Bethel Music – I had this song on repeat during this time

Bottle of Tears – A company I’ve just discovered that offers meaningful gifts to tell a friend you’re grieving with them

Chats with Charlee

Because sometimes parenting is equal parts frustration and hilarity….


Convo #1

Charlee (counting to 20 in the car): ….10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20!

Me: Oops! Don’t forget 16!

Charlee: I don’t count with 16, Mommy.


Convo #2

In the morning before school, I’m filling up Charlee’s white water bottle.

Charlee: I don’t want that water bottle! I want the green one!!

10 minutes later

Charlee: Why is the green water bottle in my lunch box?


Convo #3

Charlee: Mommy, kite starts with C! K-K-kite!

Me: You’re right, it sounds just like a C!

Charlee: It is a C! That’s how you spell kite!

Me: It’s actually a K, but it sounds just the same.

Charlee: No, Mommy, I already told you, it’s a C.

::leaves the room::


Convo #4

Charlee: Evelyn is not allowed to come to my birthday party because she is not being nice.

Me: Well, Evie is your sister, so she will be coming to your party.

Charlee: Fine. She can come. But she CANNOT have a goody bag.


Convo #5

Charlee (sitting on the floor with Evie looking at books, looks up at me and shakes her head): They just grow up so fast, don’t they?



Before this whole parenting thing became a reality, I was pretty sure that I was going to be awesome at being a mom. After all, I had the credentials for it. Babysitting was my main gig throughout all of middle school and high school. Almost every volunteer position and summer job I ever had was wrangling kids. I received two degrees in elementary education and worked at a daycare while doing so. I taught for 6 years: 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 5th grade. I even spent time training with a behavioral psychologist on handling challenging behaviors at one of my schools. Raising one or two kids? My own kids? How hard could it be?

Fast forward. (And stop laughing).

Yesterday morning, a child-who-shall-not-be-named lost her ever-loving mind. It all started in the car with a forgotten lunchbox that mommy wouldn’t go back home for. It evolved quickly into chair kicking, screaming “But I WANT it!” repeatedly, and taking shoes off so they could be thrown as projectile missiles. We got to school and we sat in the parking lot and battled it out. For t.w.e.n.t.y. minutes.

One would think, that because I have had so much “experience” and “training,” that I could handle a simple temper tantrum. That I would not, in a moment of insanity, imitate the child-who-shall-not-be-named’s whiny/screaming voice back at them. That I would not threaten to take away every toy she has in her room. That I would not be crying in the front of the car while my kid is raging in the back because NOTHING I SAY OR DO IS MAKING IT ANY BETTER AND I FEEL LIKE A TERRIBLE MOM.

So then I did what any reasonable mom would do…called dad. At first, he couldn’t even hear me on the phone because of the volume level of screaming. I put him on speaker and he told the child-who-shall-not-be-named to take deep breaths. He calmly told her that he loved her no matter what, and miraculously, she snapped out of it. (Note: although this is completely illogical and immature, this made me even more mad that she listened to her dad AND NOT TO ME).

Finally, I dropped the girls off at their classrooms, ran back to the car through the now-pouring-down-rain, and laid my head on the steering wheel. As I drove, I beat myself up about what I had said and how I had handled the morning. The rain and general gloominess of the day was not doing anything to improve my mood (although it was great weather for my giant pity party).

We’ve been having these sorts of outbursts every few days and I am worn out. I keep asking: am I not patient enough? not grace-giving enough? not consistent enough? not, not, not, not enough?

As these questions spun through my mind, I turned the corner and saw a huge, bright, completely perfect rainbow spanning across the sky. And in that moment, I heard God answer my question very clearly.

No. You are not enough.

Wait. What? I’m pretty sure that’s not what the inside of the hallmark card says.

You are not enough. But I am.

Truthfully, I was kind of hoping for more of a pep talk.

You are not enough. But I am.

I mulled those two phrases over all day long. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that they were exactly what I needed to hear.

I am not enough. I do not have all the answers, strategies, practices, or ideas. I am not forgiving enough, graceful enough, patient enough, or creative enough. I mess up. Daily. I am not a perfect wife, mother, daughter, or friend. I cannot read enough blogs, articles, books, and studies to figure this all out on my own.

I am not enough. But He is.

This truth is so freeing! I serve a God who does not expect me to be enough. Instead, he promises to use my weaknesses. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I am not enough, but I do not need to be, because I place my trust in the one who is. And the better news? He loves my kids even more than I do. I don’t need to keep striving and stressing about doing everything the right way all the time. 

Yesterday afternoon, after my ginormous mom fail of a morning, I picked up my child-who-shall-not-be-named from school and took her to get some frozen yogurt. I asked her to forgive me for not acting nicely. She apologized for “yelling so loud” and we talked about how everyone makes mistakes sometimes. We ate our pumpkin and chocolate yogurt and discussed important pre-school gossip like who is going to be what for Halloween.

Parenting is a bumpy ride and I know there will be many, many, many more of these moments to come. They look like temper tantrums now, but as my littles grow into mediums and bigs, the obstacles will grow, too. I’m praying now that this lesson stays close to my heart. Because when I embrace the truth that I am not enough? Then I lean wholly on a God who is.