Every now and again it helps to step back and look at the bigger picture. I did that last night, reading Christmas stories to William which I have pretty much memorized, and my mind began to wander. I thought about the kind of memories my kids are going to carry with them from these precious first handful of years, and suddenly I could hardly read The Grinch without choking up. I hope that the stories and the songs and prayers all add up to be a routine that might not mean much on any given night, but piled up over months and years becomes a cumulative memory of safety, love and security to keep them warm in the cold times ahead.
No one is perfect as a parent. We all love our kids, and want the best for them, but so many of our own hang-ups and insecurities get in the way of our highest intentions. I wish I had been able to clear the air between William and I earlier than I did, but we can't fix what is behind us, only what is directly in front of our faces. When we know how to do better, we can, and there is no sense in beating ourselves up for what has gone before.
I am so proud of my kids. I think they are further ahead in their confidence levels at the age of seven and four than I was in my late twenties. They are sure of themselves in a way I only began to figure out in my mid-thirties, and I love that they are already standing on a platform which I had to construct brick by brick for myself. I know for a fact that they will have other things to fight for and work into, but in the areas of identity and self confidence, they are light years ahead of where I was as a child.
I don't think we can ever encourage our children too much. I often worried that Ava's self image was too high as a two and three year old, for it was embarrassing to me when she would whirl around and say, "Look at how pretty I am! I'm so smart! Look at me dance!" People told me to keep pumping up her self esteem, that she would need it when she got older and her peers were tough on her, but somewhere deep inside I panicked that we weren't giving her a realistic view of herself; that we might actually be setting her up for failure.
I see now that my own insecurities and worries were causing my hesitation. Everyone else was right. You can't possibly damage your child by telling them how genuinely wonderful, cute, smart and fabulous they are. I missed a little of this with William when he was very small, focusing far too much on his sensitive nature and not enough on his wonderful qualities, but I'm making up for lost time now. Praise to a child is like a dry plant in a dark room that suddenly receives sunlight and water. Children bloom, in much the same way as plants, and we make them flower with our gushing encouragement and support.
It doesn't cost me anything to praise my children and my friends, but so often I hold back because of what is damaged in my own heart. I fear that building them up will somehow tear me down. It's not true. Stronger and healthier children and friends make for a better world all around us, and we can be part of making that happen. Try it today and see the effects for yourself.
Build up instead of tearing down, and you'll see what a difference it makes. Positivity breeds more of the same, and negativity works exactly the same way. Turning a complaint into a compliment is not a difficult thing to do, and over time, the rewards will make themselves obvious when that drooping plant begins to grow and flower for the whole world to see.