I missed my Godson’s birthday. I had planned a trip to New York City to visit him and his parents, my dearest friends, but life got really busy and I had to cancel. On top of that, I emailed to tell them I wasn’t coming the day before I was supposed to show up, I forgot to send a present, and I was so consumed by some work circumstances that I didn’t even ask my dearest friend in the world about her new job, a job that she has been wanting for the past two years and just got word was hers. Do you know what my friend said to me when I called her a few weeks ago to apologize? She said, “You are a good friend.” In the moment when I felt like the worst friend in the world, she called out my potential and spoke hope over the place where I had the most shame. And you know what? It made me want to prove her right.
I believe words have heartbeats. Filled with electrical energy, pulsing with potential to bring life or death depending on the intention. Words stick with us. They imbed deep behind our ribs and echo their beating voice in our inner most places.
I can recite verbatim words that were spoken over me nearly twenty years ago, words that even to this day I have to work hard to quiet. I can also recite verbatim words that changed the course of my life when they made me believe something about myself that I had forgotten. How many of us have had a person tell us something about ourselves that we started to believe just because they said it. Or had someone tell us we could do something that we thought we couldn’t, and suddenly we began to believe it was possible simply because they spoke it? We become more ourselves when people remind us who we are.
I put a tremendous amount of energy into remembering this truth when I speak to my kids.
This intention started when my oldest was two years old. We were at a store, he had moment, melting down on the floor, sobbing and flailing around. Your standard tantrum. Instinctually I scooped him up and pressing my lips to his ear I started whispering all of the things I love about him. “Joseph, I love how you kiss my cheek to wake me up in the morning. I love how you are so kind to our dog, I love your unique laugh that I would recognize in any crowd.” Within seconds he quieted, the flailing stopped and peace overwhelmed as he focused on the words I was speaking over him. It was in that moment I realized words have heartbeats. Heartbeats with the power to heal and restore. Power to bring things to life.
In our faith tradition this power is referred to as blessing and cursing and articulates the truth that death and life are in the power of our words. It points to the gift that only humans have, an ability that came to us right from the start. In the beginning of God’s story with humanity he allows the first human to name the animals, essentially speaking identity and future over them. And with each name, the animals became more themselves. That was just the beginning.
The same is true with the names we speak over our kids. It starts with the birth names we give them, a name that will identify them for their entire lives. But it goes deeper too, into the names we speak over our kids on a daily basis.
Worthy, loved, enough.
In the rush to meet our kids basic needs like providing food and shelter, we can forget the deeper need our kids have. They need to have people around who love them fiercely and who can speak over them who they are becoming.
What I know for my own tribe is that each kid needs unique words.
Ellie needs to hear that she is valuable and loved and it isn’t because she is helpful or compliant.
Charlotte needs to hear that she is uniquely gifted, an individual who is enough without having to compete with her brother or sister.
Joseph needs to be reminded that his worth has nothing to do with perfection. He becomes overwhelmed when he isn’t the best and can wilt under the weight of feeling like he has to be great. He needs words to remind him that he is worthy of love even if he isn’t perfect.
In addition to reminding my kids of the things they already are, I occasionally need to remind them who they are becoming. Just like my friend telling me I am a good at friendship even though my actions weren’t proving it, I choose to do the same for my kids.
Just this weekend my girls were out front arguing about sister things. So I reminded Charlotte that she is generous and Ellie that she is patient even though neither of them were at the moment. I have no problem calling things out in my kids that they aren’t quite there yet because they are in the process of becoming, and often all we need is someone to tell us we are good at something and it gives us the confidence to become so.
When my kids leave my house I want the words I have spoken over them to be beating in their chests, echoing truths that remind them who they are. Life will do its best work to drown out the vibrant shouting heartbeats, but the words will be stuck there, unable to be forgotten, speaking life into any broken places they bump up against.
May all our kids be brought to life because we made a little extra effort to press our lips to their ear and whisper goodness over them.
Mandy Arioto is a mom of three who continually wonders when she became old enough to raise other human beings.
This originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.