10 Ways to Protect Your Marriage from the Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Something occurred recently that caused me to reflect on how my bent towards perfectionism has affected my marriage. Perfectionists are used to being told that they’re too hard on themselves, but what happens when that critical voice broadens its scope to include their loved ones? A recent interaction with my husband helped me see the harm that can be done in a marriage when the inner critic begins to direct its unrealistic chatter towards a spouse. 

My family was gathered around the table discussing parenthood when I shared that my husband sends the kids to me every time they have a request that requires the answer, “no.” I complained that I was tired of being the “bad guy,” and that I believe it’s only fair that we share the responsibility of setting limits and delivering answers our kids don’t want to hear. Without skipping a beat, Pete responded earnestly, “I’m scared that if I give the kids an answer you don’t agree with, then I”ll be in trouble with you, so I have them ask for your permission in order to stay out of trouble.” We all laughed at his candidness, and I didn’t argue his point. It’s true that I have a specific idea of how some things should be done, especially when it comes to parenting. The perfectionist in me admits that I tend to default to: my way equals the right way. I’ve always recognized this in myself, however, it wasn’t until Pete gave me his honest feedback that I really had an “a-ha” moment. 

My husband’s admission got me to thinking that: 

  1. My tendency to have a critical nature towards his decisions can sometimes steal his ability to co-parent with me. While trying to avoid my criticism, he’s inclined to parent from behind me rather than alongside me. 
  2. If I was willing to let go of the reins, I would be gifting my husband the freedom and confidence to parent our kids without my permission, and this would remove the pressure I feel to be the family’s primary point of contact for most decisions and subsequent actions.  
  3. Maybe my husband and I are not alone in this dynamic. Maybe there are other fellow perfectionists who have yet to realize the consequences of an inner critic going rogue and shifting its gaze on external targets. 

I’ve heard men say that they feel like they can’t do anything right, and I’ve heard women complain that their husbands seem incapable of figuring anything out on their own. Ladies, is it possible that some of us are creating an unproductive cycle with our perfectionism and need for control? Is it possible that we’re unintentionally creating disconnect with the unrealistic, and quite frankly, unfair expectations that our husband’s live their lives and take care of the kids and the house and their work and themselves in the same way we do? Is it possible that we sometimes send a message that says, “I don’t trust you to make the right decision, therefore you should ALWAYS check with me first?” Is it possible that we’re inadvertently attempting to parent the adult who is supposed to be our partner in raising our children? In my case, to some degree, and at one time or another, I have to respond yes to a few of these questions. 

As hard as it is to admit, I think I’ve discovered that some of the frustrations in my marriage are by my own unconscious doing. I have established a dynamic, where the things that aggravate me the most are actually things I’ve unintentionally created with the, “my way or the highway” approach. Due to my tendency to often insist that things be done a certain way, the following patterns have shown up in our home, and maybe some of you can relate:

  1. The popular, “go ask your mom.” 

If I’m trying to avoid decision fatigue, then I have to stop implying that decisions made without my input are wrong ones. If I criticize my husband’s choices too often, then I end up sending the message, “it would be easier for all of us if you just left the judgment calls to me.” In order for decision-making to be a shared task, and in order to divide the responsibility of giving our kids answers they don’t want to hear, I have to let go of control and remove my need to critique. 

  1. The chronic forgetfulness of everyday items. 

It doesn’t matter where I set our son’s water bottle (which has gone with him to school every day for 3.5 years), my husband WILL forget to bring it with him. I’ve put it on my husband’s laptop, inside my son’s shoes, INTO MY HUSBAND’S LIVING MOVING HANDS, and he still manages to forget the cup. It’s as if he goes out of his way to NOT remember it. It’s a dark magic ladies! 

Here’s the thing I’ve realized though: As long as I insist that certain things are “my things,” the less likely it is that my husband will offer to take responsibility for them. From the very inception of our little family, I have taken on the role of packing the diaper bag, the overnight bag, the suitcase, the backpack, and so on. I’ve convinced myself that if my husband was in charge, he would forget something, so it’s better if I just take care of it. It may be true that he would fail to remember something, but with consistent practice I believe he would be less forgetful. Mommy’s with little ones pack a diaper bag every single day, and after awhile it’s second nature…it’s habit. When dads only have the opportunity to pack a bag while mom is traveling for work, it makes sense that they can’t do it on autopilot, and that they are more likely to miss something.

3. The questions I know my intelligent husband is more than capable of answering himself. 

“Where are Sonoma’s bed sheets?” Let’s see…we know they’re probably not in the fridge, the garage, the attic, the bathtub. There are a few plausible places: the linen closet, Sonoma’s closet, the drawer that pulls out from under her crib, which was made to hold bed sheets!

“Do the kids need a bath?” Honey, how do you gauge when it’s time for you to clean your own body? Do they smell? Is there sand in their hair? Has it been 4 days? Did they recently get sweaty or do anything active? If you answer yes to any of those questions, then please, for the love of God, bathe the children.

Again, I believe this goes back to deferring to me because I’ve insisted that I be in charge of certain things. I’ve unintentionally encouraged my husband to yield certain responsibilities to me because I’ve decided that I fold the linens better, I know where things “should” go, I’m a better judge of when a bath is necessary?? Really?! Who do I think I am? 

Ladies, I have no other choice but to conclude that I’m partially responsible for my own frustrations. In an effort to make sure things are done timely, and done the way I believe they should be done, I’ve taught my husband to relinquish some of his independence and question his self-sufficiency. I’ve disempowered him when it comes to certain areas of parenting, and I’ve unintentionally led him to believe that if he does anything or chooses anything without my approval, he may get it wrong, and the price to pay is my frustration, and sadly at times, my disgust. What if he says “no” to our children and I think he should’ve said, “yes?” Or worse, what if he says, “yes” when I think he should’ve said, “no?” My husband deserves better from me. The truth is that he is an amazing partner and an incredible father in so many ways, and he should feel confident in who he is.

  1. He remembers garbage days and I have NO idea what days those are.
  2. He gets things done quickly and does not procrastinate.
  3. He takes care of our kids while I travel for work without a mention that it’s difficult or that I owe him anything.
  4. He parents from a place of empathy that helps keep our home balanced and centered.
  5. He’s so much fun and there is NEVER a shortage of laughter in our home.
  6. He enjoys housework and does all the cooking. FULL STOP! How lucky am I?!?!?

He may not know where the kid’s bedsheets are, what time they nap, or when lunchtime has been for the last 6 years, BUT he knows what their hearts need…he knows how to love them unconditionally…he knows what makes them tick and how to avoid their triggers, he knows when I’m grieving my mom and just need to be held, he knows when it’s time for a breather and when it’s time to press in, he knows what his family needs from a father and a spouse.  

I realize now how unfair it is to expect him to take more initiative and make decisions more independently, when at the same time I often criticize him for how he does things, and jump on him for not “partnering” with me when he makes decisions without me. He can’t win this way…our marriage can’t win this way. I MUST encourage his efforts and be grateful vs. picking apart his choices. If I want him to feel free to do things without asking me how they should be done, I have to STOP insisting that everything be done my way. I’ve been too critical at times. I want to be more intentional about letting go of the reins and providing a growing space for healthy co-parenting.

As I reflect on this lesson I’m understanding that unchecked perfectionism can cause an unintentional wedge in a marriage, and I’m determined to try a new approach in 2020 for a healthier relationship with my husband. Below are some husband-approved ways we can all be more intentional about how we relate to our spouses. 

10 Ways to Protect A Marriage From the Pitfalls of Perfectionism:

  1. If your spouse makes a decision or takes a course of action that differs from the choice you would have made, let it be. If it doesn’t cause harm, let it go. 
  2. Start affirming. Stop criticizing. 
  3. Offer encouragement when your spouse takes care of something without asking you first, even if they do it in a way you find less than perfect.
  4. Make a list of all the things you love and appreciate about your spouse and share that list with them. Repeat as needed.
  5. Say thank you.
  6. Flip the script and ask for your spouses input, seek their opinion, try it their way. 
  7. Praise/honor your spouse in front of others.
  8. Check your tone. Speak to your spouse with the love, kindness, and respect you desire to hear from them.
  9. Encourage your spouse to make decisions, and then provide them with positive feedback.
  10. Admit your own mistakes and offer yourself forgiveness. When we’re willing to forgive ourselves, then we’re more likely to open the door for forgiveness of others.   

As I’ve taken inventory on the ways my perfectionism has negatively impacted my marriage I’ve gained insight that has helped me release much of my frustration, and I feel better prepared to move towards a healthier marriage in 2020. My hope is that by sharing this difficult lesson-learned, I can help others avoid the pitfalls I was previously unaware of. I pray that your marriage will be protected from the critical voice of perfectionism and that your partnership will be blessed with kindness, love, and grace. 

If you have other ideas that have helped protect your marriage from the pitfalls of perfectionism, please share.

How to Help Each Other Overcome Mommy Guilt

I think most of us would agree that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and yet so many of us struggle with mommy guilt. 

Have you ever thought, said, or heard and iteration of, “she’s got it all together. She has 5 kids, her make-up is always perfect, she’s lost all her baby weight, she’s always smiling…” I often wonder if we could defeat mommy guilt by candidly sharing what happens behind the social media curtain. If we posted pictures of the tantrums or shared stories of the times our decisions resulted in a train-wreck. What if we shared our lessons learned in an effort to encourage one another, help each other grow, confirm for one another just how hard this parenting job is and how messy it gets?

If sharing more openly could validate another mom, offer her hope, give her permission to forgive herself, or help cut the cord of guilt, then count me in. 

I make a lot of mistakes with my kids, and although I acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, I recently made a choice that caused shame to sit like a heavy stone deep in my heart. I hope this story will help you feel less alone. I hope this will encourage you to let go of mommy shame and hold onto grace. 

Our son, Isaac, recently had a sleepover at his friend’s house. My husband and I understand that the term “sleep” must be held loosely in these situations, so when it came time to pick him up, we expected that he may be grouchy, and we mentally prepared ourselves for a long day of less than stellar behavior. When he climbed into the car, it was clear that our expectations were spot on. Isaac, and the dark cloud traveling above him, shifted everyone’s mood immediately. Everything was a battle. His behavior ran the gamut…from whining, to picking on his sister, to yelling “no” at every request, and as the volume in our car intensified, my frustration boiled over. In a moment of exasperation, I spun around in the passenger seat to face him, and regretfully blurted out, 

“You know what!? This morning was perfectly lovely until we picked up Isaac!” 

I immediately felt hot shame and regret spread over my body. I quickly turned back around in my seat and fell silent. My husband (who had managed to remain calm) jumped in and attempted to remove the sting from my hurtful words. He explained that the morning was still lovely, but that Isaac’s attitude needed to change or there would be consequences. As my husband took the lead, I sat quietly, forcing back tears, internally berating myself. I could not believe I said something so hurtful, so mean, so thoughtless to my 5 year old, and I hated myself for it. As soon as Pete finished smoothing things over and setting new boundaries, I apologized to Isaac. I sought to use my mistake as a teaching moment, admitting to him that when I’m frustrated or angry I sometimes say things I don’t mean, and that I was sorry for my hurtful words. I asked for his forgiveness and although he offered it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had just wounded his precious 5 year old heart permanently. I was tearful for the remainder of the day while the critic in my head repeatedly attempted to convince me that I’m not cut out to be a mom.  

Fear was telling me that my mistake (and all the others that came before and certainly would come after) would ruin our relationship and we wouldn’t recover. I began to imagine that any self-esteem issues he may deal with in the future would be because of this seed (“your presence makes things worse”), which I planted in a moment of frustration. I couldn’t let it go and I couldn’t find grace, so I texted some faithful friends and family whom I knew wouldn’t judge me. I needed to confess to those I love and trust. I shared what I had done and that I felt like there was something wrong with me…like I wasn’t meant to be a mom. I admitted to them that there are days I make so many mistakes that I begin to wonder why God trusted me with these tender-hearted kids. I shared of the fear that whispers, “you will never connect with your son the way you hope and pray for,” and the fear that attempts to convince me that every mistake creates more relational damage than I’ll be able to repair.

It was my friends and family who pulled me up and out of my shame spiral and helped me to see more clearly. I hope that there are other moms who will be as blessed as I was by these reminders from my incredible community: 

  • Every mistake is a learning opportunity and a reminder for both the parent and their children, that no one is perfect and THAT IS OK!  
  • Our mistakes are perfect teaching moments! They are a chance to demonstrate vulnerability, and that being a flawed human doesn’t mean we aren’t worthy of giving and receiving love.  
  • Every moment is a new opportunity to draw closer to our kids regardless of how many times we lapse in our parenting judgment.
  • Every parent has said something(s) to their kid(s) that they regret. 
  • You’re not the first or last mother to say something hurtful to a child from a place of anger or frustration, and as our children grow, these interactions will build resiliency along with a deep knowing of how to seek, offer, and receive forgiveness.
  • When you ask for forgiveness you’re repairing what has been broken. 
  • When our children know they are loved, then forgiveness is abundant.
  • You can be a great parent AND be a human who makes mistakes again and again.
  • Parents who are willing to apologize are modeling a behavior we hope all of our kids will learn and demonstrate in their own lives. 
  • Shaming ourselves when we make mistakes teaches our kids to do the same. 
  • We must give ourselves grace…parenting is not easy! 

One friend sent a beautiful prayer that brought peace to my heart, and I want to share it with you in the hopes that it will bring the same to yours. She wrote, and I now pray this for all the mamas who share in this struggle:

 “Dear Lord, I pray you give [the mama reading this prayer] love and peace in her time of struggle. I pray that you guide her through the hard times we have as parents and that you hear her heart as she aches from choosing the wrong words. I pray that you protect [this mama’s son and/or daughter] and allow [him and/or her] to receive [their mama’s] love and know that through mistakes there is an unfaltering love that outlasts and overcomes any words that are said. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

I want to encourage you to find someone you trust and disclose to them any mom guilt you may be holding onto. Give yourself and other moms consistent reminders to offer forgiveness and grace for your blunders. Share with other moms your imperfections as a reminder that we’re all doing our best, and we all falter. I pray we’ll help each other walk in grace rather than fall into the temptation of comparison and judgment. I pray we’ll encourage each other with words of love and truth. Let us remind each other that as we learn to give our kids grace we must do the same for ourselves. As our little ones learn and grow, we are truly learning and growing right along with them.

Grace, grace, abundant grace beautiful mamas!

“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

A Letter to Mormons

Dear Mormon Neighbors,

Having lived in Gilbert for most of my life, we have been visited by many young, passionate, Mormon missionaries throughout the years. Recently they have been offering their help with anything we may need assistance with. These exchanges always include the typical pleasantries where I thank them for their generous offer, and add that, “no, we don’t need help with anything at this time.” After their last visit however, as the young men pedaled away, I realized that I do have a request. A request that has been bubbling beneath the surface, unspoken for quite some time now. A desire that began formulating in my grade school years and has been refined since having children of my own. The next time a Mormon missionary asks if there’s anything they can do for me, I’m going to humbly and vulnerably reply as follows:

  • Please teach your children to be inclusive of my non-mormon children and please guide them to carry that inclusion past grade school, into middle school, and throughout high school.
  • Please encourage your children to sit with mine in the lunchroom.
  • Please permit your kids to invite my kids to their slumber parties, birthday parties, and weekend get togethers even AFTER my child has made it clear that he or she is not interested in attending fireside, seminary, or church with your family.
  • Please allow your teen to go with mine to school dances, athletic events, and group dinners trusting that just like you, my husband and I have done the best we know how to raise a teenager who knows right from wrong.
  • Please welcome my children into your homes and permit your children to visit ours.
  • Please ask your kids to consider how isolating it must be on “Seminary (extra credit) Days” for those kids who do NOT come to school dressed for church.
  • Please reflect on the fact that adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours comparing themselves to their peers, so when they recognize that it would never be “acceptable” to date your son or daughter or be your son or daughter’s best friend, it is, at best, damaging to their delicate self-esteem.
  • Please call to mind your younger years when your primary objective was to be loved and accepted for who you were without having to pretend you were someone else.
  • Please understand that my families faith also emphasizes the importance of loving others, giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have wronged us and seeking forgiveness when we wrong others, doing what is right and turning from evil, seeking a relationship with God, spending time in prayer, and living a life inspired by Jesus.
  • Please support your children in having open, vulnerable, honest, transparent, loving, kind, accepting conversations with my children about what they believe and why. In fact, while our kids are having that “grown-up” conversation, I also hope to enter into this depth of sharing with you…the Mormon parent.
  • Please know that I hold your child in the same regard as any other child who shares my family’s faith or who prescribes to no religion at all. Your child is special, and beautiful, and worthy of my love and caring regardless of doctrine or theology.
  • Please believe that I see our differences as an opportunity for us to grow together in loving-acceptance. God did not call us to “tolerate” our neighbors. He called us to Love. I love and welcome you, your family, and your faith because we are all children of God made in His image. Your faith is a sizable component of who you are, and you are God’s creation with gifts and beauty and a soul that has the ability to positively transform my life with each encounter.

As these hopes for my children spill out, I realize that these are the same yearnings I had when I was too young to express them and they remain yearnings for me now. I would like to know my Mormon neighbors. I would like for us to share our celebrations and mourn our losses together. I would like to enter into deep relationships with you that allow us to celebrate our differences and lift each other up versus silently judging one another from across the street or the backyard fence. I would like us to hug and share dinners, and text jokes, and go to movies, and have pool parties, and discuss politics, and cry and laugh, and live life together. These desires have never been expressed because I never felt important enough to express them, but now that I have children there is nothing more vital than ensuring they have a deep sense of belonging to this village we chose to raise them in.

For decades now I have felt an invisible yet palpable partition between my family and our mormon neighbors…a silent criterion that has said, “we can’t be that close…we can’t walk this life together too often, we can’t be intimate friends unless we share the same faith.” I want to tear down this barricade and abolish this silent destroyer of fellowship. I fear we are forfeiting valuable friendships and life-changing communion with one another as we allow religion to segregate our lives.

We are not that different. Our children are not that different. We are all living in a beautiful yet broken world doing the best we can with what we have. With inclusion and acceptance we can lighten each other’s burdens and love each other through the brokenness. We are all damaged humans, so let’s be damaged together. As our fractured pieces are assembled together, we will transform into a magnificent and vast tapestry of vibrant hues and unity…we can weave our hearts into a community of “us”…dynamic threads of surviving souls stretching out to reach each other, love each other, understand each other….staying true to ourselves while supporting one another. Loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Sincerely,

Renee’ (your hopeful neighbor)

P.S. I am not proposing that Mormons are the only religious group that could receive a request comparable to this one, or that this applies to every Mormon. I’m also not assuming that I wouldn’t, myself, benefit from reading the same words and applying them to my life with regards to another group or an “other,” an “outsider.” I believe every religion and every denomination could benefit from being more inclusive, but I write this letter in relation to my own experiences and memories and the concerns I have for my children. My Jewish/Agnostic husband could write an identical letter, based on his history, and just change the greeting to Dear Christians or Dear Italian Catholics. We can all admit that it feels good to belong to a group, but too often it’s at the expense of living a life void of those who are different from us, and I believe this is a tragedy. It is exhausting to correctly locate and consistently remain in the good graces of the right “club” these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, state, coast, country, profession, and the list of ways we etch the invisible line goes on and on. I find that when I try too hard to belong to a particular group I lose sight of God’s vision for my life, which starts with loving “others” the way He loves me. We are created for community, and I believe our lives will always be richer if we truly follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that God will give us the courage to knock down walls, the strength to build bridges, and the grace to love with out qualifiers. I pray that my children will grow up loved and loving! Fully belonging!

8 Lessons I Learned From My 2 Year Old

Parenting is a never-ending syllabus of valuable lessons. There are lessons in resilience, in patience, in the paradox of love and anger, in mindfulness and presence, in creativity, in what exhaustion does to the brain, the mood, the marriage 🙂

I had not anticipated what great teachers my kids would be, and although they don’t set out to teach, I am always learning.

When my son was 2 years old he was doing his very best to patiently wait for his older cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the word “patiently” from a toddler’s perspective, as he was running the length of the gym, sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically.

Waiting patiently

Then, sweet Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they)! Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. A 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the boy finally acknowledged Isaac. He pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac had understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms in a shrug to say, “ok? Get it? Understand?” This was the moment Isaac decided that this boy’s shrug was actually an invitation for a hug. Isaac gave both kids an excited squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive, “We’re Older and Bigger and Play Better Games Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son. I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve recoiled at someone’s perceived harshness without considering that maybe I was interpreting their actions unfairly and without context. I couldn’t help but watch these kiddos and consider how one kind gesture in the face of possible rejection can lead to openness and belonging. 

Watching these sweet littles taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge new friendships.
  2. We can be loved through and forgiven for our misguided behaviors,  and we have the opportunity to do the same for others.
  3. Inviting someone “different” into our world can teach us a new way to approach, view, lean into life, and this can bring more joy, more freedom, more friendship, more love, more hugs!
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart.
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same.
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them.
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us.
  8. When we love ourselves we can receive and accept love from others.

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched that evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!

Isaac with his cousin after making new friends