A few weeks into the school year, as my kids and I walked down the street, a neighborhood friend drove past us and slowed to a stop at the corner. We shouted Hi’s and How Are You’s to each other, she out her car window, me from the sidewalk. I kissed my kids’ cheeks and sent them under the care of the crossing guard to the other side of the street and onto school property.
My friend turned from me to them and yelled in a ridiculously loud voice, “Have a great day Spillmann kids! Make good choices! Have fun! Be a friend, make a friend!” My kids, partly embarrassed, partly humored, partly feeling loved, smiled at her and back at me before turning up the stairs towards the school. (It’s nice to have mom friends who yell things like that to your kids, isn’t it?)
“I do that to my kids, too,” she said. Adding with a dry smile, “they love it.”
The next day, at drop off, I did the same thing (but not quite as loud).
“I love you! Make good choices! Have fun! Be a friend, make a friend!”
It was kind of a joke at first; it made for a fun send off.
But in the last couple of months, I’ve added to it and now it’s become somewhat of a chant:
“I love you!”
“Have a great day!”
“Make a friend, be a friend!”
“I’m so proud of you.”
“You’re a blessing! Be a blessing!”
“Make good choices.”
I try to keep going until they laugh. My five-year-old is in on it, too—he likes to throw in “Be joyful!” (which I think is hilarious and ironic given his tendency to be moody). I love this little routine of ours.
I didn’t think much of it really, until I realized my kids started to wait for me to say it. And it was clear from their laughs and smiles they enjoyed hearing it. Something that started out in jest turned into a habit. And I really do hope these words become embedded in my kids’ memories. Not just of walking to school, but as guideposts for their lives. I’m fully planning to yell this out the window when I drive away after dropping them off at college.
Marketing research suggests a person needs to hear something seven times before they are ready to take action. Yet some of the most successful pop-culture messages, the ones from trusted brands and businesses, consistently use slogans not seven times—but over and over, for decades. (Just Do It, anyone?) Familiarity is born out of repetition. And the more someone hears the same message over and over, the more likely they will believe it to be true.
Sometime in this last year, while kissing my two older kids goodnight, I said my normal “I love you” and then added an “I’m so proud of you.” I’m often telling my kids I am proud of them after seeing homework or a report card or an art project or after a soccer game when the team lost but they were good sports about it. So when I said this at bedtime, my daughter, who was 10 at the time, just smiled, as if humoring me: Mom’s trying out another new parenting technique.
Honestly, it felt ... funny, to say something I hoped they knew, but hadn’t made a concerted effort to tell them in an unprompted context.
The next night, I added, “you bring me so much joy.” Because they do.
And after a week, I just went all in—I had a whole chorus: “I love you. I’m so proud of you. You are such a good girl/boy, I love you more than I could ever tell you, I am so grateful to be your mom. I’m so thankful God gave you to me.”
It felt like saying a script, even though I meant every single word.
As my kids got older, I guess I thought it was implied that I was grateful for them and proud of them. But it dawned on me: what if they need to actually hear me say it? What if they need to hear the same thing over and over and over to believe that it is true?
I wanted to start giving them a consistent message in a very intentional way. Regardless of what the day held, no matter how frustrated I got with certain behaviors, completely removed from the circumstances of the day—I decided to tell them the truth about who they are and how I feel about them.
None of my words are magical. Nothing I say will guarantee they will feel loved throughout the rest of their lives. But I felt it was important to say these things to them. To give them this script. And my prayer is that God will use what they hear to guide, protect, fortify their minds and hearts. I wanted to give them an embedded memory—a love song of sorts—for their hearts to hum without having to think about the words.
When our youngest child, Viv, became a part of our family through adoption from China last winter, my husband and I started to sing to her at bedtime. I didn’t overthink my choices and started singing the same handful of songs that came to my mind those first nights together.
During our first few weeks, we sang through her cries. Later on, we sang above quiet stares as we rocked and rocked and rocked until she fell asleep in our arms. I’ve sung them to her almost every night for the better part of a year. Now, I sing lying in bed next to her, as we hold hands and give butterfly kisses—because it’s our routine and (I hope) a comfort. Above her bedroom door is a wooden sign that says “Chosen” in script, given to us by a family friend. It has a Bible verse written on the back about how God’s children are chosen and loved. I want her to know, she was chosen to be a part of our family.
After we sing, I say her, “I am so glad I’m your momma. I’m so glad you’re my daughter. You are chosen.”
Sometimes she says, “yes” after each statement. Sometimes she says “thank you” (which cracks me up). Sometimes she says nothing at all.
As women, many of us grew up with songs of love embedded in our hearts. And some of us didn’t. Many of us are relearning and retraining our minds from the harsh messages given to us in our formative years. I, for one, miss my mother’s words so much, and wish I could hear any of them again.
As moms, we continually have to filter through the blaring siren song of performance and perfection. Of conforming and comparison. But no matter what we heard growing up, and no matter what we listen to now—we can choose to give our kids a song. A melody, a poem, a script—to know as truth, to remember and believe.
I want my kids to have a song of my love, of God’s love, so deeply planted in their hearts, they won’t remember a time in their lives without it.
After dinner the other night, I turned on some children’s music in Mandarin. Viv’s lost most of her native language, a fact that pains me as I also accept its inevitability with her living in an English-speaking home. When the third or fourth song started, her face lit up. From her dimpled smile and happy arms in the air, it was obviously a song she recognized from her years in China. The melody, the words, unsung for close to a year, came back to her with ease and joy.
The melodies we hear in our childhood stay with us for a lifetime.
So sing it, momma.
Sing it loud. Sing it soft. Don’t worry if you’re off tune. Or if you feel awkward.
Whatever it is, do it with intention; say it in faith. Tell your kids the truth of who they are. The truth of your love, the love only you as their mom can give them. Sing the song only you know your kids—your very precious children—need to hear.
Give them words they aren’t old enough to come up with themselves, a message they never will remember not knowing. A melody sung to them each night, each morning—or each time you drop them off at school.
Let it be a blessing, a charge, a prayer: You are loved, child. I am proud of you. You are a joy. I adore you.
We were chosen to raise these kids.
We don’t have to be perfect.
We just need to sing.