We are not each born with an obvious voice. You know, like a singer, with a clear way of expressing just who we are. It would be nice if we could each look inside ourselves and know, but we need others to help us. For a child to consistently hear throughout his childhood that he is good at drawing, has a sense of humor, or is well-coordinated, not because his parents wish to inflate his ego but because these things are truly noteworthy, helps him define himself for life, helps him find his song to sing.
As a stay-at-home mom for the past twenty years I have discovered that the role of consistency and flexibility in mothering is huge in that these ideas dictate everything. And when I say everything, I mean the dream-come true of a child who is confident and capable and happy by the time we drop him or her off on the doorstep of adulthood.
Consistently responding to a child as an individual teaches him that we respect him and that he is not simply a generic child that needs taking care of. Being flexible enough to tailor these intentions to each child’s personality frees him to try new things, to learn and grow in his own way, and ultimately to value himself.
Consistently pointing out on a day-to-day basis the exceptional things a child does, the choices he makes (“you like the shirt with the ducks”), and helping him hear his own voice (“you were excited to see Grandma!”) shows a child who he is inside, even when we do not see the value in these facts themselves. We serve as the reliable and trusted mirror our children look into over and over again.
Being flexible enough to allow for differences in our children by not responding the same way to each one just because it seems most fair, matters. Some children need different strategies, different opportunities, and different views of themselves in order to understand who they are. Evan is cautious and limits himself, not wanting to learn to ride a tricycle until he feels sure he can do it. His coaching requires inspiration to try the hard thing without fear. Alaina loves risk and is off and running without awareness of how to brake. She needs direction first, a line in the sand not to step over, yet. These differences last a lifetime and each child must know which path is his.
We want our children to lift their beautiful voices, and having adults who consistently reflect back to them who they are with the flexibility to make it real give the world the gift of song.
I submitted this essay to MomSense magazine earlier this year but I never heard what they did with it.