I raised five kids who are now in their late twenties through early thirties. At the beginning of this life journey, I was idealistic and optimistic, and determined to always be a positive force in my children's lives. I would always be supportive and speak powerful inspiring words, and I would always protect them from anything bad happening to them.
I am now a few decades into this and rather than hoping and guessing about how it would be, I know all too well how it went.
I didn't always come off so great. I didn't always manage to be a positive force for my kids. But man, I sure tried to be.
Looking back, I can remember things I said that were detrimental to my children's well-being and to their trust in me. I can see where I had taken someone else's word for how to interact with my kids, and sometimes the results rang hollow. Those were not powerful words. Live and learn.
I can also look back and see ways in which I was able to reassure and build up my children, that encouraged them to follow their own paths and be compassionate and sensitive to others, people of integrity and courage.
I had been given a gift, a chance to nurture and guide and strengthen five young people. An awesome and overwhelming opportunity and responsibility.
Some good things sprang out of bad scenarios. In those situations, humility and honesty were most effective for all concerned.
Here are some of the powerful things you as a parent can speak into your children:
1) "I'm sorry."
Tempted to fake it and try to cover up the fact that you've just blown it? That is a supreme waste of time, and kids generally see through it. Their respect for you will only go down. Better to tell the truth.
2) "I was wrong."
This is related to my above points. If I put my own ego ahead of how my child is affected by my wrong words or actions, that's not going to strengthen our relationship. It will breed mistrust and disrespect.
You want to be a good role model — So is that really how you want your kids to act when they are wrong?
3) "You were right."
Nothing like vindication, especially from a parent. Especially from a parent who was wrong and has admitted it. This one even rivals "I was wrong," from a kid's point of view.
4) "Thank you."
Appreciation should always be expressed. Did your kid do something considerate for you? Don't shrug it off as your due — "Of course they were nice, they're supposed to be nice." If you want to encourage this niceness, cultivate it, water it, help it to grow. Everybody loves applause.
5) "I like how you did that."
It's very reassuring to hear something like this. When your parent says it, it can carry more weight (at least till the teen years). This can make a child feel more confident, and encourage them to branch out and try new things.
6) "How do you feel?"
Sometimes kids' emotions get overlooked. We as parents don't want to be dismissive, it's just that sometimes we get preoccupied with making things run as smoothly as possible. We don't realize we are not taking everyone into consideration. How a child feels may get crowded out by other responsibilities and plans. So, if you suddenly realize that you don't know how they feel, ask them.
7) "What do you think?"
We are busy in the world of adults and tend to think that we have a handle on things, or that we at least need to try to get a handle on things. But listening to a smaller person's perspective can be helpful in a couple of ways. It's wonderful for your child to know that what they think is important to you. And sometimes, that new perspective is just what you needed.
8) "It'll be OK."
It would be lovely if our children always succeeded in positive undertakings, and never made bad choices, never got in trouble, never got hurt. But sooner or later, something is going to go wrong.
And while we can't always fix things for them, we can always put an arm around them and reassure them that it's not the end of the world. Our love for them is not in question, they will survive their mistakes, and outlive their bad choices. And we will always stand by them.
9) "I know you can do it."
Even the most confident-sounding kid can have moments of self-doubt or insecurity. And most kids go through lots of this, whether they say so or not. Are they thinking about trying something new? Are they considering a stretch into new territory? Do they wonder if they've got what it takes? Reassure them, and don't be shy about it.
10) "Let's do it."
Granted, not every kid is going to be thrilled at the idea of being partnered up with their mother for ... well, for anything. But some children would be thrilled to have Mom's support and interest.
They won't always want to do things with you. It may seem like that day will never come, and sometimes you wish it would come quickly. But take it from someone whose children have outgrown childhood. One day you will miss the clamoring of little ones who want to do everything with you.