“My sister stands beside me on the pool deck. We aren’t watching our kids play-fight in the water. Our eyes are on the adolescent bird sitting at the base of an oak tree a few feet away. We can hear his mother squawking at him from a bush nearby. He’s fallen from her nest, and she can’t carry him to safety because he’s almost her size. But she can’t leave him alone, either, because she knows better than any of us that the woods are full of raccoons, that her life’s work might end in a half-eaten lump of sorrow if he can’t get to a low branch somehow. There’s nothing for her to do but to wait and to sing…”
They say the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who see a glass of water and call it half-empty and those who say it’s half-full. I’ll admit that I’m in the first group. Part of it’s personality, I suspect, and part of it’s due to the fact that as a classically trained cellist I was brought up with an artist’s mindset. In order to improve my intonation, phrasing, or bowing, I had to see and hear what was wrong with the way I was executing those elements. Over the years I developed a sensitive musical ear, an almost sixth sense when something in my playing wasn’t right. It allowed me to correct mistakes and to improve my performance. It was incredibly useful.
And it made me kind-of miserable.
Because, the truth is, I had a hard time turning off my inner critic—even when I wanted to–and she followed me everywhere. I noticed her when my penmanship was imperfect or my writing was dull and awkward. I heard her whisper when other people used incorrect grammar (though I never dreamed of calling their attention to it), and I judged them quietly. When I performed a piece of music and a high note came out wobbly, she was there, hissing her disapproval.
As I grew up and experienced more of the world, I wanted to shed this critic—sort-of. I was afraid to let her go 100% as I wasn’t sure if I’d still be able to judge what was good or bad about my art, if I’d be able to improve without her nagging. Still, our relationship with one another had grown decidedly strained and I wanted to take a break from her quiet, knife-like voice in my head.
What I didn’t realize is that she didn’t want to go—that she wouldn’t go—without a fight.
And now? I realize that I’ve brought this unwelcome friend along for the homeschool ride, and it has resulted in my neglecting to encourage my kids like I ought to. It’s not that I’m not proud of them or that I don’t value their achievements and character growth. I do. It’s just that, like an assembly line worker in front of a conveyor belt, I’m so used to seeing what needs fixing or removing or repairing in a situation (or a person or myself) that I neglect to point out, and praise, what is right and good.
When my daughter brings me a fanciful story she’s written and I love it, truly, but instead of complimenting it find myself saying, “Remember that you need an apostrophe there, and, is that how we spell that word?” she gets discouraged. There’s no other way to spin it.
These days I am making a concerted effort to praise the things my kids do right—whether these things take the form of kindnesses to one another, crisply made beds, or stories with amazingly apt character development. I may see the negative in their work or actions. (No. I will see it.) But I’m praying that the Lord helps me practice praising what is right and good in my kids because this kind of communication edifies instead of tearing down. We all need encouragement in our work, don’t we? We all need to know that someone appreciates the good they see in us.
And I want to become that kind of person for my kids, someone who speaks life into their days and helps them do the same for others.