A bright teenager wrote to tell me she found my blog using the following search words: "how to remind my mother I am a human being with feelings." The young lady explained, “I could do a million things right, but my mom could still find the flaws, and that ruins the whole day.”
At that sight of those words, my eyes became wet. I cried for this young woman. I cried for her mother. I cried for my own little girl who used to pick her lip in the back of the car after our stressful departures. I cried for the woman who sat behind the wheel aching with regret for expecting so much of a six-year-old child.
For years I justified my overly critical behavior by telling myself I was doing it to help her—help her become more responsible, capable, efficient, and prepare for the real world.
I told myself I was building her up.
But in reality, I was tearing her down.
I vividly remember the day my mother was visiting from out-of-town. My two daughters were playing alone in the basement. My younger daughter began crying hysterically. I ran downstairs fearing she was seriously hurt.
The first question out of my mouth was directed at my older daughter. “What did you do?” I asked angrily.
My child didn’t bother to explain that her little sister had slipped on the library book that was sitting on the bottom step. There really was no point. My beautiful child with humongous brown eyes that once held so much optimism looked defeated. Silent tears of a broken spirit slid down her face. My daughter knew it didn’t matter what she said, she’d still be wrong; it would still be her fault.
And there was my mother standing beside her, a silent witness to the whole ugly scene.
As my older daughter ran off to the sanctity of her bedroom, an unexpected question came out of my mouth. “You think I am too hard on her, don’t you?” I snapped.
My mom, who’d experienced her own difficult parenting moments and struggles, held no judgment in her eyes, only sadness. Her simple response of “yes” only confirmed what I knew in my heart.
I mustered up the courage to find the words that needed to be said. Apologizing didn’t come easily for someone who strived to make everything look perfect all the time, but I knew what needed to be said.
I found my child crumpled up like a dejected rag doll on top of her bed—her face puffy and red from crying.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
My daughter didn’t move.
I sat down on the edge of her bed and began saying things I’d never said to another human being—not even myself. “I feel mad inside a lot. I often speak badly about myself in my head. I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy and then I treat others badly—especially you. It is not right, and I am going to stop. I am not sure how, but I will stop. I am so very sorry,” I vowed trying not to cry.
My daughter looked unsure as to what to do with this confession, this unusual offering from her mother who rarely admitted any wrongdoing. I didn’t blame her for the skeptical look she gave me. I understood why she didn’t say anything back, but somewhere in those eyes I saw hope—hope that things could be different.
I knew I had to silence my inner bully—the voice that was prone to criticize my children and myself … the one who set unrealistically high standards … the one who could never be pleased … the one who blocked grace from entering our home.
I realized that my inner bully was a destructive force that prevented me from living and loving fully. Not only would it destroy my chance at true fulfillment and joy, it would also rob my child of hers.
During prayer time one morning, I heard three powerful words: ONLY LOVE TODAY. Those three words stirred a hope and an optimism in me I hadn’t felt in years. Maybe it wasn’t too late to create new, positive patterns in my heart and home. I desperately wanted to believe.
Within the hour, I had a chance to try it. The first critical thought that popped into my head arose as I was preparing to leave the house. I looked at my reflection and thought, “You look fat. You can’t go out looking like that.”
“Stop!” I assertively thought to myself, shutting down any further criticisms. Then I quickly turned away from the mirror and recited these words: “Only love today. Only love today.”
I used the same strategy when interacting with my child a few minutes later. Before any harsh words came out of my mouth about the way she was sloppily packing her bag of things, I cut off my inner critic by saying, “Stop. Only love today.” Then I swallowed the hurtful words and relaxed my disapproving face.
Within mere days of using the “stop” technique, I noticed a change. With a more positive thought process, it was easier to let go of the need to control, dictate, and criticize. In response, my daughter began taking more chances and began revealing her true passions. She started movie making and website design on the computer. She made doll furniture and clothing to sell in the neighborhood. She began baking new recipes without any help. Nothing she did was perfect—nor was it mess-free or mistake-free. But the moment I said something positive, I saw her blossom a little more. That is when I began to clearly see beyond the mistakes and messes to what was truly important.
I began noticing my child’s inner beauty rather than looking for perfection on the outside.
I began paying more attention to the person she was rather than the successes she achieved.
I began letting her be who she was meant to be instead of some idealistic version of her in my head.
For the first time in a long time, grace was present. It was mine for the taking. It was mine for the offering. And over time, grace became a peaceful and permanent inhabitant of our home. And as a result, a loving bond was established between my child and me.
My daughter recently entered middle school. We talk in the sanctity of her room at night. She asks me which outfits look best. She paints my nails whenever I have something special to attend. She tells me her hopes for the future. She tells me her worries. She tells me things she doesn’t tell anyone else. Each morning she likes me to walk with her to the bus stop. And each time she does, I send up a prayer of gratitude for this sacred invitation. I came painfully close to missing such invitations.
As my child leans in for a brief side hug before walking up to the bus stop, I think of the bright young lady who found my blog through a Google search. I think of her mother, and hope the following message will someday reach her:
If you think criticizing, belittling, or critiquing yourself will make you smarter, fitter, or more valuable, please reconsider.
If you think badgering, bullying, or constantly correcting your child will make him or her more likable, more confident, or more successful, please reconsider.
Because the truth is this:
It’s hard to love yourself with a bully breathing down your neck.
It’s hard to love yourself when the one person who’s supposed love you unconditionally doesn’t.
It’s hard to become the person you’re supposed to be when you aren’t allowed to fall down and get back up.
If we want our children to become who they’re meant to be, let’s ease up ourselves. “Mistakes mean we’re learning” can be healing and empowering words when said to oneself or to another human being.
Let’s stop the ridicule. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s stop the impossible pursuit of perfection.
Today stands in front of us open to change, open to second chances, open to grace.
Only love today, dear one. Only love today.
Because love is a good place to start a new beginning.
Only Love Today, Rachel Macy Stafford's newly released #1 Amazon bestseller in three categories, is a non-structured, read anytime/anywhere source of encouragement for busy individuals. If you want to provide what your loved ones need but are unsure of where to start … if your life feels joyless, overwhelming, stressful, and empty and you don’t know how to change … if you’re hungry for small doses of positivity to combat the negativity in you or around you, ONLY LOVE TODAY offers a 2-minute reset for a day that is starting to go off the rails. Read, reset, and be reminded to love. Join Rachel's supportive community at The Hands Free Revolution.