Tone of Voice

“Watch your tone of voice, young lady!” This was an admonition I frequently heard growing up – and my mother said it in a FIRM tone of voice. Many of us learned in Psychology 101 that a key to effective communication is understanding how communication works. Studies have shown that only 15% of what we communicate verbally is from the actual words we say. That means 85% of communication comes from facial expressions, emphasis, body language, and tone of voice.  (It makes me wonder about those who communicate primarily with texting.)

What does this mean to us as mothers? I learned an important lesson from our son when he was about 8 years old. I was busy asking our four children to help get the house picked up for a home group meeting. I was giving directions and Benjamin asked me “Why do you always talk to me in a mean voice and Abi in a nice voice?”                                                  It stopped me up short – I realized he was absolutely right! In asking my children to clean up I communicated impatience and aggravation to my oldest child and patience and grace to the youngest.  “CLEAN UP RIGHT NOW!” spoken harshly and with a stern look on my face communicates something very different from “Clean up right now” said more softly and with a smile. Same words – different meaning. I had developed a pattern of speaking harshly to my oldest because I expected more from him. That in itself was not a bad thing, he WAS older and I could reasonably expect more from him at 8 years old then from his little sister who was 4. Yet I was communicating impatience and aggravation to one child and patience and grace to another for the same behavior! How willing  to obey can we expect our children to be when we speak to them in that way? I asked our son for forgiveness and told him I would try to talk to each of our children the same. I started talking mean to his little sister as well! No, just kidding. It was a struggle, but I began working on using a tone of voice that communicated love and grace even when I had to be firm.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” What a great verse for mothers! I like how the Amplified translation words the last part – “but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others….that it may be a blessing and give grace to those who hear it.”

 Words of kindness are a source of healing and that is so important when our children are hurt by the mean words of others. Our children’s speech often reflects our speech. How many of us have been embarrassed to hear our child speak a certain word only to realize they learned it from us! This is true of the tone of voice as well. The way we speak to our husbands will be the way our children learn to speak to their father. They will mimic our tone of voice. May we learn to reflect the love and respect that God holds for each of us when we speak to our husbands and children.

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A Two Sided Coin

Each of us is a two-sided coin. It is obvious when we flip a coin that it has a “heads” side and a “tails”. Yet in our everyday use of currency, we seldom reflect on what each side represents. As a mother, I know that each of my children has various characteristics. We refer to these as personality traits, temperament, talents, gifts, or flaws. Why is it that we see the negative side of a trait more frequently than the positive side?

I remember lamenting the fact that one of our daughters was “super sensitive” and would cry at the drop of a hat. I also complained that another daughter was so strong-willed that getting dressed was a major battle each day. (At two she was known to remove all her clothes after I had dressed her because they were wrinkled!)

My mother reminded me that each of those qualities I complained about had another side. The “super sensitive” trait was also kindness, caring and empathy. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that we all need to cultivate and this daughter has it in abundance. The “strong-willed” trait is also perseverance and determination.  A determination to follow God’s will is a major defense against peer pressure as our children enter adolescence. This daughter did not give in to pressure from peers even when she was lied about by so-called friends. A strong will to follow God will produce another fruit of the Spirit – faithfulness.

Galatians 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  These are the qualities, traits, and characteristics that we want to see evident in our children’s lives. Our challenge as mothers is to recognize the positive aspect of our children’s character and help that outshine the other side of the coin. When I was able to accept that God had created each of our children with certain traits and that He had a purpose in doing so that was GOOD, it helped me accept that child and who they were. That does not mean that we accept open defiance as a strong will, or crying as a means to gain sympathy. We are still responsible to discipline and train our children. Yet, when we see the positive side of the coin, or characteristic, it will help us parent in a way that builds up our child’s strengths to honor God.

What are some characteristics that you see in your child?  Would you share each “side of the coin” and how you see a positive side in your child that you hope to nurture?

Cleats or Heels?

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

This is a verse that brings comfort to us as parents with the hope that our efforts are not in vain. Yet do we understand – “in the way he should go”? I have heard that the word translated “train” in the Hebrew refers to the way a gardener prunes, cares for, and shapes a plant along its natural tendencies. In other words, a skilled gardener knows the properties of his various plants and is sensitive to those strengths and weaknesses as he cares for those plants. For instance, he knows when to prune a hydrangea, right after blooming is finished, not in the early spring causing the current year’s blooms to be cut off. To effectively care for plants, the gardener must know the characteristics of those plants.

As a parent, to effectively train my child in the way that child should go, I must make the effort to know that child. Sometimes they will surprise us! I was reminded of this recently when one of our daughters attended an alumni game at the college where she played soccer. As a little girl she played princess with the best of them and dressed in pink whenever given the choice. She was a princess! Her father realized that she had athletic ability when she was quite young, yet she did not show much interest in sports.  Phil worked with her and “trained” her skills in sports, yet she followed his directions out of pleasure of playing with daddy, not enjoyment of the sport. As she got older, he signed her up for a team and told her if she didn’t like it after the season, she would not have to play again. To make a long story short, she gradually began to enjoy playing, mainly because it is fun to do something one is good at.  Her dad recognized her “natural bend” if you will, and it served her well culminating in a college scholarship. More importantly, soccer led her to the school her future husband would  attend and the common enjoyment of athletics.

This daughter still had a bit of the “princess” in her.  One fall night she walked onto the field where she usually wore cleats, shorts and a jersey and instead had on heels and a lovely gown. The evening  culminated in her being crowned homecoming queen. That was part of her “bend” as well.

As parents we may limit our childs opportunities if we only focus on one aspect of their character. We should pray often for sensitivity to each of our children and recognize their various strengths as they grow and change. God has created each child with unique qualities and one of the great joys of parenting is watching these traits unfold. We must also remember that they are created in the image of God for HIS glory and we must not impose our own “way he should go” on our children.

Above All

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I realized I think about being a daughter more on Mother’s Day than the fact that I am a mother and grandmother as well. That is primarily true because my parents live with us. As they age I want to honor that relationship as long as I am blessed with their presence. So, I fixed country pork chops, etc. and used my mother’s lovely china. There were only four adults around the table and yet I chose to enjoy the special meal we shared and not focus on the children and grandchildren who were elsewhere. Mother’s Day is not just about me, even though I am a mother. Our daughters are now mothers themselves, and their husbands have mothers and grandmothers, all of whom have a claim on their time and attention.  I choose how I respond to the cards, calls, gifts, etc. and I must sometimes adjust my response to honor the fact that family members are where they should be and that our “home” may no longer be their “home” . I want to support their decisions as a family and not add a burden of guilt “if only you were here!” Certainly I miss them, but if my focus is on the ones that are not here, I won’t enjoy the presence of the ones that are with me.

I  remember a conversation I had with my mother right before our first child was born. First, to give some background I must say that I had an idyllic childhood. I was blessed with two Godly, loving parents who “walked the talk” and lived a consistent example before my brothers and I. Yet, they were not perfect and I wanted my mother to know that although she was a wonderful mother, I needed to warn her that I was going to do some things differently as a parent myself. I was not going to make some of the mistakes  she had made.   She responded with wisdom and grace, “You are right, Gayle. You won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.  You’ll make your own mistakes.” I knew immediately that she was right. None of us are perfect as daughters, much less as mothers. The following verse that one of our daughter’s uses at the end of her e-mail gives me hope and comfort –

“Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sin.”  I Peter 4:8

Above all, more important them me getting my own way, LOVE each other deeply. I would venture to say that the most frequent sin that love must cover is selfishness. Just think, love covers a MULTITUDE of sin. When I feel wronged or hurt, love should be my response.  As a wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law, I must make sure that love is the motivation behind my thoughts and actions, not my selfish desires. Then, Our Father’s love can do the work that will bring Him glory.

Cultivating the Garden of Our Children’s Hearts

Dogwood at Macktown Gap

When someone comes to our home for the first time, often the first thing they notice is our yard. Now we have been blessed with a lovely older farm house as our home, part of it was built in 1880.  Yet people comment on the yard. It is beautiful, unusually so, not that we can take much credit for that fact. Over the years, folks who lived here planted and tended trees, shrubs, and flowers. The couple who lived here right before we purchased this home were animal people and they let the plants tend to themselves. So, soon after we moved in, Phil and I began pruning, cutting back, and transplanting specimens that were too big for the spot they occupied. Phil also outlined each planted area with river rock to protect the plants from eager mowers. I planned the plantings by type and color so those needing sun would receive the necessary amount and those requiring shade would be sheltered. My father has added his knowledge of plants and their habitat to enhance the beauty and health of our garden.

I’m often asked, “How do you keep your yard looking so beautiful?” or ” When do you find time to take care of your yard?” The quick answer is that I weed every day. I don’t let the weeds take over so that it seems an overwhelming task to rid the flower beds of weeds. But, it is more than that. I enjoy working in our yard. After a day of being inside at school, taking an hour or so to pull weeds, nip off spent blooms,  or transplant a volunteer plant to a more suitable location is rejuvenating for me. Since I find it fullfilling and rewarding, it is not an odious duty for me. I can look at our yard and see the fruits of my labor.

Psalm 1:1- 3  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

I see a direct correlation to caring for young  children. You must tend to them each and every day.  If you negect to deal with “weeds”  – those deliberately defiant attitudes that lead to actions –  they will multiply until they overwhelm all that is good and Godly in children. Requiring them to speak respectfully, and modeling that for them will prevent those seeds of disrespect from taking root. This is an ongoing effort. Just as I cannot pull a few weeds in April and expect the flowerbed to be weed free all summer, I cannot tell my child once to “talk nice” and think my parenting duty is fullfulled. It is an ongoing effort.

Phil and I received a wise bit of advice when we attended a parenting conference while pregnant with our first child. We were challenged to deal with discipline issues as they occur, and not wait until the child is older and the parent can “reason” with the child. “Would you rather deal with this discipline issue when your child is 5 or 15?”  we were asked. Thinking about the implications of defiant behavior when a child is 15 was a great motivator to be consistent with discipline, even when I was tired and my child colored in a book yet again.

We can cultivate such a love for our children that our “weeding” of their behavior is worth the effort it takes to be consistent.  We will be following God’s plan as mothers and that will bear fruit for God’s kingdom.