She disappeared for a bit then returned, holding a piece of paper to her chest. She has a way lately of dropping bombs on me via the written word. Now that my girl has finished first grade she’s become quite the writer. She often expresses herself through a heartfelt note, complete with answer boxes (check yes or no). I read her note and held back my giggles as I realized this adorably dramatic written plea was exposing the depths of her heart. Her letter read: Mom, last night I had a dream about a dog. I found out who I was. I am a girl who loves furry things that you can snuggle with. And you aren’t letting me be me if you say no.
After I pulled myself up off the floor I sat her on my lap and affirmed her love of furry things but reminded her that dogs are a big responsibility that we do not want to take on. An epic meltdown ensued and my girl moved from endearing to infuriating. But as I stepped back to look at the big picture of the situation, I realized she had put her whole heart and soul into that note. She had convinced herself that this was her ticket to finally getting a dog. There was a tiny part of my mama heart that wanted to run out and grab her the first pup I came across. And there was a large part of me that wanted to squash her dreams with the reality that we just aren’t dog people and life has been way too nutty to even think about adding a pet. In the days that followed I asked God and friends for wisdom on how to handle her desire. My daughter is a gentle soul. As I watch her play with dolls and stuffed animals daily I can see her need to care for things. She’s tender and nurturing and I know I need to encourage her in these strengths. It can be tricky when our child’s passions or desires go against our own tendencies. A hopeful gymnast with practice three times a week. . .a future football star, requiring more protective gear than any mother would be comfortable with. . .an animal lover growing up in the home of pet averse parents. Encouraging our children in their strengths may take us out of our comfort zone. But I’m learning: if I want to raise a brave girl who knows who she is and who God made her to be, I need to find nurturing ways to encourage her strengths. I need to learn about her as she learns about herself. I need to pay close attention to her interests, passions and personality traits so I can guide her into her destiny. I am deep within the process of figuring out how to encourage my brave girl but here are a few ways I’m committed to encourage her strengths.
Listen. In the midst of busyness or when her interest seems like a whim. . .no matter what, I’m learning to listen. To hear her (or read her words as the case may be with my budding writer) and soak in the communication. Even if I need to take a few days to respond. . .even if my first response is poor and I return later after contemplation and prayer. . .when my girl opens her heart and expresses her soul I will listen with my full, undivided, open-minded attention.
Notice. Most kids are oblivious to their own strengths as they explore life from every angle. As her mom, I have the great honor of being my girl’s guardian, her overseer. It’s my job to notice what she can’t yet see herself. It’s my privilege to share the strengths I see and help her cultivate them.
Affirm. Whether she feels on top of the world or completely defeated, I can encourage my daughter with words that affirm her heart. Our words are the building blocks of our daughters’ confidence. They may not remember the details, but they will recall feeling built up as they explored all that life has to offer.
Challenge. My daughter has been playing the violin for a year now. Although she doesn’t like to practice she enjoys playing and has taken very well to learning music. Every night I have to challenge her to focus on this craft. Because I notice her natural ability and her contradicting lack of focus, I can encourage her to grow in discipline through playing the violin. She may never play in an orchestra but it’s good and healthy for me to challenge her to truly give music a chance.
Get Creative. Although we probably won’t get a dog any time soon, some dear friends suggested I reach out to local shelters and animal daycare facilities to see if they would allow my daughter to volunteer over the summer. This would give her the chance to be near furry animals a bit and introduce her to the real responsibility of taking care of one. This creative effort tells my daughter that I care about her passion even though our lives don’t line up with it in this season. If our lifestyle or perhaps our budget won’t allow our child to pursue an interest, we can look for creative ways to meet the need and communicate that we care about their desires.
Strengths can be interests, passions, tendencies, personality traits and various gifts. When we notice the colorful puzzle pieces of our daughter’s life and help her put them into place, together we create a beautiful picture of the calling of God on her life. That alone is one of the most exciting parts of motherhood. The sacred act of helping my daughter realize her destiny just might be the most important job I ever hold. I trust God’s grace will guide me as I in turn guide her towards all he has in store.