Parents : Your Words Matter
Michayla White works in digital strategies at Awana where she invests time in the colliding worlds of children and youth and digital technologies. Educated in psychology, one of her greatest personal passions is investing in emerging adults and the evolving lives of young adults. This guest post is a personal insight on the power of parents’ words to help – or harm – their children.
I remember a silly little phrase that I learned as a child that I’d use as a retort when someone would tease me: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That was all well and good to sing back to whoever it was that was poking fun at me, but if you really think about that phrase, it’s not true.
Most of the time, we try to take the importance and weight of our words (or other’s words) and diminish it to nothing. When we believe our words and actions do not have the ability to build up or tear down, we deceive ourselves.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
The tongue has the power of life and death. Think about that for a moment.
You have the opportunity, especially as a parent, to speak a blessing over a person’s life, or to curse them. That’s weighty. That’s important.
Children thirst for blessing and acceptance from their parents. It is not surprising that so many of the women that I mentor often tell me about how their parents words either blessed them or hurt them as a child. The women whose parents loved them well, shepherded their hearts, and spoke blessing into their lives are usually healthy, godly young women. The women whose parents were casual with their words (or even damaging with their words), not purposeful about developing their daughter’s love for the Lord, and failed to consistently speak blessing into their lives are usually confused, hurt, and struggling to be who God created them to be. What does this tell you? Your influence is vital to their growth, development, and future. You can’t casually parent. Your words and actions mean more than any other person’s words and actions in your child’s life. Think about your own childhood…what was your experience like? How did it affect you and the person you have become?
My friend, Sarah (not her real name), has a story that I feel is like so many others. Her parents were casual church attenders, and there was very little talk about faith, the Lord, and the Word at home. Her mother only praised her when she did something “right”, and her dad just rarely spoke. When he did speak, however, it was about all the things she had done incorrectly. She grew up seeking attention in all the wrong places. Despite any efforts of my own to encourage her to go to God for her security and value in life, and any efforts others made to shower her with love, she still could not move past what had been ingrained in her mind by her parents words and actions: her value and ability to gain love was based solely on her performance. Because we are not wired to accept that type of love, she rebelled. Big time. Sarah sought acceptance from men, affirmation from men, and love from men who did not give her any of those things she was chasing after. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant. Sarah cut off all of her friends after this. Three years later, I got a phone call.
“Michayla?” a timid voice asked.
“It’s Sarah.” she stated.
“Sarah! It’s so good to hear from you!” I exclaimed.
“Can we meet for coffee? Tonight?” Her tone of voice was urgent. I told her that I would be on my way in a minute
When I walked in to the coffee shop, I spotted her immediately. She looked awful. Thin, tired, and sad–not the young woman I remembered. The talk we had that night was one I will never forget. She told me all that had occurred in the three years since she had cut herself off. I will not expose what she shared that night, but I can say that she was completely, totally broken. My heart hurt for her. She had hit rock bottom, and wanted out of that bondage. Thankfully, she is now leading a healthy, God-honoring life, but that is because of the work of God in her life- not because her parents did what they could to shepherd their daughter’s heart well. They spoke (either verbally or with their silence) words of death into her life simply because they didn’t care enough to bless her; however, the Lord redeemed her and showed her the extent of His love for her. Sarah’s story, though unique to her, is like the stories of so many young women that I have interacted with. They are confused and hurting because their parents failed to give them a firm place to stand- a place of security, value, and affirmation.
So, what does it look like to speak a blessing over your child’s life? Being present is not enough. A child should never have to interpret silence when it comes to what their parents think about them. A lack of negative words does not mean you are not hurting or confusing your child. They should know without a shadow of a doubt, like we know as children of the King, that their father and mother love them unconditionally, rejoice over them, and believe in the future of their little one.
Speak words of life to them (share Scripture with them, affirm them, build them up), pray over them daily, regularly encourage them with belief in their future, always shower them with love and mercy, discipline them in truth and love, and rejoice over who God has made them to be.
Sarah’s story could have looked different. She could have grown up secure and confident in the fact that she was dearly loved, a precious daughter of God, whose parents believed she had a beautiful future serving the Lord. And that, friends, is what grieves me… those two words: “could have.” As I think about it, perhaps the story really is about what should have been, because her parents abdicated their responsibility to her when she needed them the most. But it doesn’t have to be “should have’s” and “could have’s” for your children’s stories.
Parents, you are the ones who show your child how loved they are, how much value and worth they have, and that they have a future. Your words have the power of life and death for your child. What responsibility! God, help us to never cease to speak words of life that draw our children closer to You!