Most nights, I lie down with Engelberta in her bed, and we read a few books before I turn the lights out. Then we lay there in the dark, and I have to tell her “Be still and be quiet” at least a gazillion times while she squirms and talks and performs daring feats of flexibility. I will pat her back or rub her face while I tell her things I love about her or things that were fun to do together that day. Occasionally I skip this step in our “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, GO TO SLEEP BEFORE WE BOTH DIE” routine. Engelberta is quick to remind me, “Mommy, you forgot to tell me how good I was today.”
Even if it was a terrible day, even if I am sad and exhausted beyond words, even if I am mad she won’t go to sleep, I will find something good to tell this tiny human. I am far from a perfect parent, but this is one thing I can get right; I can always tell her that I love her just for being her, and she needs to know that I love every moment I spend with her (whether I enjoy them all or not). She needs to know that she is good and loved and valuable and precious, and I need to take every opportunity to fill her up with good and kind words. Because the world will whisper the opposite. Because sometimes I yell when I’m mad at her. Because no matter how much I want to shield her, terrible things are going to happen in her life.
Because I think we all need to hear wonderful words whispered to us before bedtime. I know I do. I thrive on words of affirmation; it’s the love language I respond to best. If I were to sum up my life’s goals, they boil down to three things: to know God, to make him known, and to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when I get to heaven. Every single thing I do, every role I inhabit falls into at least one of those summary statements.
Some days, knowing that I have done well even when no one else recognizes it is enough because I know that God saw it. Some days I struggle through the thankless tasks of cleaning the never ending dirty dishes, picking up all of the things from all of the places they land, dressing a squirrely tiny human who would much rather be dancing naked… I want desperately for someone to pat my back and tell me how good I was today. I want someone to acknowledge that I worked hard, and I what I did was enough. Most of the time I unfairly expect my husband to fill this void. I’m not saying he should never encourage me, but it is not his job to make me a whole and fulfilled person.
When I am struggling for affirmation, I am struggling with my value as a person and as a child of God. As a person who also fights depression, this is an uphill battle. I have a few coping tools to pat myself on the back and tell myself I was good today. I look back over the day and acknowledge what I got done or a special moment or something that made me laugh, and I try to keep all thoughts of what’s left on my to-do list at bay until the next morning. I keep a few special notes that people have given me over the years so that one exceptionally bad days I can remind myself of nice things people have told me about myself. I take a break and do something that makes me happy for at least a few minutes, like crocheting or a hot bath or reading a good book. And, probably most importantly, I try to encourage other people.
Specifically, I work hard to build up the women around me because I know we all have an inner critic that doesn’t stop for much. Women particularly struggle not to compare themselves with other women, and we tend to think we can just work harder to be perfect. Men tend not to have the unending inner voice; I used to think my husband was lying whenever I asked what he was thinking and he said, “Nothing.” I’m taking that response on faith, because it’s never quiet in my brain, and I know I’m not the only woman with a brain that veers too often into the weeds of criticism. I do what I can to encourage other women, so maybe together we can keep each other out of the weeds. I’ve also learned that when I work harder to see something good to encourage in someone else, I look past their faults. If I can look past someone else’s faults, I can extend myself the same grace; it’s not always easy, but it’s definitely a skill I’m improving.
Do you have some good coping tools when you need affirmation? Do you have at least one friend you can trust to be honest with about your needs and who will lift you up when you need it? What actions do you need to take to develop a coping toolbox and at least one solid friend? If you’re struggling with that and need some help getting started, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. When you’re bogged down in the thankless daily grind, remember before you go to sleep to pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, “You did good today.” And don’t forget to affirm someone else; we are all tiny humans at heart who need to be filled up with good and encouraging words.