My mom recently celebrated her birthday. Most years, the biggest birthday gift she receives from me, her youngest and often forgetful daughter, is a boisterous birthday song (or two or three) over the phone. But this year, I wanted to do something different. Since I rarely ever buy her flowers and I’m really doing great if I actually get her a homemade card sometime within the month of June, I wanted to take a moment here to write about my mom’s most powerful gift to me–the one thing that stands out to me in all my childhood memories.
I want to tell you about the gift of an encouraging mom.
From my earliest memory, I remember my mom telling my sister and I, “You could do that!” She would see a priceless work of art in a museum and blurt out, “You could do that!” We would read about a man breaking and training a wild horse and she’d tell me, “You could do that.” We’d listen to a beautiful orchestral concert and she’d quietly whisper in my ear, “You could do that.”
Mom always encouraged us to try new things.
It started even before I can remember. When I was 2 years old, my sister was taking dance lessons at a little children’s dance studio. Apparently, I would scream and cry throughout the class because I wanted to go out there and do it too (perhaps inappropriate behavior on my part, but hey, I knew what it took to get my way and Mom was still learning her parenting skills!) So, in my diaper and leotard, out I went on the dance floor smiling and tapping my way through the routines as I copied the other kids.
When I was 3, we had an old blue 1-ton flatbed truck we used to feed cows in the winter time. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap as she taught me how to steer the truck around ditches out in the field as Dad threw hay off the back for the cows. Then I remember her one day, sitting in the passenger seat saying, “You can do it!” as I peeked through the space between the steering wheel and the dashboard, driving that old truck in an erratic zigzag pattern down the field, thrilled with my accomplishment.
When I was 6, mom had a 3-year-old colt she was training and she heard the horse trainer, Ray Hunt, was going to be in a town a few hours from where we lived. I already loved horses and constantly worked with them, asking her and my dad questions about how I could train my pony to do this or that. Well, most people would probably say a 6-year-old is too young to ride in a colt-starting clinic but not my mom. With her classic line, my mom helped me saddle up and sent me off to the arena with, “You can do it!”
The best part of it all was this: my mom consistently set me up in situations that would allow me to accomplish, to succeed, to overcome, to conquer. She started with small, seemingly insignificant things that she knew I could do and gradually cheered me on to bigger and bigger things as my confidence and aptitude grew. Mom never pushed me beyond the point of physical capability but she always challenged me to reach a little farther, to get out of my comfort zone, to stretch my capabilities. And she always made sure to come alongside me and carefully teach me how to succeed. Even if no other 3-year-olds were driving trucks she told me, “You can do it!” Even if I was the youngest (or the only!) kid in the colt-training class, she still told me, “You can do it!”
There came a day when I didn’t succeed.
I remember being so excited to ride my pony in a barrel race at the rodeo when I was about 5. I practiced and planned and ran the loops around the barrels in my head over and over. I knew we were going to be great! The day finally came and as I turned my pony (at a trot) around the third and final barrel towards home, I began kicking and prodding her as hard as I could to make her run that final stretch back through the barrels to the gate.
I clearly remember feeling the dismay wash over me as my pony veered off at a gallop towards the arena fence, going on the wrong side of a barrel and disqualifying us as I tried desperately to get her back on track. My mom was right outside the gate waiting for me and as I rode out, she enthusiastically congratulated me. When I expressed my disappointment, she looked right at me and asked “Did you do your best?” I answered, “Yes.” She replied, “Then that’s all you can do! You did great for your first time out! There’s always next time!”
And there were many, many next times. Over the next 15 years or so, my mom stood on the sidelines at countless horse shows and steer shows and dog shows and rabbit shows as I progressed through my 4-H career. Every time I entered a show ring she’d give me one final word, “Just do your best and have fun!”
When I got into high school, it was my mom who was the loudest fan at my volleyball games, shrieking and cheering for our team as we competed. All my friends loved having her there, and I did too, even though I pretended not to care. Whether we won or lost, my mom was always ready to pile a bunch of teenage girls in her minivan after the game and take us to get In-N-Out burgers or ice cream.
As I worked my way through nursing school, Mom was always there, helping me understand how to read EKGs, encouraging me to always do my best. At graduation, I clearly heard her cheering as I walked across the stage to graduate with honors.
To this day, my mom is encouraging.
My mom is so focused on encouragement, she hates telling you something that might not make you happy. She’s always analyzing situations, sensing whether her words will bring you up or tear you down. She was born to encourage and the power of her encouraging words throughout my life still plays in my head today.
Even when I considered starting this blog, it was like I heard her whisper “You can do that!” When one of my own children is trying something new and challenging, I hear her in my words as I tell them, “You can do it!” Usually within a few hours of writing something new here, she’s calling or texting to let me know she enjoyed reading it.
You see, the gift of an encouraging mom is this. When a child lives his life truly believing that mom (or dad) thinks he can do anything, he’s going to grow up with “I can do it!” playing in his head. A child with this mindset will persevere at things longer than most. He will try and fail, but pick himself back up and try again. He will gain more life experience in his first 10 years than many people will have in an entire lifetime. He will see each new opportunity as a chance to overcome. The natural voice we’re born with that says, “I can’t” will soon be overpowered by the resounding truth of “I can!”
The gift of an encouraging mom in my life continues to resonate.
As I raise my own precious children, it is my prayer and my goal that each and every day they hear me say, “You can do it!” I never want them to hear, “No, you can’t do that. You’re too little.” If my child wants to learn to drive screws with a cordless drill when he’s two, then I’ll take the time to teach him how and then clap and cheer as he succeeds. If my one-year-old wants to put the soap in the dishwasher and start if for me, even though it’s only half full, I’ll gratefully accept and brag on what a good helper he is! (Then, later on, I’ll add some more dishes to make it a full load.) 🙂
As my amazing mom encouraged me, so I want to encourage my children. Even when they fail, I want them to know that their mom is proud of them. I love them. I’m here for them. And I’ll be cheering them on as they get back up and try again.
How about you? Can you think of areas where we could be more encouraging of our kids? Did you grow up with an encouraging mom too? Or do you struggle with encouragement? Do you find yourself placing limits on your kids because of their age? Let me know in the comments below!