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Family Talk: Take time to tell children who they are

Parents sometimes have to tell their child what to do, but they also can share with the child who they are. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Parents sometimes have to tell their child what to do, but they also can share with the child who they are. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

I'm reading a book by Bob Goff entitled “Everybody, Always.” It's Bob's effort at encouraging us to love everyone all the time. Bob says that's more important than telling people what to do or telling them what they should want. Early on in the book, Bob wrote something that stuck to my brain like Velcro:

Some of us have been told what we want our whole lives. We've been told we should want to go out for sports or not. We should want a college education or a graduate degree or a particular career. We should want to date this person and not the other. None of it is mean spirited, of course, and no one means any harm. It just doesn't sit well with us ... stead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We'll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.

The line that grabbed me was “We'll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.”

It got me thinking. Who did my parents tell me I was? And who did I tell my children they were?

I didn't have to think long about the first question. Both my mom and dad told me I belonged to them. I was part of the Priest family. I remember overhearing them talking to other people about me and referring to me as “our Jim.” That possessive “our” always made me feel warm inside.

At a young age, Dad told me I was part of a “blue blood” family, pointing to the veins visible on the underside of my wrist. When I questioned this by saying, “But when I bleed, I bleed red,” Dad claimed, “We bleed red so other folks won't feel bad they don't have blue blood.”

My parents affirmed me about my accomplishments but also affirmed me when I failed. Like the time I lost a speaking contest that everyone but the judges thought I should have won. My parents didn't make a scene or ream out the judges or pitch a fit. Dad put his arm around me as we walked out and said, “Well, you are a winner in my book.”

But it wasn't just about accomplishments. My parents told me who I was in terms of my character. I remember receiving a birthday card from my dad telling me how proud he was of the man I was becoming and mentioning several character qualities he observed in me. I still have the card.

And what about my children? Who did I tell them they were? I tried to do what my folks did for me. Affirm them in their accomplishments and in their character. Communicate to them how very valuable and important they were (and are) to me. Constantly let them know they were (and are) loved and worthy of love in good times and bad.

That's not always easy to do in the hectic pace of life, when kids are spilling orange juice on the breakfast table or telling you (again) they forgot to do their homework. In life's hub bub, parents sometimes have to tell children what to do, but we must always make time to tell them who they are.

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›