Recently, my daughter brought a homework assignment to me and said, “Here. This is for you.”
Laughing, I looked down at the paper expecting her to be joking. But no, she was serious. Her teacher had sent all the class home with homework for the parents.
It was an essay on your child. The new-to-the-school teacher wanted to get to know her students, so she asked the people in their lives who know them the best — their parents.
As a writer, I loved the idea of writing an essay about someone I love so very much. It was fun for me to sit down at my computer and brag about my kiddo and share all the ways she’s wonderful, thoughtful and kind. The directions said we could write up to “a million” words about our darlings, and it was a challenge I was nearly willing to accept.
When I finished the essay, I proofed it, printed it and proudly handed it over to my daughter. She read it silently, blushed the deepest red and shoved it in her backpack.
It wasn’t the reaction I was looking for.
Perplexed and, honestly, used to getting feedback, I asked her what she thought. Her words floored me. “I’m not used to having so many nice things said about me.”
Cue the killer mom guilt for that epic parenting fail. How could she have never heard that many nice things said about her? Especially since I regularly think them! It wasn’t like I’d made everything up. They were true. They were obvious to me — and they were things she should know.
The truth is, I have told my daughter the things I wrote about her. They weren't given all at once in an essay form, but the compliments were given at one point or another. The thing that became clear was that I hadn’t said them in ways she's heard them. The compliments were not given in a space she was able to listen — whether thrown in as she’s rushing out of the car for school or tacked on to an emotional moment she’s trying to untangle herself from.
So right then, I purposed to use intentional moments to build my children up with words — whether written or spoken. I want to give them words that will inspire and give them hope. I want to fill their memories with beautiful things that cost me nothing, yet bless them richly. I want my kids to always know that mom is on their side.
It’s not as though they don’t mess up or get into trouble. Of course they do; they’re kids. Failing is the greatest tool in learning. But in those hard moments, my words have the responsibility to guide them forward, equip them with the tools to move on and reassure them that there is nothing they can do to lose my love or respect.
So thanks to one teacher and one assignment, essays to my kiddos are now a regular part of our lives.
Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.