So, The Kiddo sometimes has trouble communicating what he wants to say.
Emotions are hard for a little boy, and he struggles more than the norm to express them. I realized a little over a year ago that he was using something I have come to call his “sad phrases.”
Sad phrases are basically his way of trying to say he feels some kind of negative emotion, but apparently I’m one of the few who can actually interpret what he means. Mommy privilege. Once it hit me that only I was picking up what he was putting down, I started to realize what it must sound like to the average outsider.
Here are some examples:
Kiddo when I tell him we have to go inside: But Mama… we can’t give up!
My interpretation: He’s disappointed and doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing.
Average Outsider reaction: Give up on… playing? life? world peace? what?
Kiddo when it’s time to go to bed: We can’t run out of lives!
My interpretation: He doesn’t want to go to bed. Tough.
Average Outsider reaction: Run out of… does he think sleeping is dying??
Kiddo when he’s feeling any kind of negative emotion: I’m not awesome….
My interpretation: He feels mad/ sad/ disappointed/ grumpy/ hungry/ thirsty/ hot/ cold/ like taking over the world/ etc.
Average Outsider reaction: Bless his poor little soul! Why doesn’t that mama affirm her sweet darling boy more often?! You are always awesome, little one! Let me take you for ice cream!
Okay, so maybe the average outsider doesn’t react that way… but that’s where my head goes some days.
Regardless, the point is that he means one thing, but he can’t seem to express it well. Therefore, he substitutes different words that make sense to him. He cares not if the rest of the world is on that little journey with him.
His favorite sad phrase lately has been “I’m not awesome.” That is the catch all for any and every negative thing The Kiddo is going through.
Got in trouble at school? “I’m not awesome.”
Feeling hungry? “I’m not awesome.”
Missing someone and sad about it? “I’m not awesome.”
Knocked over the dominoes before he meant to? “I’m not awesome.”
It’s kinda cute, to be honest. We grown folk smile sweetly and chuckle to each other about how precious he is. Funny how we miss the ways we do the same thing.
Let me jump to something that’s going to seem completely off topic. (If you know me, that disclaimer was not needed.)
I mentor a group of high school girls. They keep me young, and in many ways they keep me more honest than I’d like.
One day I was feeling particularly frumpy. Ladies, you know what I mean. My hair didn’t “do right”. My makeup was inexplicably all but gone. My pants were fitting tighter than I remembered. I just felt all-around yuck.
Offhandedly, I mentioned that I looked like a hot mess that day. Expounding on the point a bit, I pointed out the things I felt like were wrong with my appearance. I concluded with a definitive, “And I really want to get skinny again” or something like it.
One of my girls immediately piped up. “But… you are skinny, J.”
My reaction was to laugh a little, point out that I was once a size negative forty-seven in high school, so it was just hard to compare my post-baby and post-30 year old self to that girl.
We went about our business as normal.
I ended my day… picked up The Kiddo (we were “awesome” that day)… and went home. That conversation never came anywhere near my mind that afternoon and evening.
Have you ever reached that point of “about to go to sleep” at night when suddenly random points of your day just stick out? Like… “Leave me alone brain, I need the sleeps” but it just won’t stop?
I was about to go to sleep when that conversation came roaring back to me out of the blue. And in the midst of it, God whispered something to my heart that kept me up another hour that night.
If someone they love and respect can talk that way about herself, why should they do any different?
Whoa, what? I’m sorry. Did I just get called out for negative talking myself because others look up to me?
Yep. I kinda did.
It took me a lot of quiet time to unpack that thought. I suddenly saw that conversation from the other side. What if one of those girls sat there and thought, “She’s smaller than/the same size as me and says she’s fat… what must she think of me?”
If you’ve ever mentored high school kids before, that thought should stop you cold right now.
I spend so much time telling those girls they are beautiful inside and out, and I mean it. But how can they believe me when I trash talk myself constantly? What are my actions teaching them?
And let’s be honest… most of the time when those negative self-talk moments are spoken aloud… aren’t they really just our adult version of sad phrases? (See? It makes sense now!)
“Ugh… my hair looks awful today.”
“I really need to lose ten pounds.”
Please tell me I look great just like I am.
“I’m an idiot.”
Please say I’m not.
Deep down, if we’re honest, a lot (not all) of our negative self-talk is a cry for someone to convince us that it’s not true. That’s not to say we never have bad hair days, make awkward social faux paus, or would be healthier if we lost a few pounds. But there’s a difference between making a decision or mistake and asking for affirmation.
And if we go even deeper than that, the reason we are seeking that outside confirmation is because we have still not accepted that our worth comes from God rather than our appearance, humor, or any other worldly factors.
I challenge you to do a quick interweb search on “What does the Bible say about my worth to God?” and then read those verses. Read them all. And don’t just read it and intellectually process it. Allow yourself to emotionally process it as well.
“Well, J,” you may be saying, “How exactly am I to do that, hmm?”
Great question. And I’m still working on it.
But I think it begins with letting go of the pride that whispers that I can create my own worth. Even those negative self-images are born out of pride more often than not. Reverse pride, but pride all the same.
And I think it begins with disciplining that outward and inward talk.
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8
We usually interpret that as external things to think about… but what if we started applying it to ourselves as well? I’m not saying to take this blinded approach to our faults, but again… you know there’s a difference between conviction of things we’re doing wrong and just talking down about ourselves before anyone beats us to it.
What if instead of focusing on the things we don’t like about ourselves that day, we instead focus on the things God has given us that are honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable? Don’t tell me there aren’t any. I’ll come find you and thump your ear.
So, back to my girls. I came back the next day and apologized to them. Like… honestly and earnestly apologized. We discussed talking bad about ourselves and why we do it. And I made a promise to them. I promised that I would never speak that way about myself to them again, and if I did, they were to call me out on it immediately.
And then I promised to do the same for them.
A long winding conversation followed and somehow a code word was developed for when someone started bad-mouthing themselves. Don’t ask me how it came about, because I honestly don’t remember. The world of conversations in that room is a sometimes confusing and mildly terrifying place.
Anyways… now when someone says something negative about themselves, one girl (or twenty) immediately calls out “STRAWBERRY!”
Yeah, I don’t know. But it works. We giggle. Someone follows it up by affirming that person. We all leave with smiles on our faces.
It hasn’t changed my thoughts yet, but it’s still early. I can already tell that it’s changing the patterns I’ve spent years ingraining myself with. I hope that it’s doing the same for these sweet girls before they get as many years of experience with it as I have.
But you know… it’s never too late to start.
So… “Strawberry!” folks. Start changing the way you talk about yourself and to yourself. Start claiming God as your worth instead of trying to make it on your own. Start changing your thought patterns.
And go be awesome today.