Peeking out from the corner of my desk blotter is a note, slowly
yellowing and bent from time.
It is a card from my mother, containing only four sentences, but with
enough impact to change my life forever.
In it, she praises my abilities as a writer without qualification.
Each sentence is full with love, offering specific examples of what my
pursuit has meant to her and my father.
The word "but" never appears on the card, however the word "and" is
there almost a half dozen times.
Every time I read it--which is almost every day--I am reminded to ask
myself if I am doing the same thing for my daughters. I've asked myself
how many times I've "but-ted" them, and me, out of happiness. I hate to
say that it's more often than I'd like to admit.
Although our eldest daughter usually got all A's on her report card,
there was never a semester when at least one teacher would not suggest that
she talked too much in class. I always forgot to ask them if she was
making improvement in controlling her behavior, if her comments contributed
to the discussion in progress or encouraged a quieter child to talk.
Instead, I would come home and greet her with, "Congratulations! Your Dad
and I are very proud of your accomplishment, but could you try to tone it
down in class?"
The same was true of our younger daughter. Like her sister, she is a
lovely, bright, articulate and friendly child. She also treats the floor
of her room and the bathroom as a closet, which has provoked me to say on
more than one occasion, "Yes, that project is great, but clean up your
I've noticed that other parents do the same thing. "Our whole family
was together for Christmas, but Kyle skipped out early to play his new
computer game." "The hockey team won, but Mike should have made that last
goal." "Amy's the homecoming queen, but now she wants $200 to buy a new
dress and shoes." But, but, but.
Instead, what I learned from my mother is that if you really want love
to flow to your children, start thinking "and, and, and..." instead.
For example: "Our whole family was together for Christmas dinner, and
Kyle mastered his new computer game before the night was through." "The
hockey team won, and Mike did his best the whole game." "Amy's the
homecoming queen, and she's going to look gorgeous!"
The fact is that "but" feels bad -- "and" feels good. And when it
comes to our children, feeling good is definitely the way to go. When they
feel good about themselves and what they are doing, they do more of it,
building their self-confidence, their judgment and their harmonious
connections to others. When everything they say, think or do is qualified
or put down in some way, their joy sours and their anger soars.
This is not to say that children don't need or won't respond to their
parents' expectations. They do and they will, regardless of whether those
expectations are good or bad. When those expectations are consistently
bright and positive and then are taught, modeled and expressed, amazing
things happen. "I see you made a mistake. And I know you are intelligent
enough to figure out what you did wrong and make a better decision next
time." Or, "You've been spending hours on that project, and I'd love to
have you explain it to me." Or, "We work hard for our money, and I know
you can help figure out a way to pay for what you want."
It's not enough just to say we love our children. In a time when
frustration has grown fierce, we can no longer afford to limit love's
expression. If we want to tone down the sound of violence in our society,
we're going to have to turn up the volume on noticing, praising, guiding
and participating in what is right with our children.
"No more buts!" is a clarion call for joy. It's also a challenge, the
opportunity fresh before us every day to put our attention on what is good
and promising about our children, and to believe with all our hearts that
they will eventually be able to see the same in us and the people with whom
they will ultimately live, work and serve.
And if I ever forget, I have my mother's note to remind me.