I'm not a Words of Affirmation gal. (If you're not familiar with The 5 Love Languages, go stop what you're doing and read up! Better yet, go take the free quiz now.) Never really have been. Though, I *am* still a woman, so being validated from time to time does feel pretty nice.
But I think the reason I don't care much for words is two-fold. First, words can be said by anybody: someone who knows you intimately, and someone who has only "met" you online, can use the exact same phrases to affirm or compliment you, so to me, there has to be more behind it. Second, for a decade and a half I listened to "words" that were empty and void of any meaning or action behind them. So it is safe to say at this juncture of my life, words are the lowest on my totem pole of Love Languages.
However, there are times when the words align with someone who actually has invested Quality Time (my big one!) with me, and that makes the words much more meaningful.
Those who have been around TCIE for some time may remember the Christmas my mother gave me a box of childhood memorabilia. Among the items was a survey I took in grade school, asking if I could be anything in the world when I grew up, what would I be? I wrote: a good mother. That paper, my own mother saving it, and its impact of my life in the midst of infertility, will never lose its place in my heart. It has been all I have wanted, and continues to be all I want in life.
I was out with an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in years, on a night my son was away with his father and grandfather. I excused myself to call and say goodnight, and when I returned, this acquaintance quickly said, "You're a good mom." I of course thanked him, but in my head I was thinking, "You have no idea... calling my son to say goodnight doesn't make me a good mother, and you don't know the pain in my heart at knowing I couldn't protect him from having to go to bed sometimes in a different State than his mother at such a tender age... you just have no idea..." I know the compliment was coming from a good place. I know he actually "meant" it, in his own way. But... it did nothing for me, and perhaps, even made me feel worse.
A couple weeks later, I was on the phone with my sister, who had recently spent a lot of time with me and my son on Thanksgiving. While discussing parenting in general, she said,
"You are doing a phenomenal job with Robbie. Really. He is such a bright and sensitive kid, and you allow him to explore that, and you foster it. And, when he gets chaotic, I see you 'managing' it. You don't stifle, you manage, and that is exactly what you should be doing. Discipline means to teach, not punish, and you are doing that so perfectly... I was going to say especially for being a single mom, but I suspect in your case it's actually a lot easier for you to do this well without R- in the picture."
My eyes welled up with tears. After a long silence, I told her how much that meant to me, not *that* she said it, or any particular word she used, but the fact that she accurately described, in words, my exact approach to my parenting right now, and that it was coming from someone very much in the know. That the work I am putting into 'managing' the crazy, lovable kid I get to call my son isn't lost on all others outside of the Mommy-Robbie relationship was soul-lifting. I told her that it was, perhaps, the nicest thing anyone has ever told me. But *my* words weren't accurately representing my sentiments.
This Christmas, my mother - the woman who inspired me to want to be a good mother, myself- won't be giving me any more memorabilia. She won't be reminiscing about things I did as a young girl, or remarking about how much Robbie reminds her of me at that age. She won't be affirming me in word.
But, I feel her validation, all the same.