From New York Times bestselling author, Rachel Macy Stafford
There was a time in my life when I barked orders more often than I spoke words of love … when I reacted to small everyday inconveniences as if they were major catastrophes … when normal human habits and quirks raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels.
Rather than nurturing my family members, I took it upon myself to manage my family members until there was no room to bend or breathe.
My artistic, busybody, dream-chasing older daughter’s desire to start projects, try new recipes, and leave trails wherever she went received disapproving looks on a daily basis.
My stop-and-smell-the-roses younger daughter’s desire to buckle in stuffed animals before we drove off, accessorize every part of her body before walking out the door, and move at a snail’s pace drew exasperated breaths and annoyed frowns.
My fun-loving, laidback husband’s spontaneous approach to weekend plans and ability to totally chill out got the silent treatment more times that I could count.
The people I was supposed to love unconditionally possessed qualities that irritated, annoyed, and continually derailed my carefully planned agenda—an agenda that was all about efficiency, perfection, and control.
I was not acting as a mother or a wife or even a decent human being. I was acting as a surly manager who was intent on creating a toxic environment—a place where it was pretty hard to show up each and every day.
How do I know?
Because even I could barely stand myself. I woke up angry and irritated, bracing myself for another day of managing the unmanageable. Forget about living. Forget about smiling. Forget about counting the blessings. The Grumpy Manager didn’t do that. And everyone in the home began following suit.
Hair brushing was a point of contention. Each morning my older daughter obediently allowed me to brush hastily as I pretended not to see her wincing. We were in a rush after all. I hated to be late.
When it was my younger daughter’s turn she would always ask if she could brush her own hair today. My response alternated between, “We don’t have time today,” and “When you get a little bigger.”
On this particular morning my then four-year-old child did not ask if she could brush her own hair. I was relieved. I could get this hair into a ponytail, prod her to put on her shoes quickly, and be out the door in less than two minutes I calculated—because managers always calculate.
As I aggressively gathered Avery’s unruly curls into my palm, I happened to get a glance at my reflection. My brows were knotted together tightly. My mouth set was in a hard, thin line. I looked haggard, hopeless, and sad. I would have dismissed this disturbing sight had it not been for the fact that my child was staring at my reflection too.
If expressions could talk, my child’s face would have said this loud and clear: Who are you? Where did my mama go?
I felt my face grow hot. I felt tears wanting to come forth, but I blinked them back—because managers know there’s no time for tears.
But instead of continuing to brush with vigor, I suddenly stopped. With trembling hands, I held out the hairbrush to my child.
“How would you do it?” I asked in a shaky voice.
At first she looked shocked, as if I was offering her a hairy tarantula. But as I continued to hold out the brush, Avery eventually picked it up.
With small but agile hands, my daughter brushed the sides of her hair from top to bottom until the hair was silky smooth. She then carefully draped her hair softly over her shoulders and smiled proudly at her reflection. The manager in me noticed she did not brush the back of her head, but I remained quiet.
My child met my eyes in the mirror. “Thank you, Mama! I always wanted to do that.”
With those words, I felt as though I’d been given a gift. I vowed to look for more potential hairbrush offerings to reduce the managing and increase the nurturing in my interactions with my loved ones. It didn’t take long to see there were many opportunities to open my hands and ask: How would you do it?
The way my spouse took care of the children, tidied his area of the bedroom, prepared meals, put away the groceries, and paid the bills were not wrong—just different from the way I do things.
The way my older daughter packed her swim team bag, emptied her swim team bag, saved money, selected gifts, completed projects, did homework, and baked cookies were not wrong—just different from the way I do things.
The way the chatty clerk bagged my groceries, the way my colleague took ten extra steps to accomplish a task, the way my sister sipped coffee and read the paper before starting our day together were not wrong—just different from the way I do things.
How would you do it? I commonly asked when the control freak inside me began to get agitated. As I watched the people in my life do it their way … in their own time … with their own flair, I saw sparks of joy I didn’t see before. And just like with Avery and the hairbrush, I learned each person had specific Soul-Building Words that fueled that spark. Over time, I’ve collected quite a powerful list of words that helped me love my people in ways that helped them thrive. Like sunlight and water to a plant, these words nourish the deepest parts of their human hearts and foster growth in all areas of their lives. Hence, I called them Soul-Building Words.
Soul Building Words
“I will wait for you.”
“Take your time.”
“You make my day better.”
I say those words to my slow-moving, happy-go-lucky, noticer of life child.
I watch as grateful eyes light up and tiny shoulders relax.
Those words are Soul-Building Words to her.
“Mistakes mean you are learning.”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
“Okay, you can have a few more minutes to work on your project.”
I say those words to my driven, contentious planner and pursuer of dreams child.
I watch as pressure escapes from her chest and aspirations soar higher.
Those words are Confidence-Boosting Words to her.
“I appreciate you.”
I say those words to my hard-working, often underappreciated love of my life.
I watch as tensions loosen, eyes meet, and conversation comes easier.
Those words are Affirming and Connective Words to him.
“It’s good enough for today.”
“Be kind to yourself.”
“Today matters more than yesterday.”
I say those words to my own perfection-seeking, worrisome heart that tends to replay past mistakes.
I watch as my clenched hands open and tears fall as scars come to the surface.
Those are Healing, Hope-Filled Words to me.
The words “I love you” should never be underestimated, but every human being has a few words that make his or her soul come alive.
A NOTE FROM AMY McCREADY: I can’t recommend Rachel Macy Stafford’s new book highly enough! ONLY LOVE TODAY will become your moment-to-moment source of encouragement!
What began as a mantra to silence her inner bully, only love today, slowly became the practice of Rachel Macy Stafford’s life. ONLY LOVE TODAY is now a life-changing book of bite-size reminders to help us remain anchored in love despite the stresses and distractions of everyday life. Each short entry (organized by seasons of life) serves as a re-set button directing us back to what matters most.
I encourage you to order your copy of this highly anticipated book by clicking here. With any purchase before March 7 comes a collection of gorgeous hand-lettered reminders to help you breathe more, stress less, and choose love. Just email a copy of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org .
About the Author
Rachel Macy Stafford is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, and soon-to-be-released, Only Love Today. Rachel is a certified special education teacher who helps people overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Global News, TIME.com, and FoxNews.com. Rachel loves taking long walks, baking, and volunteering with homeless cats and nursing home residents. Rachel lives in the South with her husband and two daughters who inspire her daily.