The sock was a surprisingly good conversationalist. It sported cheerful neon stripes and the face of Hello Kitty. Though Kitty was now looking at me upside down as the verbose footwear was currently gracing my young daughter’s arm. I watched for a moment as my progeny carried on both sides of a very animated exchange. This daughter of mine is a talker. Not just chatty, mind you. She can ‘talk the leg off a table,’ as my Dad used to say. And since no one in the family wanted to talk with her, she had resorted to pulling off her sock and creating an impromptu sock puppet friend. A companion who would stay engaged for as long as she wished.
I was amused, but a bit sad as well. You see, we had been sending her the message that her verbal nature was a negative thing. It was unintentional, of course. My husband and I, both serious introverts, simply couldn’t keep up with this child who had to process everything out loud. Our little chatterbox was driving us crazy!
It is all too easy to engage in negative labeling. “She’s our chatterbox”, “He’s my handful”, or the ever popular, “This one drives me crazy!” All are the normal rants of tired and overstressed Moms.
The danger lies in allowing these labels to define a person.
We promote a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when we regularly say such devaluing words. And when we are so unwise as to voice them within earshot of siblings, they will inevitably begin to parrot those discouraging sentiments. Thus, the spirit of a child withers and withdraws.
I’m ashamed to admit that for years, we had given my daughter the impression that her need to verbalize was a character flaw. I heard my other children deride her for her many words, and I saw her normally sunny countenance grow wary and sad as a result. This led to a startling idea that really baked my noodle.
What if that ‘negative’ trait in my child is actually God’s gifting yet undeveloped?
Once I opened my eyes to the devastation this was causing I set out on a mission to set it right. Two years later I am still fighting the damage. Our children are exactly that. Children. It is our job to guide them into maturity. We are to be on the lookout for what talents they possess, and then teach them to use them for God’s purposes. They will not learn to balance those gifts without our patient tutelage.
I now try to teach balance to my budding orator. I tell her that she must be aware that “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking…” (Proverbs 10:19) But I also tell her that perhaps God will use her to speak or write words of wisdom and encouragement to the benefit of many. I find areas where her gifts shine, like theater, and dream with her that perhaps He will use her on stage to illustrate His truths through drama. I tell her that He created her just the way He wants her to be and that she is wonderfully made.
Remember that labels, even when earned, have a tendency to stick long after a person has outgrown it. And really, who wants to carry that kind of old baggage around? I certainly don’t. God’s mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) That is true for our children and, thankfully, for Moms like me who sometimes blow it badly!