One day, when our kids were younger, we gave each of them a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. We had them squeeze all of the toothpaste they could out onto the plate. Then we told them we would give $100 to the one who could put all of the toothpaste back in their tube. They looked at us with big eyes, as the fruitlessness of the situation quickly became apparent to them. Words are like toothpaste. Once they are out, you cannot put them back.
We referred to that little experiment multiple times while the kids were growing up. It is a compelling word picture about the power and permanence of our words.
When I was in high school, my mom gave me a book called Balcony People. It was written in 1984 (and updated in 1989) by Joyce Landorf Heatherly. In it, Ms. Heatherly describes two types of people: those who are positive – encouraging you and cheering you on (balcony people) and those who are negative – tearing you down and discouraging you (basement people). This book is an oldie but a goody, and it was life-changing for me. In a nutshell, Balcony People are the ones who energize you with their belief in you. They see and encourage your potential, and they delight in you. Basement People do the opposite.
Parenting adult children is tricky, to say the least. It is so easy to slip back into parenting mode and give advice. I’ve found that parenting adult children is mostly about learning to hold your tongue until they invite you into their lives and ask for your input. When you do speak, make your words count. Honor and bless them for who they are and what you see that is praise-worthy in their lives. As I’ve shared before, this may involve lots of smiling, nodding, and use of phrases like, “that’s so interesting,” “huh!”, and of course, the old standby, “well okay then, there you go!”
In their book, The Blessings: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance, authors John Trent and Gary Smalley make the case that children of every age long for unconditional love and approval from their parents. The essential elements of this life-changing “gift” include meaningful touch, a spoken message, attaching high value, picturing a special future, and an active commitment.
As our loved ones are together this holiday season, let’s stand in the balcony and cheer them on – blessing, edifying and exhorting them with our words and serving them with our actions. They’ll be home such a short while, and I know you’re just like me – your heart’s desire is to bless them in a meaningful way that builds them up before you have to send them out of the nest again.
“For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
Let’s be careful when we squeeze our toothpaste tube. Know that I’ll be in your balcony, cheering you on. We’re in it together!
Resources to Help You Build Them Up
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