When I was a kid there was this thing my mom did. It was embarrassing and precious; it was so quintessentially mom. I hated it because it made me feel self-conscious and awkward, but I loved it because it reminded me that all was well with the world—with my world. It was a gift she gave me, a gift and a nuisance, every time she gave me that look.
I would look back at her to see her eyes lingering on me while we sat stopped at a red light or as I leaned over my homework at the kitchen table.
“What?” I would say. She always waited for me to say something. I had to break the silence because she never did. She always looked like she wanted to speak, but somehow she wouldn’t, or couldn’t.
Then she would take a deep breath and heave a great sigh. Her eyes looked wistful and she would shake her head and her voice, all breathy, would answer: “You.”
Ugh. It was so sappy, so drippy with nostalgia. My teenage self especially squirmed in the presence of her vulnerability. It was as if somehow her love for me cast her in this spell of dumb adoration. She never said anything else, only “you.” But in that one syllable she said everything. At least she said all there was to say. I thought it was so eye-rollingly cliché, and it was.
But now that I’m a mom, I totally understand.
We need to tell our kids how stunning they are—how precious in our eyes. I try to tell my kids all the time, avoiding the loaded stares reminiscent of my mom’s loving looks, of course. Still, I’m sure my methods are equally sappy.
I was recently in the car with one of my girls. She was reading in the backseat and I was in the driver’s seat, watching the road and thinking about how beautiful my girl is. I glanced back at her and I almost told her how beautiful she is, but then I stopped myself and said something else.
“Hey sweetie,” I started, and she raised her eyes to meet mine for a second before I turned back to the road. “I want to make sure you know something.”
“OK,” she said.
“I want to make sure you know that when I tell you you’re beautiful, I’m not just talking but what you look like.” She lowered her book and I could tell she was listening. “When I tell you you’re beautiful I don’t just see your long hair or your lovely brown eyes, though I do admire those things. I see more than that.”
A small smile started to spread on her face.
“When I tell you you’re beautiful, I’m talking about your spirit, your heart, and your character too. I’m talking about the whole of you—all the things that make you you.” I can see my girl starting to glow from the inside. At a moment when I can stop the car I turn around to look her full in the face. “I am amazed by you, by the masterpiece God made in you. When I say you’re beautiful, I mean all the stunning parts of you, inside and out.”
I turned back to the road and began driving again. “I just wanted you to know that.”
My daughter is smiling big, too young still to roll her eyes at unabashed adoration. I hear a small voice make its way up from the back seat: “Thanks Mommy.”
And then it’s my turn to smile.
Our kids ought to know that they fill us with wonder and awe. They ought to know that they truly are God’s gift—not to the world, but to us, their parents. I often think how incredible it is that God gave me the three best kids in the whole wide world, and how equally amazing it is that He allows other moms and dads to feel the same way about their own kids. That is as it should be. What a gracious God we have, to bring the blessing of kids to so many.
I am glad my mom gave me the look when I was growing up. I’m glad she showed me her wonder, even if I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. It was a look that couldn’t be fabricated or faked; I knew the love behind it was genuine. Let’s do the same for our kids today, making sure they know they carry wonder with them wherever they go.