Do you know what those four words are? They’re the ones every person longs to hear from a parent: “I’m proud of you.” Yet so many parents withhold them from their children’s aching ears. I’ve heard adults who have children and grandchildren of their own, along with impressive lists of other accomplishments, bemoan the fact that they’ve never heard those simple words from Mom or Dad.
Why do so many of us neglect to say those words our children want to hear? I have a few theories.
You Never Heard It Yourself
The American culture of previous generations seems to have accepted a less demonstrative approach to communicating love and appreciation than today’s world expects. But even those excusing their lack of verbal support with history cannot say that they truly think their words would cause offense. Parents know their kids want to hear them say they love them and are proud of them. And for those who never heard those words from their own parents, I’d hope love for their children would be enough to make sure not to cause the same kind of ache.
You Think They Already Know
I heard a father weeping at his adult son’s funeral. “I loved him and was always proud of him. I hope he knew.” His son was a grandfather, nearing 60. I wept with him, silently telling myself to make sure not to ever merely hope my children know such things.
Of course, actions do speak loudly, but not always as loudly as words. Some of that is tied to a person’s “love language,” some is tied to learning style, and some is certainly connected to culture and surroundings.
For instance, if a person hears advertising that encourages parents to communicate love to their children and hears peers talk about hearing such words, not hearing them will naturally come across as meaning they’re not appropriate for them, because their parents don’t feel that way. This may be the one area in which “keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t a bad thing to do.
You Really Aren’t Proud of Them
Now, what if you are actually ashamed of your child’s choices, or you don’t like the word “proud”? I’m certainly not encouraging a one-upmanship here (“my kid is better than yours”) or false flattery. However, we would do well to be more judicious with our criticisms and liberal with our praise. Even if an over-arching “I’m proud of you” doesn’t quite fit, perhaps you could muster an “I admire the way you care for your friends,” even if your daughter chose girl time over family time, again.
By affirming your children’s strengths and good decisions, you’ll be encouraging them, or building them up. And you may never know how much your words truly mean. Maybe someday your son or daughter will stand up at your funeral and say, ”I hope they knew how much I appreciated their words.”