What does it speak to our children when we respond with “Good Girl!” or “Good Boy!” when they obey or do something right?
So often in our culture today our worth is determined by our performance. If we are productive, useful, entertaining or in some other way seen as an asset, we are accepted and valued. If we are none of those things, we are dismissed or replaced.
I have also seen it often in the Church that we assume acceptance is based on performance. If we are good, if we follow the rules, we will be loved and accepted – by God and by others. Where does this come from?
I do believe in good and bad, right and wrong. I believe that we sin, and that it matters how we live. However, I also know that my place as God’s child is founded on grace. My acceptance is based on God’s love and Jesus sacrifice, not on anything I have done. If it was based on my performance, I would be done for. I cannot earn God’s love by being good. I cannot turn Him away from me by being bad. He loves me. He loves you.
So when I think of my daughter, I am hesitant to use the words, “Good Girl!” I know at times she will be good, she will obey and she will do the right things. But I also know at other times she will be bad, she will disobey and do the wrong things. I am hesitant to use language that teaches her to believe my love is based on her performance. Somehow calling her “good” when she does something right seems to imply his performance based acceptance.
I want to speak words that affirm the good things in her. I want to call out good character in her and encourage her on her journey of becoming someone wonderful. I want to celebrate the times she is helpful, creative, respectful, kind, and loving. I want to thank her when she listens to what I ask of her. But I also want her to know my love is unchanged if and when she fails in these areas. I hope in this way also to give her a good understanding on which to begin her own understanding and relationship with God. I hope His grace can somehow be spoken to her through my parenting.
How do we train our children to be “good”, but not striving for acceptance through performance? What words do we use? What language will speak this truth into their lives?