There was a wall in our home that was very precious to us as the boys grew. It was never painted in the twenty years we lived there. When we recently moved, I reproduced on paper those precious growth marks from each of our sons.

The boys always backed up to that wall over the years to be measured to see how they were growing. The wall was their standard. It was their measuring stick to determine how much progress they’d made since the last measurement. They were anxious to know, “How am I doing? How do I measure up?”

Do you ever wonder how you’re doing, how effective your mothering is? Do you wish there were a wall you could back up to so you could see how much you’ve grown, how you compare with the standards you’ve set? If I could make a measuring wall for you, I would pencil in some standards for you. “Grow toward these,” I’d encourage.

1. Am I creating a positive environment?

If we want our kids to express happy hearts, it has to begin with us. It has to be caught before it can be taught. And if we can instill positive attitudes in them, positive actions will result.

It has become a natural part of our culture to be sarcastic, to put things down, to be a complainer. But when we fall into that habit, it affects our whole attitude, and soon we feel that things are bad and unfair and that we deserve better. People with absolutely wonderful lives can become frustrated and depressed just because the trend of negative attitudes has taken hold of them.

What kind of atmosphere are you creating in your home? Are you capitalizing on the joys of family life and minimizing the hard things? There may be a lot you could get discouraged about, but what good would that do you? It may not be natural for you, but stop and begin to count your blessings. Focus on the good. And when your kids do the same thing, reinforce it.

At our house, I often thank the boys for saying thank you. That’s positive reinforcement, and it has lasting effects.

Finding nice things to say needs to be a forever rule. At dinner, especially, make it a time to enjoy one another, not to gripe and complain. Just like praise and criticism, you need ten positive statements to balance out every negative statement.

Mom, I encourage you to give attention to spotting the traps of negative thinking in your house and steer your children away from them. As a result, your family will more likely enjoy:

  • thankfulness instead of grumbling
  • confidence rather than doubts
  • peace rather than conflicts
  • trust rather than suspicion
  • certainty instead of apprehension
  • rest instead of restlessness
  • security instead of fear
  • freedom rather than bondage … and much more.

2. Am I creating an environment that is motivational?

In a letter from college, Blake was expressing his appreciation for the motivation he received at home. It worked for him, and he sees it working in others as well.

As I’ve had the chance to work with a few specific freshmen on the floor this year, I’ve seen that the key is showing love and letting them see that you care about them and trust them as important individuals. That’s enough to turn the most introverted or arrogant around into a smiling guy who wants to be around you.

It works at home, too, as you love your children and let them see how much you care. Sacrificing your time, energy, and talent for them speaks loudly. Kids usually grow up to be like their parents, whether they want to or not, because they live out what they’ve seen modeled. What are you modeling for your kids? Are you that quiet, steady, supportive influence that calms the storms and makes them feel important?

3. Am I creating an environment where we really communicate?

Communication is more than just being there when they want to talk. Listening is crucial, and your kids need to know you’ll listen—really listen—when they have hard things they need to discuss.

But with teenagers, you’re probably going to have to stimulate the conversation. It’s in those unplanned, informal times that they’re most likely to open up on the difficult subjects. You have to be stimulating those times, however. After all, if both of you aren’t comfortable talking casually, where will they find the setting to bring up that hard-to-discuss topic? You have to have a track record with them to make them feel secure in expressing their fears, doubts, and disappointments.

In the process of all this communicating, you’re able to have a finger on the pulse of your family. You’re able to know where each is headed and when one might be drifting off course.

By knowing where the hurts lie and the concerns rest, you’ll know why a need must be met now. You’ll be alerted to step in and take action in the most appropriate way.

Leave notes, if necessary, to communicate plans for the day, expectations, appointments. Children just naturally develop their own daily agendas if you don’t remind them of duties or expectations. You can eliminate a lot of “Oh, Mom” if you communicate so your kids can plan your schedule into theirs.

4. Am I creating an environment that’s safe?

We’re usually pretty good about explaining boundaries when our kids are little: Stay away from the street. Don’t touch the stove burner—it might be hot. Don’t speak to strangers.

But as the kids grow older, we sometimes assume they’ll know things by osmosis. The result is that they cross lines they didn’t realize existed. Then it’s confusing to understand why they deserve discipline or other unpleasant consequences for their actions. Growing up becomes confusing at times like that.

Drawing obvious lines and explaining expectations—stating the obvious from your perspective, if you will—gives your kids clear lane lines, boundaries, that also provide comfort zones. As long as they stay within the boundaries, they know they’re okay with you. Their environment feels safe. And if they cross the lines, they understand why they’re being disciplined or left to suffer the consequences for what they’ve done. Those lines might relate to homework, dating, household chores, language, curfews, and so on.

Set out the lane lines, Mom. Give them a fresh coat of paint every once in a while so your kids don’t forget where they run. As you do, you’ll be creating a safe environment for everyone.

5. Am I creating an environment that’s gracious?

Has experience caused your family to expect kindness and understanding from you, or complaints and grumblings? Are you flexible or rigid?

If you’ve planned a family dinner and for various reasons no one shows up, do you make assumptions and attack the offenders, or can you withhold judgment and give each person room for presenting legitimate excuses?

Can you let your child and his friends build forts in your living room that stay there all day? That generosity may be remembered for a lifetime.

Do you have a “yes face”?

Charles Swindoll tells a story reported by Dr. Karl Menninger about the importance of “yes faces”:

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.

After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.

As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?” The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. “All I know,” he said, “is that on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of them was the answer ‘yes.’ His was a ‘Yes’ face.”

Do you have the kind of yes face that makes your kids feel comfortable asking? Does your yes face say, “It’s okay to make mistakes; I’ll still love you”? Do they feel as if you’ll really listen to childish requests? Do they believe they’re important enough that you’ll react to their needs with flexibility?

Being gracious means making kids feel that “it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Sometimes—more often than we think—kids need for someone to be gracious to them, especially when they don’t deserve it. Come to think of it, don’t we all? In fact, that’s the whole meaning of grace—undeserved favor.

Well, how do you stand against the measuring wall? Is your profile looking good as you evaluate? Do you feel like a great mom?

Sometimes—no, frequently—you feel anything but great. The routine seems so predictable. The kids don’t seem to notice your efforts. There’s little time for yourself.

The most important job

Don’t give up, Mom. Don’t feel as if you aren’t measuring up. You’re doing the most important thing in the world. You’re mothering. Some day the kids will recognize your efforts, your sacrifices, your support. Then they’ll begin to show their appreciation. It almost always happens.

You are the greatest, Mom! You understand value—not monetary value, but the kind that really counts. And you understand the development of the heart and spirit. That’s what has real lasting value. And that’s where you need to invest the best of who you are—in the things that matter the most, so that the main thing will always remain the main thing.

It’s true. Mom, you’re incredible! You have every reason to feel good about who you are and what you do. God bless you!

Excerpted from Mom, You’re Incredible! by Linda Weber. Used by permission of Broadman and Holman Publishers, copyright © 1999 by Linda Weber. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Broadman and Holman Publishers.