Repeat After Me

One Christmas, my daughter pulled a small pink plastic dog out of her stocking (most likely a gift from an aunt). Shaped like a balloon dog, if you held down its nose and spoke to it, it would repeat back what you said—in a helium voice. My kids loved it.

I did not.

I could hear it shriek “You’re a poopy face” through the baby monitor in the morning. At the kitchen table, it echoed my kids’ cry for “more milk please” in its nasally tone. Even its squeals of, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” did not amuse me.

After many months of “fun,” the batteries at last died and my kids forgot about their favorite toy. One Saturday when cleaning out their room, I tossed the pink four-legged friend into the garbage bag without a farewell. I would not miss its squawking repetition of every silly comment my toddlers could conceive.

But it’s not the only thing parroting phrases in my house. For better or for worse, I’ve learned my kids repeat what I say. Like that helium-voiced toy, my toddler’s squealing voices regurgitate the phrases I feed them all day long.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed when my children repeat after me. My daughter yells, “Hurry, hurry, we’re late!” on our way out the door because she assumes we are always late (we often are). My son moans, “Aw man,” when he doesn’t want to clean up because he’s heard me complain about inconvenient tasks. They both scream at one another, “I need some space,” which they’ve often heard me bellow, locked behind my bathroom door.

Other times, though, I catch them quoting the good stuff. I hear them reconcile in their room after a fight, saying, “I’m sorry” and “I’ll always forgive you.” When I knock over my daughter’s cup of milk, she responds, “Everyone makes mistakes, Mommy. I still love you.” My son comforts his baby sister with the hymn I often sing over him, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”

There is nothing sweeter than the sound of their little voices rehearsing the truths I pray I instill in them. They are like mini megaphones, announcing out loud what has been going on in my own heart. These little recorders remind me that words matter. They make me pause and reflect, What do my children overhear me saying in our home?

Psalm 78 is the longest historical psalm in Scripture. In it, the psalmist recounts all that God has done for the people of Israel. God sent the ten plagues on Egypt to set the Israelites free from slavery. He parted the Red Sea so they could walk on dry land. He led them with a cloud by day and pillar of fire at night. He provided drinking water from a rock. His faithfulness to them goes on and on.

Yet before the psalmist began his history lesson, he opens the psalm with a reminder to families that these stories of God’s faithfulness should be passed down to their children. “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Why do we repeat the testimonies of God to the next generation? “So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:7). Our children will remember what we tell them again and again—so what stories are we telling them?

Jen Wilkin has said “What we repeat in times of ease, we will recall in times of hardship.” When  I rehearse simple truths with my children, I’m embedding them deep into their memory. Sometimes the phrases I repeat don’t seem like much. “Wow, look at the beautiful day God created,” when we arrive at the park. “We treat others with kindness because they are made in God’s image,” when my son hurts a friend or sibling. “God made you. God loves you. God is kind to you,” when they lay in bed each night.[1]

It can seem repetitive, practicing these same phrases day in and day out, but I know I am forming their hearts and minds by the truths reverberating within the walls of our home.

I know my children will hear me complain or speak a harsh word. But I also pray they hear me confess my sin, thank God for his provision, and discipline them with grace. I pray they remember me praying with them in the carpool line, singing a hymn over them at night, and sharing the gospel with them at the kitchen table.

Even more, I pray that, one day, they will repeat those same truths to someone else.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Overheard at Home”.

[1] I got this short liturgy from Laura Wifler in her book Like Me.

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