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Spilled Milk and the Power of a Mama’s Words

This morning, one of my children started the day by accidentally spilling their entire bowl of cereal and milk all over the kitchen floor.

And it wasn’t just a neat little spill (is there such a thing?). No, cereal and milk were spattered all over the place.

It was not the best prelude to a Monday morning and I wanted to get frustrated over it. I quickly caught myself, though, when I looked into the eyes of this child and realized that the last thing they needed from me was shame. Instead, they needed grace.

I had the opportunity to either speak words that would hurt my child, or bless my child. Instead of venting, I stopped, took a deep breath, smiled, and said, “Here. Let me get you a new bowl of cereal. And let me wipe you up. Don’t worry about the spilled cereal. I’ll clean it up.”

You know what? I felt so much calmer just saying those words. My child immediately smiled and all was well. And it only took a few minutes to clean up anyway.

But lest you think I’m some rockstar mom, let me tell you that I totally failed in this regard just yesterday — and it was over something much smaller than milk and cereal splashed all over my kitchen. I got upset. I yelled. And I said hurtful words.

Words that wounded. Words that penetrated. Words that shamed.

For the rest of the day, some of my family members carried heavy hearts and discouragement as a result of my words. Even though I asked forgiveness, the damage couldn’t be undone.

As was so evident to me yesterday, our words have lasting impact — either for good or for harm. In 25 years, the spilled cereal and milk and the inconsequential things that happened yesterday will long be forgotten, but my words can never be taken back.

My new mantra: “Grace, not shame.” Will you join me?

photo credit

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  • Thank you for this…I myself have done this with our daughter and I felt horrible about it. 🙁 I needed to read this today.

  • Shelly says:

    I have been working on this very thing the last few weeks as part of my weekly goals. When one of my kids does something that isn’t right instead of letting myself get upset. I will in a calm quite voice correct the behavior. While this isn’t easy, I have seen a vast improvement in my youngest attitude. I have also started to make sure I am generous with my praise of my children. Instead of just correcting what is not right I am trying to praise more of what is good. Each day my goals is to praise at least once each of my children. I am hoping in 20 years they were remember me as a mom who continually gave them encouragement and not as a mom who could only judge what is wrong. After all we all need a little encouragement and grace each day.

  • Celena says:

    Amen! It’s so easy to get caught up in the little things and forget the bigger picture. Stuff is just stuff, and messes can be cleaned… but our children’s hearts are far more fragile and the hurts cannot be erased. It’s hard to remember all the time, but it IS important that we try… and that we seek forgiveness when we have fallen short. 🙂

  • Aleah says:

    Even when you lose your cool, asking forgiveness is such an important step! A friend of mine explains sin to her children by talking about their sins and telling them that even if they only ever did that one thing wrong, Jesus still had to die for them. You can use yourself as an example and remind your children of that same lesson! Jesus died for mommas too. And praise the Lord we serve a God of grace!

    • Andrea says:

      Oh, thank you for this reminder. We had an awful morning before school today, and I completely lost it. This is a good lesson for me, but a better one for my kids to learn from me today.

  • MrsPoo says:

    I wish I had learned this lesson when my kids were small. It wasn’t until my grandson spilled his milk at about age 2. He had been standing up in the chair at the table (which was NOT allowed) and when the incident occurred he FROZE, knowing in his tender little heart he had RUINED our wonderful relationship. From the reaction he got at home, from his Mother that I had raised when this had happened…I calmly got a couple papertowels and without saying a word started cleaning up the mess. He asked in a small shaky voice, “Nana, what are you doing”. I answered, “cleaning up”, and continued my mission. He was SO releaved to see our relationship was still in tact. I’ll NEVER forget it.

  • Carrie #2 says:

    Thank you for admitting this. I have to admit that I view you as never reacting the way I typically do (the way you did yesterday), but by admitting the way you reacted yesterday, you have made me feel relief that no mother is perfect, no matter how I view her. On Focus on the Family last Thursday the 21st and Friday the 22nd (HIGHLY recommend going on their website and listening to these broadcasts), Lysa TerKuerst from Proverbs 31 Ministries talked about how we react to situations. She sounded so much like me (ex: having an excellent time with God and then 5 mins later your child does something that aggravates and we react in the opposite way that we should). Her point was to strive for imperfect progress, not perfection. Try to change one reaction a day (the cereal and milk was your one for today for example) and you will notice over time that you will have more and more times of reacting in the correct way. From one Christian sister to another – pat on the back for reacting correctly at least once today and a hug of thanks for making this Christian sister not feel so lonely when it comes to messing up with my kids. As mothers, let’s all strive for one better reaction a day in our goal of imperfect progress when it comes to raising our children. Again, anyone interested, check out Focus on the Family podcasts from last Thursday and Friday. I would be interested in what others thought of those podcasts.

    • Theresa says:

      I heard a portion of one of these podcasts on the radio, however I also heard the thing in it’s entirety a few months back as Lysa was in our area and held a one-day conference on this, releasing her new book, Unglued. It was a great reminder to me this morning to hear a bit before I got out of bed….then only a few hours later….to errupt at my kids.

      Thanks Crystal for sharing this and the simple mantra. Thinking I’ll print off a few of those and post them around the house in places I’ll see frequently. The twins are 2-1/2 and the shear screech of the boy is enough to send me in a tailspin the first time around (b/c generally, the melt-down is all for nothing). I needed this reminder yesterday, today, tomorrow, the day after that, etc. THANK YOU!

  • Lee says:

    Every day I go thru same thing. My trigger point is, the not listening that happens too often. I get so annoyed repeating myself. Worse yet hubby does it too. So really get annoyed. Last night in fact happened again, I calmly, waited, kindly repeated my words, tryin so hard to not get angry..disnt help, so kept trying to stay calm. Finally was heard after bringing voice up, yet still calm. I think sometimes they tune me out. They must. Do u ever just feel like you just aren’t worthy of their time?? That’s how I feel. Breaks my heart.

    • Andrea C says:

      Yes! This happens to me all the time!! I (kind of) understand my 3 year old not listening, but when hubby does it too it drives me crazy! Then I get cranky and nobody understands why. Frustrating for sure.

  • Kimberly says:

    Thank you for sharing this. This a journey I’ve been on since my husband left me over 9 months ago. I’ve realized my words have the power to hurt or heal and I had often used hurting words (most often with him, but sometimes with my children as well). It seems like such a little thing to encourage or build up the people we love with our words, but for some reason one of the easiest things to do is to tear people down with our words instead. The good news is with a lot of concious effort to start with it can become second nature to offer praise instead of criticism. Now I LOVE trying to encourage those around me. When you hurt others with your words you have no idea but you’re hurting yourself as well. It’s not until you make the decision to change that you realize how much you did to those you love and yourself with the words you spoke. The words we speak have more power than most realize.

    • Becky says:

      I’m praying for you, Kimberly. I know that you must be on a tough part of your journey right now but are choosing to be positive. Way to go!

  • Karen says:

    You are so so right!
    My kids are all adults now but before I divorced their father, his mantra was the EXACT opposite! My oldest boy had lots to contend with in terms of fallout from that time and it wasn’t pretty.
    Berating and bullying kids for accidental things hurts them as much as if you hit them! Kudos to you for catching your negative reaction in time and turning it into a positive moment.

  • Jill Jackson says:

    Crystal, thank you for sharing this not so great moment with us. You are not alone. This mom-gig is so hard to do with the relentless grace that’s required. “Grace, not shame,” I love your new mantra and will adopt it as my own–because I’m not sure which shame is worse…the one you inflict…or the one you feel.

  • Ashley says:

    I needed this post! I always tend to catch myself too late. It is something that I’m working on for sure. One small thing can really change my kids’ entire day and I’m working on that small thing being positive more often than negative.

  • Wendy Jahns says:

    I struggle with that too :(. I love my children so much, but at the same time I am strong when I discipline. One thing I try really hard to remember when I am in the middle of a situation is no matter what you say, is how you make them feel!

  • Alice says:

    This is a post very dear to my heart. In the past I have often reacted in frustration, but as I have watched my sensitive, people-pleasing child’s heart break, I have tried to be mindful of how words can wound. When he broke a beloved vase while decorating for Christmas, I found my new mantra. “I love you more than…(whatever the ‘tragedy’ is). In this case, it was “I love you more than the vase.” A variation is also “You are more important than…” I don’t get it right every day, but my goal is not for him to see a perfect mother. I think it’s important for children to see our struggle; it let’s them know that it’s ok when they have a hard time choosing grace also, but it is a choice we must all learn to make.

  • Trish says:

    I so regret how much I let anger over lot’s of situations influence the kind of mother I was to my sweet boys when they were little. I was an overwhelmed mess when they were toddlers and I loved way too little and was angry way too much. I would give anything to go back in time and do it all over.

  • Jay says:

    This is something I pray for every Sunday at church. I ask God to help me be a calmer, more relaxed Mom who isn’t in such a rush to get through life, but rather to enjoy it. I still slip up, and when I do, I say sorry to my kids. The first time I apologized, they were initially surprised, and then they got a big smile on their faces and gave me a big hug. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing!

  • Janelle says:

    Well done, and thank you for the encouragement. I am certain that each of us need to show more grace.

  • Lori says:

    I so needed to hear this today. My 3 year old did not wake up in a good mood. It has been raining all day with blizzard like conditions predicted for this evening, so I’m blaming the weather. In the multiple times that we have problems today I have not responded the best way every time, but I’m trying

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this Crystal. This has been on my heart lately too.

  • Emily says:

    I love this. I just found out I’m pregnant with baby #2, and I’ve actually found myself with more patience for my nearly one-year old. Definitely wasn’t the case when she was two months old and had horrible colic. This is the patience I had been praying for. I know there will still be times I regret, but I’m feeling more peace overall. 🙂

  • Sakura says:

    This is so true. I’ve found that if you keep your cool with your kids, no matter what the age, as they get older they are more willing to share the wrongs and rights in their life with you. I catch myself getting upset at silly things, and I have to change paths quickly. I’ve found that it sure is easier to parent with love at the foundation of an issue than anger no matter how hard it is sometimes. Thanks for this timely article.

  • Amanda says:

    Thank you, thank you for sharing this. I have tears in my eyes. This is just what I needed to read tonight. (My children we put down for an early bedtime because I literally could not handle another case of “spilt milk”.) Tomorrow is a new day, and His mercies are new every morning!

  • marie says:

    such a timely post! I have been struggling with watching my words with my daughter and it’s really had a negative impact! She started acting out at school, home, and church. I know there are several factors at play but my mom heart ached and the guilt! I began praying and really changing my approach! I began really affirming her and everyday letting her know all the things i love about her. I asked her forgiveness for my hurtful words. Then i gathered some of my mom friends, that she loves, and we had a special time of prayer with her. Then this sunday as we were leaving my daughter saw one of our friends and smiled and said, “I know you believe in me.”
    Then today she came home with purple, which means exceptional! After 3 weeks of being on yellow or orange. Her love tank is filling up!!!

  • Jennie says:

    Too many times have I reacted to the spilled milk, in whatever shape it has taken. Shame on me! I really must remind myself and take that deep breath. Oftentimes, it is much worse when I am tired or not feeling well. But that isn’t an excuse and simply can’t be. We are the role models for our children, teaching and training them. This is really not what I want them to learn from me. How awful for them to say someday, “I learned that from my mom.”

  • Melissa says:

    Crystal, thank you so much for sharing this.

    I really needed to hear/read this. This past weekend was not so much of a happy and loving one here and I have been feeling pretty bad about it. This is a great reminder and I love your mantra.

    Thank you again.

  • Sara says:

    I struggle with the yelling/hurtful words as well, and I just wanted to share a little trick that has helped me. Whatever I am saying (please listen, you need to do xyz, use words of kindness), I SING it. It sounds ridiculous, but they listen better, and its almost impossible to be angry/yell when I sing. Try it!

  • WILL DO… Thanks for this encouraging post!

  • Johanna says:

    Thank you so much for being vulnerable and open enough to share this will all of us. That is one of the many reasons I love reading your posts.

  • Jodi says:

    Thank you for posting this! I needed to hear this at this exact moment. I have been catching myself lately becoming more frustrated and reacting in ways that are not uplifting. I appreciate the honesty that it happens to everyone and I really like how simply you put it: Grace. Not Shame. That is something I can remember in the heat of the moment! Also, I have been reading Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel and this goes along perfectly with that! Thank you!!

  • Jenn says:

    I struggle with this every day. I need to focus on not losing my cool when it comes to the “spilled milk” issues in my home. Thank you for a kind reminder to take a second and think before we use words that could have an impact 🙂

  • Melinda Curtis says:

    I am right there with you, lately God has been helping me to PAUSE and then give a gentle answer. I find that its my own anxiety and frustration that causes me to raise my voice.

  • Angie Ryg says:

    Once again I am blessed by your words, my Friend! Thank you for the reminder to take that breath before you speak and how blessed we are that we have a Savior that gives us that same grace!

    Blessings on your family time this week!


  • Kim P says:

    What a good reminder. I’m in the middle of Lysa TerKeurst’s book “Unglued” and this just fits in perfectly. Have you read the book? It’s for all of us moms of young kids (or, probably, older kids as well!) who have those “unglued” moments more often than we’d like to! Thanks for this post today.

  • Alissa says:

    Wow–similar story to my Saturday morning. My son had been asking for a “smoopsie” (aka smoothie), so I made him one (sneaking some spinach in there!). After getting frustrated with him for not drinking it b/c “it wasn’t blue”, he ended up accidentally knocking it off the table, all over his clothes and all over our floor. His eyes were immediately filled with tears and I knew getting mad wouldn’t help at all, so thankfully God prompted me to give grace and love. I stripped him down, gave him a hug, and told him it was just an accident and it was ok. Thanks for sharing your story–it’s encouraging to know we all fail at times and we need grace just as much as our kids!

  • Wendy says:

    I so needed to hear this today! “Grace, not shame” I love it so much! I have a feeling it will end up on a wall somewhere in my home. Thank you!

    • Gina says:

      Thank you so much for this. Just yesterday, I snapped at my daughter and said things I should not have said, after that I felt so miserable. I realized how much more angrier God must be with me for the mistakes I commit everyday, much bigger mistakes than my kid’s,that He must just give up on me,but instead He is so merciful to me. We have a Father, who is so patient and kind no matter what our behavior. I pray that God will give me the patience I need to be the best mom to my children.

  • Kristin says:

    Thank you so much for putting yourself out there with this post. I don’t think I have ever commented before, but this post was so timely for me and I know God used you to minister to an area I am struggling in. I think one of the biggest insecurities in motherhood is feeling like we are the only one that messes up, but how liberating and encouraging to read your post and all these wonderful comments that prove we are all in this together doing the best we can. God bless you, Crystal!

  • Kelly says:

    Yes I will. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this post! I will definitely join you in that mantra. I have been guilty of yelling at my son and I never feel proud after. Thank you for your honesty and your encouragement.

  • Su says:

    This is such a source of discontent/concern for me. I struggle daily with this. Either from the occasional times I bark at my kids(four of them) and/or am hard on myself. I am constantly asking God to help me with this. Does anyone else have times when it all seems like too much and no one is listening to you? I ask God and my kids to forgive me when I “bark”. I would like the self control to not do it in the first place.

  • Chrissy says:

    Thank you so much for your personal story Crystal I think we can all relate to this!

    Try a mommy time out! Whenever i feel a MAJOR meltdown (mine) coming on I excuse myself and go to the bathroom or my bedroom and say Mommy will be back in a few minutes.

    This works wonders for me. I consider myself a pretty patient person but little ones and their messes will get to all of us sometimes!

  • Patty says:

    This is the perfect post at the perfect time. I have all ready printed it to save. I had a horrible mom Saturday. Horrible. I cry every time I think about it. I have talked about it with my son. I have apologized and talked about not being pefect. I am still upset about it, but feel a bit better knowing I am not totally alone. Thank you for sharing.

  • Crystal, thanks for the transparency. Beautiful point. 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    Love you crystal your a true blessing to so many my kids are grown all but my 16 yr. old now going on 17 his room stays messy but he don’t like it eat clean that used to bother me but why sweat the small stuff. I miss my daughters mess e
    So much she used to leave piles of clothes on floor where she would shower try on clothes and change her mind and I never new what was dirty or clean again this was when she was in high school i miss those messes i would love to clean up after her again .enjoy all those messes while you can take it from me your gonna miss those messes one day. Your gonna look back and it’s gonna be a memory .right now while they are small is the easy time although you may think its hard ,I raised 3 it’s really the easy time it’s tougher when they are more toys everywhere ,no dirty house etc. lots of love to you and your family enjoy.lisa

  • Kate says:

    I feel so strongly about this! I hope I remember it everyday.

  • Rosanne says:

    I am now a Grandma but everytime there is something spilled I think back to when my twin boys were about 2 and one of them spilled their cereal. I really did not raise my voice at them but I made the comment “Can we never have a meal without something being spilled?” A five year old day care child looked at me and said “Don’t get mad. They are only babies”. From that day 35 years ago I learned so much and though I know the frustration of spilled milk, doing day care for 25+ years, I also remember the wisdom of a five year old.

  • A says:

    Thank you for this reminder Crystal; these were words I needed to hear!!

  • Angela says:

    Crystal, thank you. I feel like this was written just for me. I have been praying for grace, but forgetting to give it to others (mainly my children) also. I sent my son to school this morning in a tizzy because I had a rough night. And he has testing today. I am praying that he feels the grace of God and remembers how much I love him and not the things I said this morning.

  • Julie says:

    Absolutely! This momma has just been on a trip to “crazy town” and I don’t want to go back. I have had so much guilt over the past few days for “losing it” and yelling at my kids. I am right there with you! Kids breed chaos sometimes and that is not in my genetic makeup so I often don’t handle their normal childhood issues very well. I am praying that the Lord will give me a sweet spirit to answer and shower my kids with love and understanding. Thanks for being transparent, Crystal!

  • Nora says:

    Beautiful. It’s good to have a reminder and inspiration. Grace for our children and grace for ourselves when we err.

  • Keli says:

    Thanks for sharing this! It helps to know I am not alone in these reactions and in trying to improve. My parents often overreacted to the little things, but not the big, and I find myself doing the same with my daughter. I have to remind myself no to repeat the cycle and to extend grace to her when accidents happen. Such a good reminder.

  • Kristi says:

    This is a reminder I need to hear today, and recall every day. “Grace, not shame” is something I want to dilligently work on as I see life through my childrens’ eyes. Some days I do well, many days I do not…thank you for your transparency.

  • Nicole says:

    Ahh, I’m with you on this one. Yesterday I spilled a jar of water with blue food coloring. It wasn’t a “neat” spill, to say the least. It splashed on everything…the counter, window, clean dishes, my clothes, and even all the way across the room to the fridge {still wondering how I managed to accomplish that one!} I needed grace for myself, instead of getting mad that my favourite skirt was no ruined, and taking it out on others. Thankfully the Lord did give grace that was needed.

  • Robyn Y says:

    Wow. The same thing happened to me just this morning with my daughter’s cup of milk. Although it spilled in her booster tray and wasn’t a big deal – I still had that tinge of “UH!” but held it back and gave grace instead. Holding every thought captive!

  • Jen E says:

    I will never forget the day I was helping carry in the groceries and I had the gallon of milk. 2 stairs was all I had to climb. My mom was very much a yeller of everything. She was full of grace that day that said there was no use crying over spilt milk. I felt so aweful and she was so caring.

  • Ginger says:

    Thanks for this story. I once read: “Speak only words that make souls stronger.” This touched me deeply, and made me want to think carefully before I speak. I don’t always succeed, but words are so powerful that I have to try.

  • Amy says:

    Another reason that I love reading your blog! I really feel like the Lord uses you to speak truth into my life at just the right time. I have 4 children – 7, 5, 3, and 22 months and this is an area that I struggle in. I am joining you – “Grace not shame” I may have to post those words around my home and even in my van to remind myself. Thank you for being real and vulnerable with your readers. I have shared this mantra with my husband as well as he has shared that he struggles with the same thing.

  • Elise says:

    I will never forget this post for the rest of my life. Thank you from a mom who really needed this.

  • Abbie says:

    This is so great. Thank you so much. 🙂

  • Becky says:

    Wow, Crystal, you obviously hit a nerve…for me too. 🙂

  • Donna says:

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time…Spot on…I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been struggling with this issue lately. Having 6 kiddos 10 and under whom I love very much, there’s times when I find myself frustrated, overreacting, and using hurtful words that do not build but rather destroy. Lately I’ve been praying hard that God help me keep my mouth under control and extend more grace towards my children. I always regret it after letting my mouth unleashed, but I cannot take my words back at that point. This past week God has really been convicting me of this issue. Just about every radio program I stumbled upon, including the “Focus on the Family” program mentioned in another comment, every article I came across and even Sunday sermon was about how to be Christ like in the midst of the stress when we’re under pressure and how to keep our emotions (anger) under control. Gotta Get To Work… I have a long way to go, but I’ll take it one day at a time..

  • I so needed this today, thanks for enlightening me!!! Grace, not shame…..I am joining you!

  • mommygoes says:

    You are not alone, and yes, I join you. I have had my share of blow-ups – famous for them unfortunately. But you are SO right when you say that taking that breath, and offering grace is immediately calming – like God breathing HIS grace on us as well. Thanks!

  • deborah says:

    A wonderful mantra!

    I fail at it too many times. It is so easy to just react in the moment, in the situation. If I am in another room and hear something happen, I’m much better at taking a deep breath and being calm than when I’m right there.

    Most of the time I’m upset or react with frustration because it is interrupting me or causing more work etc for me. It is my own selfishness instead of grace.

  • cara says:

    grandma now but i remember when i was in the same situation as you were and are now.
    missing every little spill enjoy life and enjoy your kids while you can as the song goes it won’t last long you’ll miss this time. where would we be without grace and what better way to show our kids. Love your story and love and prayers always to you and yours.

  • Kelly says:

    Thank you for this post. As a fellow Mom it made me stop and think. This morning was a rough morning, lots of my daughter not listening (she was busy being 3) and lots of frustration on my part. I thank you for the reminder that on the mornings when I give in to Grace that things go a lot smoother and faster.
    It made me think of a morning a couple of weeks ago, we were having a grace filled morning and after I tied my Daughter’s shoes she looked me right in the eye and thanked me and then grabbed both of my cheeks gave me a big kiss and told me “Mommy, your so pretty when you smile!” Took me everything I had not to cry but the warmth and the positive feelings from that one moment lasted for days.

  • Amanda says:

    Love this. Beautiful motto!

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