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posted by Amy

When Vincent, our ten-year-old, was in the campus preschool at my workplace, he had the wonderful and amazing Teacher Mary. Teacher Mary--and no, I can't just call her Mary--made a point of telling all three of Vincent's parents (me, Chip, and Vincent's mom) what a great job we were doing raising this kid. For this stepmom, her words were a real gift. Very few people seemed to understand or approve of the blended family we'd formed, and I especially was struggling to figure out what my role was and how I should handle day-to-day life with a small child.

I was so woefully unprepared that I actually believed it would be easy to get a three-year-old to preschool BEFORE teaching an 8 a.m. class. If you've ever tried to hurry a three-year-old, you can see where I might have run into some problems due to my unrealistic expectations of myself and of Vincent just by that one example. Teacher Mary's loving and completely nonjudgemental approval was something I hung onto during the harder days.

Parenting, as it has been said, is one of those jobs you can pour your whole heart and soul into and still get criticized for. In fact, it's guaranteed that you can find someone who is willing to criticize almost every single choice you make as a parent. Most of us learn to disregard those voices after awhile, but it's impossible for me to completely ignore disapproval of my mothering. My strategy is to surround myself with people who make me feel like Teacher Mary did. She understood that parents love their kids and are doing the best they can with what they have. And she knew that encouragment works a whole lot better than judgement when it comes to helping parents out.

What if today, along with the Valentines we give to our partners and our kids, we handed out compliments to other parents for all the hard and loving work they do each and every day? Who know what effect that could have? After all, I'm sure Teacher Mary didn't think some parent she barely remembers would have repeated that affirming praise to herself nearly every day for seven years.