Squeals of delight and tears of joy will fill many homes over the next twenty-four hours as a season is celebrated and gifts are exchanged. A few eye-rolls and quite possibly, “Awww!”s could also float through the air. In our house we just might have one or two, “..but I wanted that” or “her’s is better than mine.” It’s not pretty, but has been known to happen.

Also, over the next week (some have already started) grade postings will hit in-boxes far and wide. With Finals ending on Friday, prompt grading has already begun. Strangely enough, the same responses tend to fill the air when grades are posted and compared. Responses that are sometimes punctuated with a good old, “it’s just not fair!”

Yesterday, I happened to see a few of our kids’ first semester grades. As if on cue, a friend called one of the kids to check and see what she was made on a final and where the semester landed. I never know what’s behind such curiosity. But, I’m going to assume the best. Still, it’s awkward. And usually ends with some wind being sucked out of a certain child’s sails.

After the call, she looks at me, a bit dejected. “Gosh… I studied so hard. I just don’t get it. Why is my grade lower? Any why do people talk about grades in the first place?”

“Did you do your best?” I ask.

“I tried really hard. Was it my best? I think so… I don’t know.” She’s always honest.

“Well, it seemed to me you put your best foot forward.”

“I don’t know. Still, it makes me feel bad when someone asks. If my grade is good, I don’t want to tell because I don’t want them to feel bad. If my grade is bad, I don’t want to tell – for obvious reasons,” she thinks out loud. “I’m happy until the comparing starts. Then it’s like I can’t breathe because I want to better than everyone else… and, well, it’s gross.”

I love this kid who calls it like it is.

“Okay, you’re right,” I say. “… So I’m going to share with you three super-words. They’re actually way under-used. But – they breathe life into situations … for everyone involved.”

The kid sighs and gives into the mini life-lecture coming her way. Making it fun, she starts to guess. “Alright. What are they? … ‘I don’t care?’”


“Well, good … because that’s just rude.” [pause] “I love you??”


“Yeah – that could be awkward.” [pause] “Good for you?” she guesses with some sass for seasoning.


“Then what?”

“It’s like ‘good for you’ but without sarcasm – and using them only works if you mean it.”

“Alright already…”

“The words are: ‘I’m happy for you.’”

“I’m happy for you?”

“Yes. … I’m happy for you.”

“Uhhh… That’s four words.”

No wonder they never want any of my help for their math problems! “Okay, so four words… they’re still super powerful.”

We went on to talk about the fact that if you can for a moment get your eyes off yourself and actually celebrate someone else’s work, achievement, talent … whatever, it actually helps you. “I’m happy for you” (if you mean it) seems to take all the funk out of what can so often be a tense and awkward situation. It even works at Christmas when your sibling gets an incredible gift and all you get is a couple shirts that your mother probably would have bought for you anyway.

The gist: Rather than count and compare, be happy for each other.

Honestly, I have less than no expectations for whatever gifts may or may not be waiting for me under the tree (mostly since I might have purchased and wrapped them for myself … just sayin’), but in the midst of this funky uber-competitive parenting environment, I struggle with those words. I guess I need to ask myself: do I ere more on the “I’m happy for you” side? Or on “wish it was me”. As in, “I wish we were going skiing” or “I wish I my kid had gotten that job” or “I wish I could look that cute in skinny jeans like she does” or … (fill in the blank).


“I’m happy for you,” three four powerful words that might have something to do with that Greatest Commandment thing of loving others the way the One whose birth we’re celebrating did. Here’s hoping my kids will get a taste of their wonderful power. And, here’s hoping that might I use them and mean them … often.

Thanks for walking the road with me.


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