The next generation is asking us an important question: Who am I? 

When we are slow to answer, when we are silent or when do not recognize the question, other voices are speaking. Children of all ages are listening, hearing the voice of their caregivers first, and whoever is loudest next.

Media, culture, family, peers, teachers, coaches, even the neighborhoods we live in are sending messages to our children about who they are. In the midst of many voices, young people have trouble discovering the truth about their identity: They are loved; they have value; they matter; they have purpose. In my work with children and family in the community of Los Angeles, I am learning these simple truths empower people to become who they were made to be.

If we don’t help our children establish a solid foundation to stand on, society will. No pressure, right? The good news is, because every individual has the power of choice, no one's whole identity depends on us. That would be an impossible burden, but we can influence and foster a positive self-image through our words and our actions.

Here are some phrases that are staples in our household, as well as the communities we are privileged to love and serve:

I love you. Say, “I love you” often and let your words be felt. Love is measured in time. Your presence matters. Pay attention to what your kids care about, to what influences them, to what hurts them and stirs their passions. Perfect parents don’t raise amazing children, present parents do. Good days and bad days, commit to just being there.

I am safe. I wish there was a mandatory course in every high school and a yearly renewal test (kinda like the DMV, but more often) on safe people. Safe people have boundaries, which just means, they know where they end and others begin. Safe people lift us up, speak the truth gently, are vulnerable with us and honest with us. Neglectful or abusive people (physical, emotional, or substance abuse) are not safe people. If you are struggling with abuse in your home, please reach out to us so that we can offer resources to help. Let’s teach our children that we are safe people who can be trusted with their deepest pain, their greatest joy and all the boring stuff in between. When we communicate, “I am safe” to the young people in our lives, what we’re really saying is “You are safe” in my care.

I provide security. Okay, so my husband and I don’t exactly say this out loud all the time; still, we seek to show that we offer security to those we love, particularly to our rapidly growing baby (who needs something all the time…) Most of the time, we think of security as money. I would like to submit that love is the currency. A roof over their heads, healthy affection, faith that inspires hope, cerebral and emotional connection in a household provides a deep sense of security in our children. Sure, will they complain from time to time about all the “stuff” they don’t have? Yep, but they won’t remember the cool Air Jordan’s they wanted or their house being smaller than classmates homes. Now that I am all grown up, I say with confidence, they will definitely remember the love in their home. (Thanks Mom.)

I believe in you. Sometimes we withhold encouragement because we don’t agree with someone’s behavior. Aren't you glad that we are not what we do? I make mistakes often, but my mistakes don’t define who I am. If you are having a hard time with your kids right now, encourage who they are, in spite of what they do. “I believe in you - you were created for great things.”

I am at peace with my past. This last phrase is about forgiveness. I never really feel like forgiving. Ever. It’s a choice I make because I know if I don’t, my present and my future are held hostage. Like you, I have been hurt, betrayed, disappointed and used by people in my past. I have also made some serious mistakes and the hardest person to forgive is myself. I don’t want to be bitter, critical, and resentful about my past and carry it around with me, because the people in my life will be affected, so I forgive - over and over again if I have to. Can you forgive today and make peace with your past? If you need help, get help. There’s no shame in sharing with a safe friend, seeing a therapist or attending a recovery program. The old saying, “more is caught than taught” is true. Kids will do what we do, not what we say. Let’s offer our children, our home and our legacy the gift of forgiveness. 

I am still learning with you, but I hope these phrases help you as you navigate parenting. It is important that parents, or caregivers, are on the same page. United parenting helps reinforce these principles. Single parents, please know you are not alone and you can raise incredible children, regardless of spousal support. 

Whoever our home is filled with, we’re all in this together, taking each day as it comes, to raise the next generation. We’re proud of you and in case no one has told you lately, you’re doing better than you think you are. Well done, friend.

[Ashley Abercrombie is an Outreach Pastor in Los Angeles, partnering with LAPD, transition homes, teen centers, as well as local and global organizations to battle the issues that rise from poverty and greed through service and compassion. The Outreach Team at Oasis Church is committed to community based, systemic change.

Ashley and her husband Cody are committed to building a strong marriage, loving their son, drinking lots of coffee with friends and doing good wherever they go. Ashley loves to blog about life and love at ]