The “self-fulfilling prophecy” is an expectation about the future that ensures its own validity. The 20th century sociologist Robert Merton is credited with coining the expression in which the expectation directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, due to the connection between belief and behavior.
I have experienced this in my own life. I distinctly remember being in sixth grade and sitting in my classroom while the teacher handed out report cards at the end of the day. As she walked around the room handing out the envelopes, she waved an envelope in the air and announced with delight to the entire room that “the person who receives this report card has earned straight A’s!” then she walked over and laid it on my desk. I sat in disbelief. Staring at the report card, I remember feeling every eye on me. I had not set out to earn straight A’s, nor was I naturally gifted in any way. But in that moment, my life changed. Every classmate knew me as the “smart” girl. They believed that I was the “straight A student” and I began to believe it myself. I became the straight A student. I had an expectation to fulfill. I had a standard to achieve. The bar had been raised and I was going to do everything possible to reach it every time. And I did. Every report card. Every year.
Over the five years I have been a mother, I have heard God speak through other mom’s directly to me regarding this very topic. Let’s face it – motherhood is no easy task. It can be very trying at times. While working one day, I met a woman and mother of six for the first time and she was asking about how long I had been teaching, if I had children, and making small talk. I told her I had three children within eighteen months and explained that at the time, my oldest was four and my twins were two and a half. Most people respond with, “you sure have your hands full.” To which I always reply, “oh yes, they can make me crazy!” Then we usually chuckle and walk away. But not this day. And not so with this woman.
As I began to laugh she looked at me very seriously and said, “do not speak those words about you or your children.” Then she gracefully spoke God’s word over me in encouragement and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7) She told me that God gave me a sound mind and that I am not crazy and neither are my children, for crazy is NOT of God. It was a powerful message delivered straight from The Lord through an absolute stranger and I have never forgotten it.
A month ago I was at another work event with Premier Designs, my jewelry business, and I was positioned next to a husband and wife team who represented their own business. As it always happens, small talk began and we started getting to know one another. Through our conversation, the wife began talking about her nearly grown up children and reminiscing about the days when they were little, like mine are now. She told me that she and her husband decided when their children were young, they would only speak positively about their children, even if, in the midst of their circumstances they felt differently. For example, she said they always told people, “we have great kids!” or “our children are amazing!” She mentioned that she never spoke aloud the phrase “terrible two’s” or “troubling teens”. She explained that whatever they were told about themselves, they would believe. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Wow! Once again, a message God spoke to me through a stranger.
This is as valid for me today as a mother as it was many years ago as a student. After hearing this message repeated from these seasoned mothers, I began to realize that my children just might be fulfilling the expectations I have spoken over them. Could this be the reason they are running around and acting so…crazy!?! I have set that standard. I have spoken those words over them. I have set the bar and they are reaching for it. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” If we tell our children they are “wild”, then they believe they are wild and will become a wild child. If we tell our children they are “wonderful”, then they believe they are wonderful and will become wonderful.
A friend and I recently spoke about her son, Liam. She was expressing her frustration regarding his laziness. She couldn’t get him to do anything around the house because he was so lazy. He never puts away his clothes, he never does his homework, and he never helps do chores. She mentioned that he had a nick-name in their family, and that everyone calls him “Lazy Liam.” I guarantee you Liam is only fulfilling the expectations of the words spoken to him. The bar has been set for Liam to be lazy and he is fulfilling it.
Our words and our expectations greatly influence our children.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
We set the standard.
Let’s raise the bar!