Toni Morrison’s words are so heavy with truth that one sentence can bring you to your knees or set you free. Her writing challenged me, taught me, and nurtured me. And, Toni Morrison changed the way I’m raising my children.

It was May of 2000 and Ellen was just shy of her first birthday. Morrison was on Oprah talking about her book The Bluest Eye. Oprah said, “Toni says a beautiful thing about the messages that we get about who we are when a child first walks into a room,” and she asked her to talk about it.

Toni Morrison explained that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room. She asked, “Does your face light up?”

She explained, “When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. What’s wrong now?”

Her advice was simple, but paradigm-shifting for me. She said:

“Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”

I literally think about that advice every day—it’s become a practice. Before Ellen left for college, when she would come bounding down the stairs dressed for school, I didn’t want my first comment to be “Pull your hair back” or “Those shoes don’t match your dress.” I wanted my face to convey how happy I was to see her—to be with her. Now that she’s building her own life, my prayer is that she finds people in her life that light up when they see her. I hope I helped her set that expectation.

Today, when Charlie comes in the back door and he’s dripping wet from swimming, I want to flash a smile before I say, “Back out please. Dry off before you come inside.”

So often we think that we earn parenting points by being critical, put out, and exasperated. But, I want to light up. And, I never would have thought about it had it not been for the wisdom of Toni Morrison.