Thoughts About Red Pens

I started using red pens to grade the girls school work this year. I bought them impulsively on a quick supply trip the day before we started our homeschool year. I had always avoided using them before, but for some reason I thought they might help to make things easier, especially with two students. The first day of class while grading Marissa’s math I pulled out a pen and put a red X by an answer she had missed.

Then I just sat there and stared at it.
I hate red pens.

I have always hated red pens. It began when I was a kindergartener who was sent home with a red sad face drawn on her paper. I cried in the car of the school parking lot and begged my mom to go inside and make the teacher change it. Something inside me cringed over the failure the red pen highlighted.

As I added more red X’s on Marissa’s paper, memories and thoughts flooded my brain. I wondered how she would feel about my red pen. Would she eye roll the marks it left, groan at the sight of them, would she ever hide it from me when I left the room, and cry over her schoolwork?

Then my thoughts went deeper…
I began to wonder how marks left by a red pen would make her feel about herself.

How a red pen reminded me of the power of words
The world is full of red pens and people who use them recklessly. Countless times every single day we are given the chance to leave our mark. We can label failures, criticize choices, or put giant x’s across the things we don’t like about someone. We can shake confidence, make someone doubt self-worth, and beat them down with our words, attitudes, and actions.The mark we leave on the lives of others is overwhelming.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
Proverbs 18:21 The Message

This, this is something I struggle with. Some days frustrations get the best of me and without thinking I find myself spinning out of control. Saying things I can’t take back, leaving marks that won’t erase and causing pain that is so familiar to me, in the life of another. Often my girls fall victim to the momster I become.

I want my words to speak life. 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Proverbs 31:26

These verses are the prayers and the meditation of my heart.
It is an ongoing, every moment battle to be aware of the life or death that is coming from my mouth.
But it is one worth fighting for.

What comes from your mouth when you speak?
Life or death?

What marks are you leaving?
Ones that build up or ones that destroy?

What is one step you can take to change?
Today make your mouth a fountain of life.

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Do you struggle with mom anger? 
I want to encourage you to check out this book, Count to Nine: Nine Liberating Steps for Mom Frustration and Anger. It has been a life changing tool for me and I know so many of you would greatly benefit too.

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  • Oh these words we say (and regret later). That book sounds amazing!

    • It is so good! Hope you are having a great week!

  • Good morning! When I still taught I used a red pen to grade. The catch was I never made X’s – I always circled or underlined the incorrect piece. Tying this in with your post the marks we make need to be something that we are aware of and I knew X’s are tough to cope with (hello math!) so I always made sure to always stay away from them. I really badly want to check out that book you listed at the end! I bet my library doesn’t have it because they are about three years behind LOL! You have an awesome day, love! xoxoxox

    • Circles, yes. Love that so much. No more x’ing for me 😊.

  • Jessica

    I hated red pens too. They made me feel the same way as you. When I was teaching I used a colorful marker when grading and instead of X’s I always circled the incorrect answer. Have a great day!

  • Lizzie Simantz

    What a powerful post Beth! I want to leave a positive mark so badly with my children, but like alot of other Moms (I’m sure) I lose it sometimes too – I’m going to check out that book!

    • Definitely check it out. Ruthie is so full of wisdom!

  • This is so true! I hate red pen as well. I like that on Baby Fox’s school work they just give stars for the correct answer (usually in highlighter color), and doesn’t have anything when the answer is incorrect, so he knows he didn’t get it correct and doesn’t feel completely bad about himself. I love “Words kill, words give life;they’re either poison or fruit – you choose” I love this and need to live by it and have it written down everywhere.

    • Yes, me too!

      That is a great, positive way to grade papers. So clever. Maybe I’ll try it.

  • chall1018

    Oh sweet friend! I sat in bed and cried the other night because I was at my wit’s end and said some things that I wish Mason’s little ears could un-hear. I prayed and prayed that I never say anything that would leave a mark ever again! It was not my best moment and I am still so upset about it. I will be writing these scriptures down, thank you for sharing them. This is such a powerful post,friend.

    Also, this reminds me of Hawk Nelson’s song – “Words”

    Words can build you up
    Words can break you down
    Start a fire in your heart or
    Put it out

    Let my words be life
    Let my words be truth
    I don’t wanna say a word
    Unless it points the world back to You

    • Oh friend I have been there, big hugs to you. I totally forgot about that song and I am SO glad that you brought it up. I’ll be singing it the rest of the day.

  • Beth, I cannot even tell you how much I love this post. I lack patience and I am very easily frustrated, so I am all to quick to say things – bad things – without thinking them through first. And then, of course, I regret them later. About a year ago, Jacob had just started Pre-K at his new school and he was going through a terrible adjustment phase. We were having a perfectly awful morning one morning and I yelled at him in my frustration and it was the first – and last – time I ever did that. I felt worse than I ever have in my entire life all day that day. Ever since then I have been very careful about how I react and the words that I use with both of our babies. I want my words to encourage and lift them up, I don’t want them to hurt and scar. And you’re right about red pens… I don’t like them either.

    • All it takes is seeing the look of fear and hurt on those little faces to stop a mama right in the midst of her wrath. Its the worst feeling ever 😢.

  • Always so nice to know as a mom I’m not alone in letting those X’s march out of my mouth! Thankfully through time I’ve become much better at removing myself from a situation before I say hurtful things but where I still struggle is when I’m judgey about things that are not like me or not like I would do it. I’m thankful my family is good at giving grace.

    • Yes! Where would we be without grace?! Removing myself is something I need to work on more.

  • Oh boy, Im not a fan of red anything- such a deep and serious color. Ive been readjusting my thought life lately and trying hard to think through before speaking. It is always worth the extra thought and care when dealing with loved ones. Always.

  • This was such a great post. XOXO It definitely made me stop and think.

  • Well written my friend! Yes indeed what does come out of our mouths? It is so important to choose those things that are positive and good. Sometimes we have to correct, but even then it can be done with love in the same way that our Heavenly Father corrects us. Hugs and thanks for sharing this 🙂

    • Yes! Full of grace. Glorious undeserved grace that never ever runs out.

      Happy weekend Jen.

  • Such a great reminder, friend. So much to think about both about teaching and parenting.

  • Whitney Jordan

    I love this! So important for teachers, parents and really everyone! Words are powerful. I always graded with a rainbow of colors and usually avoided red because it always seemed harsh. I love the parenting quote that says “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” by Peggy O’Mara. I think about that often when I’m correcting, teaching and playing with my kids.

    • Oh that is a great one Whitney. I need to write that one down and hang it by my desk. Thanks for sharing it.

  • I’ve often wonder why it has to be red. The same wrong questions or grade could easily be marked with green or blue. Red just seems so harsh.

    • Agreed…. I need to look for some new pens. i don’t even want to use the red ones any more.