I’m 23 years old. I’m a wife and mother to three. I’m supposed to have my life figured out and under control – but I don’t.

My husband and I had yet another conversation this evening about making ends meet this month. We’re struggling quite a bit after the birth of our son, my surgery, and my husband being forced to take yet another pay cut. We’re drowning in medical bills, and paying our monthly expenses seems out of reach.

We budget, we make extra money how and when we can, I coupon to save on groceries, and I’ve been selling all of our “extras.” But it never seems like enough. I’ve been searching for a job for weeks now, trying to find anything that can pay the bills while we try to catch up.

I know that eventually we’ll be okay, but for now, it’s stressful and it’s scary.

I was in the kitchen cooking dinner when I got a call from my dad. We talked about a variety of topics, which eventually led to a breakdown on my end. I cried as I explained our situation and how incredibly stressed I am as I try to figure out our finances. I had to end the conversation because my toddler was causing an endless amount of trouble. A little while later, I got a text. It was from my dad.

“Just in case there is any doubt, I’m proud of you. These trying times are character building.”

I burst into tears. My two-year-old came running over to see what was wrong, and my husband gave me inquisitive looks. I couldn’t speak for a moment as I gathered my composure.

My parents have helped us out financially recently, but seeing the words “I’m proud of you” is the best thing that my dad could have done at that moment. Money is more than tight right now, and we are struggling more than ever.

We will always have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, but it broke my heart when I figured out I wouldn’t be able to get my daughter a birthday present. It doesn’t matter to her either way. She’s too young to understand. But I never ever expected to be so broke that I wouldn’t be able to spend just a little extra to get my daughter something to celebrate.

It’s hard to be proud of myself when I feel so helpless. I’m intelligent, I have a great resume, and I have big dreams. But right now it feels like I’m failing. It’s difficult to imagine how my parents can look at me and be proud of where I am in life. Yet my dad reminded me tonight that he is. Looking back over my lifetime, I realize that my parents have always made sure to tell me that.

No parent wants their child to struggle. We all want our kids to be successful and stable. Temporary setbacks don’t mean that someone isn’t working hard and doing their best.

Especially over these last few months, being reminded by my parents that I’m a great mom, a great wife, and an intelligent woman with endless potential reminds me that I’m not a failure after all. These momentary trials do not define my character or my future.

Kids never stop needing their parents, especially when things get tough. One of the best lessons I’ve learned from mine is to always tell my children “I am proud of you.” It only takes a moment to say, and yet those five simple words mean the world to our children.