Joseph Smith once said, “Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” I had heard this statement many times pondered about it when some of my children were making choices that I didn’t like. I felt like I had taught them to do good and be good yet they were still making unwise choices and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Maybe I hadn’t set a good enough example or maybe I hadn’t taught clearly enough important principles to guide their lives by or maybe I just hadn’t taught them in the right way or taught them enough. I prayed and pondered and stewed over it for several years and then one day while I was driving and thinking about it the thought came into my head “Teach them correct principles and then they get to choose.” I had been interpreting the quote the wrong way. I had always thought it meant “teach them correct principles and then they will choose to do right.” What an eye opener and game changer. Yes, I could probably teach more clearly and be a better example but as I continued to do my best to teach good principles to live their lives by I was doing all I could. The rest was and is up to them.
Years ago, when my husband and I had only been married for a few years, I told him that he was the most unromantic person I knew. He didn’t bring me flowers or want to go dancing, we didn’t do quiet dinners in romantic places and there was no candle light to be seen anywhere in our home. I think I hurt his feelings with this announcement because he still remembers it and talks about occasionally. It took me a while but then I noticed that he would call me during the day just to say hi, and this was before cell phones. Sometimes when it was cold at night he would get into bed and lay on my side to warm it up so I wouldn’t have to get into a cold bed. Often he would ask me to run errands with him just so we could spend a little time together and he always remembered that I like the soup spoon instead of the teaspoon to eat with and made sure that’s what I got when he set the table. One day it dawned on me that I had bought into how the world defined romance with flowers, candlelight and dancing and that real romance was something much deeper. It was the simple, sweet expression of love in little ways that he showed for me that was there all along and I hadn’t noticed it. Turns out he’s the most romantic person I know!
Many years ago I taught the Bee Hives in the Young Women’s program, a calling I loved. I learned to love each of those girls and thoroughly enjoyed being with them. One Sunday, on Father’s Day, I asked each girl how she knew her father loved her. There was one response I particularly remember. She said “I know my dad loves me because he likes to spend time with me.” I have thought about this response over the years. I knew her father and he was a busy man. He owned his own business, had busy church callings and had 5 other children beside her and yet she knew he loved her because he liked spending time with her. And interesting to me is that he didn’t spend time with her while he was on his phone, watching TV or being distracted in numerous ways because she knew he LIKED to spend time with her. He was really present when they were together and he conveyed the message that he really enjoyed being with her. What a wonderful gift he gave her, and this is something I need to be better at.
My dear, faithful mother-in-law died on Christmas morning. This patient, long-suffering woman finally got to go home to be with her beloved husband and parents. She so wanted to die and we wanted her to be relieved of her suffering so much so that it was hard to be sad at her passing and yet she has left a giant hole in our family. We pass by her bedroom door and feel the pang of her absence. We walk into the house and automatically think to check on her. It’s lunch time and I have to remind myself that she not here to fix lunch for. It’s not just her physical absence but also her example of cheerfully enduring her situation and rising above her circumstances by deciding to be pleasant no matter what. We never left her room without receiving a thank you. When people visited her she focused on them, and she sang songs with my youngest every night. We miss her optimism, her implicit faith and prayers in our behalf, I guess…we just miss her.
When I was a young mother I wanted to be a perfect parent, or at least appear to be perfect with perfect kids. I was often exacting and demanding thinking that their lives reflected on me as a parent. I dressed my kids well and on Sundays at church they had to have on clean, cute shoes with matching socks and of course hair accessories that matched their clothing. When something didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to my mother-in-law would say “it doesn’t matter” and I would think “IT DOES TOO MATTER!” As time went on I battled my kids over these and other unimportant, silly things and caused a lot of disharmony and strife in our home, and I eventually learned that my mother-in-law was right, it didn’t matter. As teens some of my kids would wear mismatched socks and I learned to think “at least they have socks on” and then my youngest got a little older and she won’t wear socks at all. I learned again to think “well, at least she has shoes on.” Most of the things I stressed about with my children were unimportant and trivial while I often missed the big picture, that they were caring, good people who loved each other and wanted to make the world a better place. As an older parent I realize there is no such thing as a perfect parent and if there was, certainly the standard wouldn’t be measured by shoes and socks.
My husband and I haven’t always agreed on child rearing methods and practices. He is more lenient, kinder and if our kids came to him asking for money he had his wallet out asking them how much they wanted before they even finished asking him for it. He believes, and rightly so, that you treat a person as you want them to become and you just love them. I believe that’s important too but that child rearing needs rules such as everyone has jobs to do in a family which allows people to feel good about contributing, being a valued and important member of the family and teaches them to work. If they wanted to have some extra money, I had a lot of extra jobs they could do to earn it themselves. He feels that rules are important too but that you mostly lead by example and kids learn from what they see their parents doing, and of course he’s right again because kids do learn from what you do and say. He is a hard worker, he’s honest and faithful to responsibilities and commitments and so our kids will learn to be also (and they have). I think children and teens earn trust, respect and privileges, especially as they grow older and as our children grew older he thought that they just got more privileges because they were getting older. I think that by giving kids everything they want they develop a sense of entitlement. He once told me that he naturally deferred to how he was raised, that his parent treated him with respect and love and he just always wanted to measure up. I have pointed out that he was always a good kid, that he didn’t lie to his parents and steal from them to feed a growing drug habit or to just buy something they wanted. That he didn’t sneak out after his parents went to bed to meet up with his friends, that he wasn’t doing illegal things when he was with them and that he was morally clean, and most importantly that he didn’t have mental health issues that clouded his thinking. We basically approached child rearing from very different viewpoints.
If we ever had disagreements it was usually about how to handle a problem with one of our children. And sometimes I would be really mad at him but through it all, I always tried to remember that he loved our kids just as much as I did and that he wasn’t trying to be difficult or stubborn but that he truly thought that how he wanted to solve the problem was the best way to do it. Remembering this helped me to focus on the issue, to listen better to what he had to say and to try to understand him and then to compromise. In compromising we tried to combine some of his ideas and some of mine. Usually we ended up with a better way to deal with the problem. Sometimes when there could be no compromise, that it had to be one way or the other we went with the one who felt the strongest about the issue and sometimes we just took turns doing it the way one of us wanted. And I have also tried to focus on that he was an involved parent, that he was there physically and emotionally, he didn’t defer everything to me and take the easier path of noninvolvement. He loves our kids just as much as I do.
I am an organized person. I naturally think in structured ways to accomplish things and I make lists of things to do, and I take great pleasure in crossing things off of my list that I get done. Sometimes my lists of things to do include so many things to get done that not only would it be impossible to accomplish everything in one day but it would be hard to get the whole list done in a week. On some days with a large family it was often very difficult to even make a list of to do things and then I would beat myself up for not making a list or not getting everything done on my list. Then one day at bedtime I decided to make a list of the things I did get done that day and I included even little things on the list such as doing the dishes, helping a child with homework, feeding hungry children three meals and snacks, reading with my children as well as talking with a friend who needed a listening ear, buying shoes for one of my children and even sweeping the floor. I realized I did do a lot that day and actually felt good about what I had gotten done and told myself to quit imposing impossible standards for myself (a work in progress), and of course with great satisfaction I crossed everything off of that list!
Years ago I heard a woman speak of a trip to Alaska. She said that even though Alaska has a shorter growing season, the fruits and vegetables grow to be very large because of the increased hours of sunlight. So I looked it up and things really do grow bigger in Alaska because that state has as much as 20 hours of sun per day which not only causes vegetables to grow bigger but things like carrots are sweeter too. Of course that brings thoughts to my mind of how people grow bigger too in the light of another Son, Jesus Christ. When we allow His light to shine on us our capacity increases and we become bigger and better than we ever thought possible. Not only do our hearts grow but our knowledge increases and our capacity to serve enlarges. His love allows us to love ourselves and others. When we realize that He suffered the atonement because He loves us we begin to see our true worth and value and the worth and value of others. His love beckons me to keep the commandments and follow Him. His love teaches to me to reach out to others and His love urges me to learn more about Him and His ways. As I study the scriptures and writings of the prophets my knowledge increases. When I have a question and study and ponder it, sometimes I am filled with knowledge and light regarding the answer, an answer that could only come from God. Because of His light I am able to learn not only of spiritual matters but also of things regarding my life in this world. After all, He is the Great Creator of all things and He has all knowledge. He can give me knowledge on how to best help my children, how to solve financial problems or how to forgive someone. He can help me learn about anything! As I study His word I am taught to reach out and serve others as He did. “Come follow me” He taught and He spent His whole life in service to others, in word and in deed. I remember a time when I was pregnant with my seventh child and I was so, so very tired. It was Monday night and time for Family Home Evening and my husband was away on a business trip, and it was 6 noisy, energetic children and one very tired mom. I knew I needed to do Family Home Evening but I didn’t think I had it in me to do it. Mostly I just wanted to go in the bedroom and cry from sheer exhaustion. Out of pure obedience to what I knew was right to do, I decided we would learn a new song out of the Children’s Hymnbook. I let the kids pick a song and then we put on the CD of the music to learn it. As we sat in a circle around the music book and sang the song together over and over there came a sweet feeling and light into our home. My children really enjoyed singing the song and even though it was a very simple Family Home Evening I really felt my capacity to serve and teach my precious children had been enlarged. His light had increased my abilities and given me strength when I was so very tired and had enabled me to serve. The light of Jesus Christ helps each of us to become more than we ever thought possible!