Every night it was a battle to round-up my quarrelsome, busy, active kids to do family prayer and scriptures. While I would read they would be elbowing, poking and even pretending to fall asleep. It seemed they were physically there but not spiritually. I once commented to my husband that I thought that by reading the scriptures and having family prayer every night we would have a more peaceful home. He said to just think how bad it would really be if we didn’t do it! It was a funny answer but not really satisfying. I think part of the problem is that I had shoulds going through my brain, expectations of how my family really should be, and this wasn’t it. I eventually learned that this was pretty normal behavior for most children but I still didn’t like it. I really wanted to connect with my children on a spiritual level and impart my love of the scriptures to them. Every once in a while there was a golden evening where the Spirit was present, and I could tell they were really listening but it didn’t happen very often, and I really cherished those moments. I finally decided that persevering with this nightly process accomplished at least two things beside the obvious principles of obedience and spiritual education. The first thing I think that was accomplished was that my children learned from our nightly battle to round everyone up is that if we were willing to do this huge task every night that it must be worth it, that it must be important. I hoped they learned that their mom and dad thought that gathering the family every night to read the scriptures and have a prayer together was a priority and so important that we did it in spite of the hassles. I hope my children saw that we truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ability of it to bless our lives. The next thing I think that was accomplished was more for me as a parent than for my children. I have a few children who have not embraced the gospel as I have hoped. At this time they are not actively participating in the blessings the gospel offers. As I have looked back, I am glad that we were consistent with family scriptures and prayers because I don’t have to wonder if I had just done them would my children who are less active be fully active now. It’s so easy to blame myself but I don’t have to feel guilty over this. I recognize that I did my best in this area and that we were consistent and they have made choices I don’t like but accept. I also have children who are actively participating in the gospel of Jesus Christ and I think that consistently doing family scriptures and prayer helped with that. In spite of the hassles, doing family scriptures and prayer is worth it for many reasons!
We have been good at doing Family Home Evening but sometimes it was a real scramble to come up with something meaningful for the lesson on the little time we seemed to have. What finally made it easier was the Friend magazine, which we found to be a great resource. For each story there was always a scripture that went with it. We would read the scripture out loud and then the story, and then we would read the scripture again and ask how it related to the story and then ask how the story/scripture related to our family. A simple formula that worked well for us because it often seemed so hectic with little kids and big kids, after school activities, homework, and dinner and everything else that always needed to be done. This was my go-to lesson plan when we didn’t have something specific that we wanted to talk about, and it often generated good conversations. We also found the activities, articles on children in other countries, apostles and prophets were things my children liked to hear about, and even my older kids liked hearing a story read out loud. This would last about 15 minutes and then, on a good evening, we even had time to play a game or do something fun with those who wanted to, which was usually the younger kids because really, we were lucky to get the older kids to sit there with for 15 minutes with us to begin with.
Many years ago my husband was in the bishopric of a singles ward. The Relief Society leaders asked the wives of the bishopric to speak to them on specific topics addressing marriage and motherhood and I was assigned “Preparing for Motherhood.” This was such a vast topic and I pondered it for quite a while unsure of the direction to take, but as I thought about it the concept of ‘be what you want your children to be’ came to me. I had them write down 5 quality traits they wanted their children to have and then talked to them about the best way to develop those traits in their children is to develop them in themselves and then of course, model that trait. So, If you want your children to be honest then you need to be honest. If you want them to be hard workers then you need to be a hard worker. Since children learn by example the best way to prepare for motherhood is to work on developing qualities that you want your children to have, you become what you want your children to become. In some small way this reminds me of the quote by Gandhi “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi was a great man of vision who understood that we can’t change anyone but ourselves, and that by changing ourselves we influence those around us and thus change the world. So in other words, if you want the world to be kind, be kind. If you want the world to be fair and just, then be fair and just. Whenever I see someone who is a good person doing good things it inspires me to want to be better and do better. Their example gives me hope for the world. Another thing I like about the quote by Gandhi is the connotation to quit complaining and do something about the problems we see around us. It’s definitely easier to complain than to work to change the things we see around us by volunteering, donating and speaking up and the many other ways there are to make the world a better place. And of course, the efforts of a parent in the home do much to make the world a better place which leads me back to my original thought-improving myself does much to improve the world (now if I could just narrow down my vast list of areas to improve in so I knew where to start…).
For many years I have wondered why I haven’t been able to forget the many sins and things that I’ve done wrong in my life and have repented of. They come back to haunt me and I feel devastated that I did those wrong things and I end up with negative self talk, thoughts and generally feeling badly about myself. I really just want to forget that I did those wrong things. But, as I have thought about it, I have decided that remembering them is good for at least three reasons. One, it gives me understanding and empathy for those who are struggling as they are trying to change, and even for those who are not trying to change. I get it, and I see how easily it is to fool ourselves into wrong behavior and then continue in the wrong behavior because it seems there’s no hope now. I get how hard it is to change and leave old behaviors behind as I struggle forward in hopes of becoming more Christ like. I understand the lure of the world and how things seem good and fun and desirable. I get what Nephi meant when he said in 2 Nephi 4:18 “I am encompassed about, because of the many temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.” I am so very weak and so easily beset by sins and so easily stray off the path. So even though I would like to forget the things I’ve done wrong, I am a more compassionate person because I remember. Another reason I think it is good for me to remember the things I’ve done wrong in my life is that it helps me be less judgmental. If I didn’t remember, it would be so easy to say about another person’s behaviors, “well, I would never do that” or “that person is an awful/bad/terrible person.” Remembering allows me to separate the behavior from the person and to understand how easy it is to do wrong things, and helps me be less judgmental. It allows me to see another person as a human being who is weak and struggling, like me. And finally, I also think that remembering the things I have done wrong acts as a barrier to prevent me from doing those wrongs and sins again. I remember the pain I felt at the recognition of those sins being wrong and the struggle to overcome them through repentance. It is in the remembering of the shame and sorrow of having done those wrong things that helps to prevent me from making the same mistakes again, it helps me to get it. So even though I would love to forget the things I’ve done wrong I can see the wisdom in allowing me to remember, it allows me to get it.
When one of my daughters was very young I found her challenging to deal with. It seemed she wanted to do just the opposite of whatever I wanted her to do and even though she was very young we battled on almost everything. I knew that I didn’t want that kind of relationship with her but I had not yet learned that most of the things I insisted on were not that important. I also knew I wanted to have a calm, peaceful atmosphere in my home, not one in which we battled against each other. Perplexed as to know what to do I remember praying about it one day and asking Heavenly Father to remind me that she was a child of God whenever I was frustrated with her or arguing with her. The day went as usual and before long we were in another battle but in the midst of it the thought “she is a child of God” came firmly to my mind which actually took me back a little. I stopped arguing and handled it differently. Unfortunately it took me many years to learn what was important and what wasn’t, but I did learn that if I prayed for specific guidance and help that Heavenly Father would bless me with it.
Sometimes, when I would be in a public place with my children and they would see someone smoking, one of them would loudly say “mom, why is that man smoking?” It’s hard to know what to say in these situations because you want your children to know that smoking, or any other behavior you object to, is not okay but at the same time you don’t want to embarrass the person your child is talking about. Children are great at pointing out incongruities while they are trying to figure out family and societal rules. They are trying to make sense of what they have been taught and what they are actually seeing, and that can lead to awkward situations. After thinking about it over time I came up with a statement that worked for me. When one of my kids would loudly point out something that went against what they had been taught I would tell them “we all have things that we need to change about ourselves and smoking (or whatever it was) is just a more obvious thing.” Sometimes they asked a few more questions but they usually seemed to understand what I meant, that even with good rules people aren’t perfect and we all need to improve.
I always have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day and in most ways I used to dread it. This is what I wrote in my journal in 2003: “Today is Mother’s Day. I hate Mother’s Day. I hear the talks in church and realize all the things I am not doing, that I will never be and never do and not only do I feel guilty, I feel depressed and sad that my children don’t have the mother they deserve. Today the talks in church were different though. The speakers were assigned to talk about a principle of the gospel they learned from their mothers. I liked this and for once I didn’t come home from church feeling like a failure…As I sat there thinking (about what the speakers were saying, I thought) about what I learned from my mother, I thought of the principle of tithing.” I have previously written about how my mom paid tithing on the very little money that she earned and attributed that to our family making it until she graduated from nursing school and got a job. Because of her firm testimony of tithing I have always paid my tithing, even when I was a very poor college student and I have seen many blessings, not always material, from paying tithing. I also wrote what I learned from my mother-in-law: “I know that she has a firm belief in the power of prayer. Many times when she has had problems she has told me that she would immediately fall to her knees and pray. She has felt a real strength from praying in her life and I believe that has carried over to her children who have such a firm commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Her unflagging devotion to the gospel and prayer have taught me much about praying and I have learned from her to always turn to my Heavenly Father in times of great need and in times of little need. Some things I hope my children have learned from me include that the gospel is the way to happiness, that love is the key to solving most problems, to be honest with yourself and with others, and to work hard and do your best in whatever you do. Even though I’m not perfect in living these attributes I know them to be important and have gotten better at living them over the years. In spite of my many shortcomings and weaknesses my children are fine adults doing much good in the world. Whenever I feel badly about not being a better mother I remember a conversation I had with one of my daughters where I apologized for yelling too much and not being patient enough. She said “mom, I don’t remember you yelling. I remember you singing and dancing with us in the family room.” I tear up when I think of this conversation because maybe I did better than I think, and maybe Mother’s Day is not something I need to dread.
When I was a younger mom with my first four children we were always busy with fun things like going to the park, zoo, aviary, and swimming in the summer several days a week. I did crafts with them, read out loud frequently and sang and danced with them in the living room. In the winter when it was snowy cold outside I even did picnics on the kitchen floor with them and played games with them. I also yelled more, demanded more obedience and had ideas of how life should be and how children should act, I was kind of exacting. I was fun but not very patient. As we had more children and I was an older mom I tried to do fun things but it seemed that I was frequently running the older kids to music lessons or sport activities, friend’s houses, dance classes and church activities and so the fun mom sort of disappeared. There was more laundry to do, more shoes to buy and more squabbles to settle. One day it occurred to me that I had never taken my youngest three kids to the zoo, and of course I felt guilty for not being a fun mom for them. But, at the same time I had learned some things by then that were important and had figured out that some things weren’t so important, and I was a lot more patient. I didn’t yell or get so upset so easily. I also figured out that things don’t have to be perfect to be good, sometimes even great. I was a lot more patient but not nearly as much fun. As I have thought about it I haven’t figured out which group of kids got the better mom-the older kids with the fun mom or the younger kids with the more patient mom. Ideally being both fun and patient would have been best and of course I wish I had been both to all of my kids. I can’t undo or change things in the past so now I go forward and be the sometimes fun but patient grandma.
Many years ago I lived in a ward with a family where the wife died from cancer leaving a young family for her husband to care for. The father asked to have visiting teachers assigned to him to teach him how to cook, clean, shop, do little girls’ hair and a whole host of things that he needed to learn in order to serve his family. The process worked well and after a few months he was able to do what he needed to do independently. I’m impressed that he recognized that he needed to learn some things, knew he could turn to the good women of his ward and was humble enough to ask for help. Visiting Teaching has blessed my life in many ways just like it did for this man and his family, and for some reason I have always liked Visiting Teaching. Even when I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to be a Visiting Teacher and yes, I know that’s a little odd but I have always felt drawn to it. I like the one on one connection, I like getting to know other women in a more personal way. I like discussing gospel principles and having time to go into more depth with the topic, and I have noticed that I leave feeling the Spirit more and it lingers with me for the day. I like having women for whom I feel a responsibility to care for, to pray for and to think about their needs and ways I can serve them. I have been inspired by the women I visit with, have learned from them and have felt their strength as they go through hard times with faith. Whenever I have met women in the various wards I have lived in who I didn’t particularly like, either I ended up being their Visiting Teacher or they were mine and it didn’t take long before I realized how wrong I had been in my judgement. Because of this I have learned to be less judgmental and to give people the benefit of the doubt more, and to realize I’m not seeing the whole person in the limited setting of a few hours at church. I have not always had women who were easy to visit and even then I learned more about the struggles of mental health or being less active and serving when it wasn’t easy. And just as I have been blessed by being a Visiting Teacher I have been blessed by having Visiting Teachers who have listened to me, taught me more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and been my friends. The new focus now is ministering-really focusing on the needs of the women I visit. What an inspired program! Recently I was working in a ward service project involving the cleaning up of yards of people in our neighborhood. While I was raking up weeds, one of the home owners came out and upon seeing many women working alongside the men commented “it seems that women can be ministers too.” I sincerely replied “they always have been.”