The approaching autumn season reminds me that my time is short: my time with the last of my children at home. I raised nine children over the past 33 years and now with the mission call of my second to the youngest about to come, I will have only one child left at home. After 2 years he will be gone and then what?
Many parents experience what most people know as the “Empty Nest Syndrome”. What is that exactly? From my own research and experience the Empty Nest Syndrome is the lost and lonely feeling parents have after their last child leaves the “nest”. For me it’s been a gradual leaving of children over the last ten years. I miss each one as they go but soon all of them will be gone.
Not every parent has this kind of feeling but I think for the most part mothers do since they are the nurturers in the family. Of course husbands are there to be good partners too but a hole in their hearts will be left and mothers especially miss their children when they leave. As a couple, if they have been continuing to nurture a good relationship between themselves, then the recovery of a child leaving home is minimal. Continuing to nurture the relationship between parents is a good way to start the journey off as an “Empty Nester”.
There is also the role parents now play to young single adults when they want to live their own life and make their own decisions. This is where you find out whether anything you have taught your children stays in their head. This is where the true test of parenthood becomes a reality, because when children leave home and make their own decisions without their parents looking over their shoulder, the true test of adulthood comes through.
As “Empty Nesters” find themselves with a lot of time on their hands, these suggestions might help to start a new life on their own:
Volunteer: There are so many organizations that need people to help. Those with a stable life and income can do so much to improve the world around them and the pay back in helping others is tremendous. My sister found a wonderful organization called the Burrito Brigade. These volunteers get together every week and make a nutritious vegetarian burrito for the homeless and others who cannot feed themselves. It has been a satisfying journey for my sister as she is retired and can help her community feed themselves.
Find a hobby: We all tell ourselves that one day we will write that novel or one day we will create that painting. Now is the time to do it. Whatever strikes your fancy and holds your interest is a great way to funnel all those creative juices you have been storing up all these years. Your creativity might even help others.
Find Employment/Start a business: If you always wanted to start your own business, this certainly is a good time and will keep you busy. It is a known fact that doing what we love to do helps keep us young and healthy. It’s sort of a “fountain of youth” pill. As I have waved goodbye to my children, I have developed a plan to remodel an old hotel in my home town and open an historical museum and gift shop. This whole project will certainly keep me busy and when I’m finished my children will have a place of interest to come visit me.
Travel: This is the chance to take that trip to Europe. This is the chance to fulfill your dream of finding the town your great-grandparents came from so long ago. Traveling is a great way to fill the hole your children left when they become adults. Whether it’s traveling to see grandchildren or old friends getting out of the house and your old routine will do wonders.
Downsize: A good friend of mine and her husband created a new own home by selling the house they raised their six children and moved into an apartment. They love it because they don’t have to clean so much, have so much stuff in their home or take care of the yard. It was perfect for them. Many parents who have large homes and don’t want the responsibility, sell what they have and move into smaller dwellings.
No matter what stage of “empty nest” you are in, life will bring many opportunities to enrich your life and make the world a better place to live.
I remember well the Sunday in which my son was a puppy all day! He begged (puppy style) for his food on the floor. I was no rookie, so I put the bowl on the floor and patted his head. In his half imagination/half real world he got dressed in unpuppy like clothes and was buckled in a carseat -I do stand on some issues. Then he walked to the door of the church-because although he’s a puppy he doesn’t like pain. He crawled through church. He sat on his paws on the floor during primary. Blessedly his teacher at the ward we were visiting was very understanding because he was a reverent puppy. I stayed in the room, but out of sight to see if my puppy and the class could coexist peacefully. Imagination is a critical and fascinatingly beautiful part of childhood.
Imagination is why I am sensitive to technology use. When a child can still can BE a puppy how likely are they going to be able to deal with a virtual reality? When learning is play, is there play that isn’t learning? In the real world, physics and biology and natural consequences abound. In the virtual world sometimes they are “talking” with Dora and sometimes they are talking with grandma.
We wait until 16 before we trust a young person with a car. There are classes and tests preparing them for this and here in Texas, very specific requirements of how much time they need to drive at night, on freeways, and other challenging situations. Yet we hand the toddler a tablet worth a couple hundred dollars and give them internet access.. We respect the power of fire, of vehicles, of kitchen utensils, yet we hand our child a phone.
Children develop amazingly. They start with absolutely no concept of time and a very spotty concept of reality. An infant can’t detect edges of a bed or couch or stair and doesn’t understand the effects of gravity….add in any computer game there. A young child confuses today and next week with now and never. If you tell them their birthday is not for a while (11 months away) they may be sitting at the table waiting for cake and candles (this was us yesterday, we settled for candles). Add to that-email. How does that work in their understanding of space and time?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. I love being able to have conversation with friends all over the world. I love the speed of an email and the vast amounts of information available. It is so easy to have technology out date our parenting.
Although I love the concept of going completely unconnected, I love people and technology too much to go offline completely. At times when we have tried to go without screens, I have discovered the many frustrations this provides. I suddenly need directions, a recipe, information or my mom. I also get tired and sometimes crave an easy fix . With work and school and family, it doesn’t feel realistic to go completely screen free. We have come up with a way of describing different uses for technology that has helped in our family negotiate technology.
Toy or tool
Are you using the technology as a toy or as a tool?
When I ask that of my children, and myself, I look at the situation differently. Am I using technology or is it entertaining me? Am I spending time, or it just passing by. When we go toy free, we can still draw, write, find recipes, email and use our devices as tools. Work still gets done. This summer we have gone toy free at times. Geometry was studied, books were written, but no one got lost on Facebook or youtube, or level 38 of the game of the day.
When we use technology as a toy, we need to carefully monitor its’ use. Entertainment can enrich our lives. It can be a much needed break and be bonding, gathering time. Or it can divide. It’s subtle. Family members in separate corners on their own screens can be relaxing down time or it can be divisive. I want my children loving and learning and serving. That means limiting toy technology time.
Whenever we go tool only magic starts to happen. The children play outside more. We read more. Conversations happen. Siblings are looking into each other’s eyes. They play games, or make up games. They wiggle more. There is more crating and less fighting.
Yes it’s messier. Yes it’s challenging. There is more noise and chaos when we go “tool only”. But it feels better. Be brave!
I have children of a variety of ages and the littles don’t always understand how going toy free means plenty of screen time for their older siblings and next to none for them. They don’t understand that developmentally they may not be ready for using technology as a tool, just as they are ready to drive a car even when their feet reach the peddles or use knives just because they can reach them. It may feel arbitrary to a child when their sister looks like she loves writing while listening to music (she does) yet that is using the computer as a tool. That looks like play to them.
It is hard. What part of social media is real connecting and what part play? For me listening to music is using a device as a tool, can it become too much? What about drawing? Can the same website be both tool and toy? Thoughtful technology use is a challenge. We need to consciously choose how we use technology and continually update our parenting. I have found that using the terms toy and tool help our family use technology wisely. Your family may have different needs and a different family culture.
I believe we need common sense and critical thinking updates at least as often as we update our technology. We need to consider development and individual needs when we ponder screen time in our families.
School starts soon. I made all the necessary arrangements. I checked their supply lists twice. My children are all packed and ready to go. I start to ease up the wake up time so the first couple weeks of school won’t be so exhausting, and I feel my anxiety start to rise. I’m anxious because last year did not go well. One of my children in particular did worse and worse all throughout the year. As a student, I was “the teacher’s pet.” Now I’m afraid I might be raising “the teacher’s worst nightmare,” the child everyone wishes would get sick and stay home just for a day. I have to remind myself that “the child is the student, not me.” In my own defense, I decided to send a note to teachers and other parents like myself.
My cheeks burned. It was my first public humiliation as a parent. I had just learned that my four year old daughter did not sit still during library story time. The librarian’s message was clear. I needed to fix it, or we were not welcome. My sense of ineptitude erupted. Not only was my perfect child a problem, but I felt entirely unable to fix it. I felt the overwhelming injustice of being responsible for the behavior of another, something entirely outside of my control. It didn’t seem fair. I know how to sit still. If they had let me in there I certainly would have made sure she sat still or have taken her out. I felt powerless and responsible. It was awful!
I knew I had over-reacted. In fact, I was a little embarrassed about that, too. But my thoughts were caught in the loop of reality. As a parent, I was in fact responsible for something I could not directly control. It threw me for a loop. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for this. I follow rules. I know the teacher is a person and respect her. How could I teach these values to my own children? I didn’t know.
Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of practice since then. That first experience now makes me laugh. I’ve lived through much worse many times over. I’ve been humbled and humiliated many times. In spite of all the times I’ve felt in trouble for my children’s behavior, I would just like all teachers to know: I appreciate you. You are my heros. I respect you. Thank you for all you do for me and my children.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or does it?
I am not my child. While it is true that some tendencies and problems do tend to run in families, I had to learn this truth.
I am not my child. Sometimes I want to yell it at the top of my voice. Part of the time I need to hear it. It helps me remember that my children’s achievements that make me proud are from their efforts and do not belong to me. It also helps me remember that when they embarrass me that that is really okay. They aren’t me, and they deserve to be themselves and learn from their mistakes without me freaking out every time and being overly concerned about our family reputation.
Other times I need teachers and other parents to hear it. Please do not judge me so harshly. I am not my child. I would never intentionally teach disrespect, insubordination, rudeness or disobedience. What parent would? I’m on your side. I’m sad when they don’t care about their homework, ignore you or otherwise cause problems for you. If I was there, I would likely intervene. Believe it or not, I actually appreciate it when you don’t put up with it. I don’t want my children to be allowed to harm you or others or to think those types of behaviors are okay. When you take action sooner, we are all better off.
I’ve known teachers who are wonderful with children who are suddenly tongue-tied and uncomfortable around parents, I think for the same reason. No one likes to get attacked or judged based on the behavior of others. When my child does badly, it isn’t the teacher’s fault. It is more likely the child doesn’t understand something, didn’t study, did the work incorrectly or badly or didn’t do the work at all. A zero, even one, kills averages in the grade book.
“My teacher just hates me,” one of my children informed me trying to excuse a poor grade. If it is the teacher’s fault, there is no control and no responsibility, right? But we need to stop blaming people and stop feeling blamed. It may not be anyone’s “fault.” It might just be the way it is. One time after sitting an hour around a table with a panel full of teachers all informing me of what was wrong with my child, I felt like a mother bear about to strike. It really did seem like all the teachers were ganged up against him. It was an entirely negative, miserable situation for all of us.
If the child, teacher, and parent all feel attacked by each other, how can we possibly work as a team to solve the problem?
Dealing with Shame (and Pride)
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has studied shame and vulnerability. She points out that none of us likes the pain that comes with shame. It is really easy to blame others, ignore, or in other ways try to slide past or avoid confronting that pain. She has a personal mantra that she wrote for herself that helps her to deal with shame flare ups that we all occasionally feel:
“Don’t shrink, don’t puff up–stay on your sacred ground.” She also mentally reminds herself, “if I can choose pain now or resentment later, choose the pain.”
Her work has helped me process the times I over-react and understand that we are just all human. We are, and that’s okay. If you think about it, it has to be. The truth is, probably all three parties, the student, parents, and teacher could do something differently that might help. We certainly don’t have to point fingers or keep knocking down our best allies.
“Maladaptive” vs “Adaptive” Perfectionism
In a recent article by M. Sue Bergin, perfectionism is differentiated in a way I’ve never heard of before. In her article, “The Imperfectly Happy Family,” (BYU Magazine Summer 2015) she points out that many children are extremely successful and high achieving growing up in high-achieving, high expectation families. “For most of these high achievers, the trait [adaptive perfectionism] was positive, associated with low levels of depression and high life satisfaction.”
The problem is that for those with “maladaptive perfectionism” the children report being “anxious, depressed, and less satisfied with life.” So it seems perfectionism in families can be either a blessing or a curse, but not really ever neutral.
Of course we want our children to be both high-achieving and happy. What differentiates the two? Bergin explains that rigid or “maladaptive perfectionistic” family cultures may convey the message that if you don’t measure up, you don’t belong or you are worth less. She warns, “Unless parents communicate that it’s okay to fall short of the family standard and make mistakes, they could be setting up their children for emotional and spiritual problems.”
We want our children to rise up to lofty goals and expectations, not get beaten down by them. I hope to inspire not deflate. None of us does our best when we feel ineffective or defective.
“You can not make me not love you.”
That is my mantra. Sometimes I would say it in my mind over and over again when I was enduring a very long tantrum by a child much too old to be expressing himself in such a way. Others’ inappropriate behaviors can be incredibly difficult to live with and to be responsible for. But love and acceptance is a choice and a commitment that thankfully my kids can not control.
Here is where I have all the power. I can’t control all my kids do or say. I don’t like everything they do or say. And I’m absolutely certain that my parents likely felt the very same way. There is no perfect, dream child that is not also a fantasy. Children are very real and very human.
Since the beginning I’ve learned many reasons I never knew about that may be the cause or reason for illogical or unreasonable behaviors. I have a friend who was frustrated with her inconsolable crying child until she found out he had a major heart condition, an unseen cause. My children and many who have had childhood emotional or physical trauma have subconscious or emotional causes of irrational behavior that others don’t understand. Sometimes they don’t even understand it themselves. There are also physical causes in the brain that are only now becoming more known and understood.
We may never know why
We may never know why our children choose things we never would. But teachers and parents please know that it may not always even be in their control. Some causes are invisible. In some respects, we are all doing the best we can even if we can do better.
There are so many things I can not control, but this I know:
My boys are visiting me for the summer. I’m super excited, happy, and crazy busy! I don’t get as much sleep; I sometimes skip meals; and sometimes I feel like I’m run ragged. However, I wouldn’t change any of it. Isn’t that part of being a parent?
I have done menu planning, washed laundry the day before church, and still, without fail, something has prevented us from making it to church. The tub was leaking the first week, and we all had woken up super late. The next week, I washed their only pair of jeans (that I was going to allow them to go in, because they do not wear slacks to their church), and one boy wore them to the canyon where he fell into the river and then was scaling the river in his clean pants. Due to other people using the washer, I was unable to wash them the night before. The next day, my daughter told me that she was sad we weren’t able to go to church. That made me sad. I knew I needed to try harder this coming week.
Going from one child to three is a big change. The two are obviously older, and they are being raised differently than I would raise them. It’s just different. I’m sure people who have gone through a divorce and have a similar visitation situation know what I mean. That being said, I have to kind of roll with the punches, and keep a structured environment as much as possible. Easier said than done, right?
My boys were blessed in my church when they were about eight weeks old. They went to church with me; they went to church with my second husband and me. They enjoyed it and even spoke of becoming missionaries one day. Well, it was approaching their eighth birthday and someone called our house phone and my mother picked up. It was the primary president from the ward. In our church, we do believe that a child can be accountable for their own sins or transgressions at age eight. Thus at eight, our children are baptized by immersion and are given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Well, my boys went to live with my first husband, their dad, before their sixth birthday. I also hadn’t spoken with them for two years. When the primary president asked my mom if I would be having them baptized, my mom immediately began crying. She told her that the boys live with their father in California and are not attending the LDS church anymore. It broke our hearts to even talk about it.
When I received a text message from their stepmother that the boys had joined a different church, my heart sank. My silver lining to this was that they would at least delve into understanding the love of Christ. When I began seeing them after our visitation was established in the courts, I was not ready to take them to church. But their father had expected me to. Their visit was only two weeks. I told him, next time. Well, the next time, they fought me, and they fought me. I even told them that their dad expected me to take them to church, and they still told me that they didn’t want to go.
I wasn’t quite sure of what to do. I know I wasn’t as committed to attending church then, as I am now, but I still wasn’t quite sure. So, I spoke to their father again, and confirmed that they were allowed to go to my church, and that it is expected that they go. They did not bring church clothes, or church shoes, so I told them that they will be going in their jeans and their sneakers. I mentioned that their baby sister and I could not miss seven weeks of church, so we will be attending. Guess what? They did not fight me one bit.
I am not a mother of older children who have chosen to no longer be a member of our faith, or who just stopped going. I do know that my own mother has struggled with the fact that her children have not been active at times. My oldest brother had a difficult time when he was a teen. But before he married his wife, he asked her to take the missionary lessons to become a member of the church. We were so pleased to hear this. My sister in law was baptized and though they don’t currently attend church, she sometimes thumbs through the Book of Mormon to find comfort and peace. Another brother has had a job where he works on Sundays, but was reactivated by the missionaries, and has been finding a way to go to even a portion of church each Sunday. I am so happy with his choice to do this! My mother is ecstatic!
My youngest brother is struggling quite a bit with his own choices. We pray for him on a continuing basis and we know that the Lord is watching over him, and protecting him the best He can. My heart goes out to those parents who struggle with this situation. I know I have told my mom, in the hopes of comforting her, that the right values and teachings were instilled in us as young children and teens, but that we chose to go another way. We made those choices. We all have to be accountable for what we do in our lifetime.
I pray for my boys to make the right choices, I pray that they will have softened hearts and open minds. Perhaps maybe one day missionaries will approach them, and they will be ready to listen. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I cannot foresee the future. But I can continue to pray for their guidance, and their protection. I also pray for myself to be an example to them. When they are with me, I do teach them about unconditional love and some of the basic principles that Jesus taught while on the earth. I know I could do more, but as I have said before, baby steps. Part of being that example is attending church regularly! I know I will put forth much more of an effort in the following weeks that they are here. I am more committed to it now.
Our beloved President Monson told us in October 2014 Conference, “With the parable of the lost sheep, [Jesus] instructs us to go to the rescue of those who have left the path and have lost their way.”
Be one who reaches out to a lost sheep, and even if they are not ready, be there for them. Be an example to them, and perhaps when they are ready, they will reach out to you.
Over dinner one night there was discussion about the vicissitudes of life with my Down syndrome son and his level of cooperation in our household comings and goings when my sister-in-law asked: “There hasn’t been that many times you’ve missed doing something you wanted to do though, has there?” Our answers overlapped in the air as I heard my husband reply “Not really,” while I was saying “Thousands”.
We laughed! Raising the same child in the same house has apparently yielded different experiences. When there is something that our Down syndrome son refuses to do, is too ill to do, or wouldn’t enjoy to the point of negatively impacting all participants, somebody has had to stay home. And although we make the decision one event at a time, I am usually that one who stays behind. So when she asked – I guess the number added up pretty quickly in my mind.
Divide and conquer . . .
To be clear, divide and conquer is a strategy that has worked for us, that’s why we could laugh about our separate answers. In our circumstance walking away isn’t abandoning, it’s supporting. It is so often the only way to get done what needs to be done. If not for the divide strategy, we would never have conquered the building of a diverse and interesting life for our other children, so it fulfills my prime directive!
The big things like camping trips I could list specifically but there are myriad other times that when looked at logically, made sense for him to go while I stayed. I suppose the one going out doesn’t notice the difference so much once the decision is made. The verdict doesn’t always take long for example at a party or a meeting where my husband and I can communicate quickly and then split off in opposite directions, each one knowing who is on the job for Joe till the next crossing of paths . . . for us this divergence represents a togetherness of purpose, if not actual togetherness.
As he walks away I might be thinking “Thanks for letting the big kids have this good time”, or “Thanks for taking Joey out of my earshot for a while”. “Thanks for giving me this minute to myself” is a sentiment often to be appreciated. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with him/them, but every mother of any child who can’t be left alone knows what a sustenance a little time can be. So whether my husband is spending time with our other children, attending an event alone, or entertaining Joey alone, the time we are apart can be a gift to me.
How might a dad feel . . .
When Joey was first diagnosed with Down syndrome 6 months before he was born, I remember the genetic counselor saying that having a handicapped child can be especially hard on dads. The reasons are complex: dread of not knowing what to do, distress over being different, anxiety for the child’s self-worth, fear that the child will not become independent, do things that might embarrass, or be seen as less than other’s children. She said these were all things to watch for and could have a destructive effect on the father’s ability to bond with the child. My husband was away on business during this meeting but I took it to heart and paid attention when the time came.
From the first moment one could have shouted from the rooftops “Not to worry!” – my husband’s attachment to our handicapped son has been a blessing to me. I can’t recall any specific events but I know that along with the countless times we have had to work separately in our days, there have also been thousands of times that I have been there to observe those two together. Behind my eyes is the whisper of the counselor’s caution and even if my husband noticed he wouldn’t know that my tearful smile is in gratitude for how far away we are from what she said might be possible. The love that my husband has for this son is not one bit different than he has for our other children. In caring for Joey, he does now and has always demonstrated the personification of the expression “all the feeling of a tender parent” (Book of Mormon, 1 Ne. 8:37). They have routines and a verbal shorthand that my son loves and which gives him a great part of his identity. Building a treehouse in the yard, sharing the Little League baseball team Joey’s been on for 15 years, or working the same puzzles for the umpteenth time, they do have a lot of fun and are great pals.
What’s in dad’s mind . . .
Playing a “get-to-know-you” game with a church youth group, my husband once drew the question “If you could hear what someone else is thinking for a day, who would you choose and why?” With all the people in human history as possibilities, he chose “Joey” as his answer. I don’t think I am clever enough to have thought of it but of course it is the perfect answer.
Even though we live in the same house and have the same children, our experiences are unique. Even though we are working toward the same goals, much of the time we take different paths. Though we’re not always in the same place at the same time, it is easy for me to say of him: “I know that you ‘know how to give good gifts unto your children’ (Luke 11:13).” I celebrate that in him – it is one of the greatest gifts he could ever give to me too.
Divide . . . doesn’t seem like a way to bring a family together, but it has worked that way for us!
“She always gets the biggest piece!” I can still hear my sister’s shrill, whiney voice from my childhood, complaining that there was, in fact, a bigger piece of pie, and it wasn’t hers. Sometimes we all want a bigger piece of the pie. Is it really wrong to want more? I don’t think so. I believe that although resources may be limited, together we can make the pie as big as we want.
My children are, like so many of us, unsatisfied. They want a bigger piece. “You are not fair,” one daughter informed me. I know this is a common childhood perception. I don’t even expect to purchase each child the exact same things. For example, I don’t buy all five of my children new shoes because one child needs them. I don’t think that would be fair. Still, I investigated it further. What was causing this unhappiness? “She always gets everything she wants from you,” she explained, pointing at another sister. I thought about it. It was often true. Maybe I’m not fair, but it isn’t all my fault.
This daughter is very good at getting what she wants and needs. How does she do it? It was a wonderful question. I thought, how can someone get “everything” they want from me? I love to say yes and help people. What makes it easier for some? I think the invisible answer is hidden in the proactive way that she negotiates with me.
Since assertive negotiation can be so useful and so difficult to discover, I wrote down the secret recipe for “how to get everything you want from me”:
Figure out what you need beforehand and ask me well in advance, at least a week in advance or more if it is big or important or has to be at a specific time.
Ask for it very specifically and tell me why you need it.
Assume I want to help, but also listen to my reaction with patience and empathy. Knowing that I might be inconvenienced by this request and giving me time to consider it without taking my emotional reaction (if any) personally is so helpful.
Don’t emotionally react yourself. Instead, wait it out.
If possible, listen for the reason why I can’t or don’t want to fulfill this request. If I’m not immediately happy to help, find out why.
Understand that I need things, too.
If possible, propose a plan that meets both of our needs, or work out a win/win plan with me. This, then, becomes our plan.
Don’t just ask for things, be willing to give something, too.
Be willing to change something or let go of some aspects of how to get it done if you want me to do it. (If you want something done right, as in your way, do it yourself)
Don’t be afraid to remind me especially if it is important to you. I am very focused and very distractible, so it is very easy for me to accidentally let you down. Please do not take this personally and understand that I may not be like you.
Own what you need, always. If I can’t help you or do what you want, or even if I let you down, if you own your own problems and persist in finding another way to get what you want, you and I will both appreciate it. I want you to have what you need.
Accept apologies and don’t hold grudges. The past is gone and there is nothing I can do to fix it. We can make a better plan for next time. We can both figure out our part and say sorry. But please don’t blame me if you don’t get everything you want the way you wanted it.
When we figure out what we want or need and then use our own planning, efforts, teamwork, negotiation skills and perseverance to make our dreams come true in appropriate and healthy ways, it builds confidence. Being assertive is self-affirming.
For even better results, we could use Professor Overstreet’s advice as quoted by Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends & Influence People,
“First arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”
Like Huck Finn helped others feel blessed to pay him for the opportunity to whitewash the fence, surely we can help others want to help us out when we make it truly beneficial to them.
Dare to consider and ask for what you want and need
As children grow through their teen years, parents are challenged with difficult situations. Teenagers can be emotionally demanding at times, and parental rewards are few and far between. One payback which warms the heart for parents is to hear their children tell them after they are grown what they had learned and appreciated from them. I was reading in the Ensign, a magazine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, in the March issue, which talks about the lessons learned from parents. This is a great payback for any parent, and all the hard work in successful parenting definitely pays off.
There are many areas where parents have helped their youth learn to deal with life’s hardships. If diligent and loving, parents can make a difference in the life of their children. Here are some insights and lessons taken from grown children about their parents:
“I learned that I should never leave my church but always hang on to the gospel of Jesus Christ. My parents were always faithful in church attendance and service which made for a loving home. This example helped me to know that it is important to always attend church.”
“Keep your life balanced. Not too much TV, not playing too many video games, no long stays at friends’ houses. No drinking or smoking. Keep healthy and your life should be in balance. At first I didn’t like all the rules but looking back, I realized how much better my life was with rules. I am thankful for them.”
“My mom always told me to look on the bright side of life. Tomorrow is always a better day and it can’t be all that bad. I try to do the same.”
“My mom told me that I should always eat healthy and keep my weight under control. I didn’t have to be a super sports player but if I exercised regularly, it helped me feel better about myself and she was right.”
“Even though I hated to hear it, I needed to remember that life isn’t fair. I remember my mother telling me this a lot. I would say, ‘that’s not fair’ and then she would say, ‘no one said life is fair, because it isn’t’. I had to learn to do the best I could with what happened to me.”
“My parents used to repeat, ‘Never give up, never surrender’ from the movie Galaxy Quest and it gave me strength to keep going. It became a joke after a while but those words stuck during challenges in my life.”
“As a single Mom, my mother would pray all the time. That’s what gave her strength and that taught me to do the same. I should always pray when I need comfort and determination.”
“I was taught to always help others. My parents did that for others and the example they set for me shows in all of their children. Always help others who are in trouble or cannot help themselves.”
“My parents always taught me to be a good worker. If you were paid a wage then you should give that time to your employer. I always had good work references because of that work ethic I learned from my parents.”
Listening to adult children talk about what they learned from their parents strengthens parents who are teaching their children now. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel and know there is hope that someday their children will talk about how they were helped by the example of righteousness and keeping their eye on what is important.
Do you have “to dos” on your list forever, transferring them down the line for weeks or even months? I think we had ‘get our will notarized’ on my list for over a year before we finally got it done. Making insurance calls is another task that sits there waiting for me.
Who loves to call, wait on hold for an actual person for over an hour, get transferred three times and then your call drops or you are lucky enough to get a machine asking you to leave a message? I think I’d rather clean my oven.
What about finding time to do something you enjoy like go to the beach, watch the sunset, relax and read a book just because, or watch your child play? I find it at least as easy to leave out the enjoyable, quiet, and relaxing times as to avoid the dirty work. It seems so luxurious and indulgent to read while the work isn’t done. But, it is never done.
So, what is the solution? How can we make time to help others, get the nasty stuff done so it stops clogging up and haunting our lists, and also make time to care for ourselves and fully experience the depth and beauty of life, nature and our relationships?
I watched my daughter at the elementary school fair. She was in line for some cotton candy. She was older than most of the kids and so was being kind and letting them go ahead of her in line. It quickly became clear to me that at this rate she very literally would never get any. It was a whole school worth of children lining up, a never-ending supply. I appreciated this lesson she taught me with her “kindness” because it taught me something about mine: Taking a turn does not hurt anyone. If she had stayed in line, all the others would have had their turn as well. Her missing out did not help anyone.
This also taught me something about my method of prioritizing. In my mind, previously, I always thought in a constant, nearly solid prioritization ranking. When any two choices came up, I would compare their relative priority in my life. For example, if I could do something for my child or something for my neighbor, and these options were in conflict,
I’d take care of the child. Or, I’d rank them based on necessity—needs before wants sort of like an ER room ranks and helps people in order of severity. My mom calls it “putting out fires.”
What is wrong with that? Is it obvious to you? I couldn’t see it.
In business efficiency classes, I’ve been taught several different ways to eliminate unimportant things from my life. Eliminating unimportant things makes time for the critically urgent or important things. But these classes just don’t apply to my life. They never have. Because for one example, they said, eliminate answering the phone. Let someone else get that message for you so you can concentrate, etc. Well, guess whose job it was to answer the phones? Yes, mine! My job as the office manager was to take care of those urgent things so other people could concentrate. That is how it is for me at home as well. Even if you can, successfully, delegate the non-urgent interruptions and prevent a lot more, I noticed something:
We all need time for not urgent, unimportant things, because even these things become important if they are totally neglected. I could give you so many examples! I need balance and that means that sometimes I need a phone call with a friend just to chat and connect. Sometimes I need to draw with my kids just for fun. Sometimes we need a vacation to explore and think and feel alive. These “not urgent, “unimportant” things also need a turn. If they stay stuck at the bottom of the list, it is certain death—like my daughter, there will be no cotton candy. Whatever is at the bottom of the list does only one thing, fall off.
I’ve decided I can not leave them out. Everything needs a turn. There will always be problems and surprises that rearrange our best intentions, but if every priority takes a turn on top, it won’t be procrastinated forever. Time won’t always run out for that particular thing, and it won’t continue to mock me at the bottom of the list.
It is so simple, but so powerful.
Like in volleyball, take turns in positioning.
Figure out your true priorities, all of them, and then — Rotate.
I had unwittingly jumped off a cliff. My husband and I adopted three children under three, a sibling group, and my life was forever changed. We took a step of faith into the dark and had no idea where we were going. Except we love children. I love to help people. I’m the oldest child of a very large family, and my husband is, too. We weren’t going in blind, but it sort of felt like it. It was a huge leap of faith.
I call the time before that in my life BK (before kids). BK I knew who I was, where I was headed and frankly which side was up. I usually knew what day it was, had personal projects I liked to do and read and spent a lot of time with my husband. We spoiled our dog almost to insanity.
AK (after kids) I was drowning. But, I was deliriously happy. My husband and I were living a dream come true. I don’t want you to think for one minute that anything I did was wrong to me at the time. I enjoyed every minute of losing myself. I think much of what I did was necessary to meet the needs of my young, demanding children at the time. I quit my job to become a full-time mother. It was a complete lifestyle change–2 incomes, no kids, to 1 income, 3 kids.
Sacrifices had to be made, and we lovingly made them.
I’m sharing this because maybe you, too, have lovingly overextended yourself. I know that many people in the “helping” professions like nursing, elderly care, teachers and those caring for young children regularly “burn out.” When we grieve, or experience major health, ability, relationship, or even location changes, we can feel lost. I didn’t even realize what was happening at the time, but I was burning out.
I feel strongly, now, that self-improvement begins with knowing and being aware of yourself. I had let my role consume me. I no longer ever thought about what I wanted or needed, instead, just doing what had to be done. I’ve always felt like the hero is the one who solves the problem. I had dropped all my other interests to focus on this one role and calling. It was glorious. I felt like a hero and I was so blessed, but there were side effects.
I spent half the morning trying to get my children dressed, fed, and their fabulously curly hair under control. They just couldn’t seem to get the routine. One day I was tired, frustrated and not dressed, fed, or having beautiful hair, either, when I saw myself in the mirror. I wondered, “How can they “get it” if I am not modeling it?”
So, that is my challenge for you today: to love [yourself] as your [neighbor] (see St. Matthew 19:19). Even if you don’t feel lost and you are incredibly focused, maybe you took off with your 2015 goals sprinting through the gate, let’s take a moment to look at ourselves in the mirror.
The number one cause of physical fitness failure is burn out–”too much, too soon.” Is your pacing working out for you? Are you caring well for yourself, physically? I have to admit that this January I’ve had far too much exercise and not enough rest for my own good. Is how you are “improving” yourself a regimen you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?
Or if, like I was, you are lost somewhere in the midst of swirling roles and responsibilities, having a hard time finding yourself, take heart. There so many things I’ve learned I’d love to share with you. Maybe something I’ve learned will help or give you an idea. In the mean time, I’m sending you what hope I can and suggest you take hold of your name. I’ll explain what I mean.
When I was a year or so into motherhood, I had lost my name. I was “my honey,” I was “mom”. I was a “teacher.” But no one called me by my name. My sister gave me a gift for my birthday. It was a hand-sewn, pink calico heart-shaped pillow with “DarEll” embroidered across the front. When I received it, I cried and cried. My sister must’ve thought I’d lost it. Her gift helped me realize how much I missed myself.
So, today, I’m wishing you a cosmic, heart shaped pillow, hand embroidered with your own, unique name. Remember who you are. Take care of your body. You are not gone. I promise.
One of our other bloggers, Nanette, had some additional good thoughts on all of this. Check them out.
Namaste (a yoga term meaning “the divine in me honors the divine in you”),
Janus was a Roman god with two faces, one looking to the past and other to the future. He symbolized change and transitions from one vision to another, and the passage of time. He also represented the growth from innocence to wisdom.
I am a big history buff, so you can imagine my surprise when my husband gave me what he termed, “the gift of Janus” this Christmas.
From a tiny metal box plugged into our computer, I was able to view picture after picture of the start of our life together. We had lost all of these memories after our old computer died, taking its treasures to the grave. My husband had wisely saved the wasted corpse and had secretly asked a friend to “do whatever it takes” to save those files.
There was our past displayed on the screen before us, pre-crazy boys. I didn’t have bags under my eyes and my hair and clothes weren’t wrinkled. My husband wasn’t wrestling wild children. Instead, I was the one he had his eyes on. That was our innocence.
While those images skidded across the screen I yearned for that time as a newly married couple. Then I heard my boys say: “Where am I? Why am I not there? Am I in your tummy yet?” Looking across the heads of our three little boys at my husband, I was hit with wisdom. Our children had come between us, but they had made us a family.
Truly, it was a gift worthy of the Roman god Janus.
And it reminded me of a quote I had heard somewhere in time that says:
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow…”
– Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory
Viewing the pictures of my yesterday with my today crawling all around me, I wondered about the tomorrow that was upon us–the new year. What did my husband and I hope for? Was there a way to restore that romance that I had just witnessed between us as newlyweds?
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”- Albert Einstein
The answer is yes, there is a way. Setting goals together is a way to restore the romance. It may not be the most obvious of romantic gestures, but it gives you and your husband a chance to get to know one another again.
Setting goals together will:
1. strengthen relationships by giving you the opportunity to work as a team towards a common ambition.
2. improve communication and understanding as you sit down together and discuss personal desires.
3. legitimize desires and hold you accountable to working towards common element.
4. allow you to support and cheer one another on.
5. contribute to overall satisfaction as goals are achieved.
6. provide you with a chance to celebrate the life you are building together.
Perhaps your relationship looks a little like mine, with kids always between you and your husband. Maybe you are like me and wonder how you can restore some of that newlywed romance back into your marriage. Is there even time to sit down and set goals together?
Sitting down together in a quiet kid-free setting is not only okay, it is a solemn responsibility.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World also states that:
“Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness and to teach them to love and serve one another….”
Taking time out to renew relationships with our spouse provides the perfect opportunity to teach children about love and service. You serve someone when you give them your time. You grow to love someone as you serve them. And you model service and love to your children when you treat your husband as someone worthy of your time.
When you set your goals together, remember that marriage is ordained of God. No relationship is complete without invoking the help of our Heavenly Father. Join together in prayer as you seek to set worthy goals, asking for God’s direction.
“… for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,” (Romans 8:26-27, King James Bible).
Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of Janus too. Go for a trip down memory lane together and remember just why you chose this guy again. Treasure how innocent you were yesterday, recognize the wisdom you’ve gained today, and have faith in the hope together you have planned for tomorrow.
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