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.
With Christmas around the corner parents are buying presents for their children to be placed under the tree. Choosing gifts can sometimes be agonizing as we try to choose the right kind of gift that will be memorable, yet useful and appropriate. Video games are one of those choices.
One of the most favorite past times of the younger generation is playing video games. Hours upon hours of time are spent pushing buttons or moving joy sticks. As a leisure time activity this allotment of time spent staring at a TV screen is relaxing to the participant, but is very distracting in the way of other enterprises. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a mother of nine children I’m not totally opposed to playing video games, but there are some precautions I would like to share in video game time for our youth.
Time taken away from others. It’s easy to get sucked up into a video game and not realize how much time has gone by. Before you know the whole day has passed and the hours spent playing video games cannot be called back.
From a talk given by Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was published in the Ensign Magazine November 2000 (page 66) a poignant ideal is shared. “Near the end of his life, one father looked back on how he had spent his time on earth. An acclaimed, respected author of numerous scholarly works, he said, ‘I wish I had written one less book and taken my children fishing more often.’ Time passes quickly. Many parents say that it seems like yesterday that their children were born. Now those children are grown, perhaps with children of their own. “Where did the years go?” they ask. We cannot call back time that is past, we cannot stop time that now is, and we cannot experience the future in our present state. Time is a gift, a treasure not to be put aside for the future but to be used wisely in the present.”
We are given so much time in the day. We can either spend it helping each other and accomplishing something good or waste it participating in what seems like leisure but in actuality is harmful in large doses. Your child is only under your roof for 18 years and flies by very quickly. An allotted amount of time should be set each week for children playing on video games.
War games promote revenge: I was sitting in a Sunday School class a few weeks ago listening to a discussion about how we are taught by the lessons of Jesus Christ in forgiving others. One woman brought up the idea that children playing video war games learn revenge instead of forgiveness. A light bulb went on in my head and the more I thought of that idea, the more I realized how right she is. Not only are there many video games which become very addictive and entice children to play for hours at a time but these same war games children love to play so much teaches that it is better to blow the enemies away by gunning them down than by talking out their problems.
Is it better as Christian families to promote inflicting injury or carrying a bitter desire to hurt another of God’s children in the name of winning a game? I think not. Day after day of shooting the enemy can desensitize the ability to think clearly on the more important matters as in communicating with one another and forgiving each other for our faults. Video games don’t promote such ideals, especially video war games. Take a good look at what your children are playing and think about the messages these “games” profess.
Playing video games promotes lack of physical activity: If a child is so interested in playing video games, then why would he/she inconvenience themselves to run around and play? This is a big distraction from physical activity and creative playing time. When the electricity goes out from storms in our area, it is amazing how children will congregate outside because they are “bored” with nothing to do. They usually busy themselves with simple games and talk. Not so with the distraction of video games. Unless someone tells them specifically “it’s time to turn it off,” they will keep on playing. Why are video games so addictive? According to media literacy specialist, Dr. Charles Ungerleider, “they are very compelling with increasing complexity, so the child becomes more facile, yet wants to know more and learns new skills. While wanting to improve their game isn’t a problem in itself, it becomes one if video games are taking a child away too much from other activities.”
Our youth need parents to remind them of when to stop playing and switch to an alternative activity. It’s an inconvenience for both the parent and the children because the parents know their children should be playing outside or doing other things but children are so preoccupied by these games they don’t want to stop. I know this from experience.
Christmas is such a wonderful family time of the year. All children can play video games and have fun too when there are ground rules set by parents. Abuse of their playing time (more than two hours a day) can lead to distant relationships and less physical activity. When there is a cap on playing time, parents will see a difference in their child’s attitude and spend more quality time doing something fun and healthy.
Back in 1990, we lived in El Cajon, California (near San Diego) and frequented the beaches quite often. Having five children at the time and not a lot of money in our budget, we brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Another family on the beach was barbecuing hamburgers, which smelled wonderful. The father of this family had a jovial presence, as we heard him laughing a lot throughout the day. When the time came to pack up and leave, my husband made a comment of how great their barbecue smelled compared to our measly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The man (seeing how many children we had) offered us his hamburgers. We were surprised at such an offer, because we were complete strangers to him and he was sharing his lunch. We told him no, thank you, but thought how nice he was to offer. We exchanged a few pleasantries and found out he was a carpet layer studying to be a paralegal.
The very next day we turned on the evening news to see this same man’s picture on the screen as the reporter announced his heroic act in stopping a burglar. Without fear for his own life, this man, named Gary Smith, heard a woman scream next door to where he was laying carpet. Gary ran out to investigate and found a man robbing a woman in her own apartment. The robber took off running and Gary caught up with him. There was a struggle. The burglar finally pulled out a gun and shot Gary four times at point blank range. Gary was taken to the hospital where they operated on him five times to save his life. He lasted six days and then passed away. Over 1,000 people donated blood for him. He left three children behind fatherless.
It seemed unbelievable to me that we were brought together with Gary Smith and his family just the day before. This man was a hero in the truest sense of the word. He not only unselfishly helped others he didn’t know, he gave his life to save another.
As a people, we need more heroes in our lives, great examples of men and women in mankind who unselfishly give of themselves without thought of what they might get in return. These heroes touch the lives of other human beings in a positive way.
Families benefit greatly from such heroes. Think of those parents who unselfishly give of their time to nurture and teach their children to live lives of goodness. Think of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings all working together for the good of the family. They are all heroes in touching the life of another.
Parents, and other family members who do so much to take care of their children through difficult times not expecting anything in return but to raise their children to be good people touch lives for generations to come. Gary Smith, who gave his life in helping that woman, touched the lives of many all over San Diego on the news that night and reminded us how important it is to help another in trouble. Where there was despondency and despair, there is hope. Where there is hopelessness and grief, there is caring. Touching the life of another will always keep us faithful in our conviction of what is most important in life.
Mormons believe in God and in Jesus Christ—the very same ones found in the Holy Bible. Of course, there are a few things we know about Him that others have forgotten, but the most important thing is that we know God loves us and is our Father in Heaven. Today, we’re going to take a brief look at who the Mormons know God to be, and I am going to demonstrate how some of the things I know about God helped me learn how to parent. I wasn’t the perfect parent, but like most parents, I tried my best. The more closely I studied how God parents, the better I did at my own parenting.
God Loves Us Even When We’re Imperfect
Everything starts with God’s love. Mormons have a particularly powerful reason to believe God loves us personally. We believe we lived with Him after our spirits were created. This was before we came to earth to receive bodies. We built a personal relationship with God at that time. He knew us and we knew Him, and so, when He plans for us, it is all done knowing who we are, and it is the result of a very powerful and very personal parental love. That love impacts every decision He makes about the world and about us.
I have sometimes been told that Mormons live their lives thinking God hates them when they sin. This is not true. Every parent knows we still love our children when they are doing something wrong. We are sad when they make mistakes, but we still love them. We know they are not going to be perfect, and God knows we aren’t going to be perfect. We teach our children how to repent, as God taught us to repent, and we do our best to help them progress towards the person we know they can be. God’s love for us on our worst days helped me to remember to be loving on my children’s worst days.
God Makes Rules Because He Loves Us
Some people think Mormonism has too many rules—with some thinking even one rule is too many. As a parent, I learned that having rules for my children was important. When I babysat for children before my marriage, I saw how cruel it was to let children live without rules. I saw children who were not welcome anywhere because they had no self-discipline, no concern for anyone but themselves, and no training in how to behave. I vowed to make sure my children would be welcome in the world and that meant giving them rules.
Rules also kept my children safe. They used car seats, weren’t allowed to use the stove without supervision, ate healthy foods, and followed other safety rules. They didn’t always appreciate the rules when they were young, but as adults, two of whom are parenting their own children, they understand them now.
Heavenly Father gives us rules for the same reason. He wants us to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally safe. The rules, which are known as commandments, help us to do that. He doesn’t want us to be lazy, immoral, unkind, and unfocused people. We can choose to be, but He provides all the rules we need to help us become worthy to return home to Him someday and also to live great lives today. Mormons avoid so many of life’s trials by avoiding so many things the world considers acceptable, even when the evidence shows those practices are bad for us.
God has a Plan for Us
When God created us, He had a plan. Actually, He had a lot of plans. He had a master plan for all His children as a family, but He also had individual plans for each one of us. Our personal plans are the result of having gotten to know us personally before we were born, because we lived with Him after our spirits were created.
These plans mean that the commandments He makes, the events He has happen to us (or allows to happen) and the situations we find ourselves in often have a purpose. He has certain things He wants us to learn and certain ways He wants us to grow. He plans to make them all possible. While we can’t always be forced to take on the opportunities, they are offered to us.
When I raised my own children, I also had goals—goals for us as a family and goals for each child. I worked to create situations that would help those goals happen. I had a child with special needs, so I scheduled in the therapy I had to do and also arranged for her to do things that would allow her to progress as far as she could, which turned out to be further than many doctors thought possible. When I informed one doctor my child had learned to ride a bike, he said that was impossible. I told him that fortunately, no one had told her that. I wanted to be like God in that way. He often puts me into situations no one thinks I can do, and even more often into situations I don’t think I can do, so that I can learn I can indeed do them.
God Has a Plan, but Gives us Agency
One of the hardest parts of parenting, for me, was letting go and allowing my children some agency. I noted, however, that God gives His children the right to make choices for themselves, so I tried to give my own children choices. We began with simple choices: Do you want to wear the blue dress or the pink dress?” We worked our way up to the bigger choices: “What kind of science do you want to study next semester?” “What career do you have in mind?” “Is that a party you feel comfortable attending?”
It wasn’t easy, but I understood why God gives us agency—and I suspect it isn’t always easy for Him, either. It’s hard to let your children make choices when you know they are wrong. Sometimes, though, the only way we learn is by doing things incorrectly and then fixing them. Sometimes, we just need to choose who we want to be. I matched the amount of agency to their age, of course, as responsible parents do, but I did give it to them.
God Allows Us to Experience Consequences
Choices have consequences. We can choose what to do, but we can’t avoid the consequences, either to ourselves or to others. This is good, because consequences often help us to see for ourselves what is good and what isn’t. Negative consequences often help us to find the motivation to change.
God isn’t ignoring us when He lets us face the consequences. He is there and He is sad that we are having to suffer. He wants us to see for ourselves that we’ve made a bad choice and to decide for ourselves to change. We can go to Him for help when we’re truly ready to do that. As a mother, I tried to do the same thing—to be there when my children were ready to make a better choice and to believe they were capable of doing that.
God Really Wants us to Return Home Someday
When I had my first child, I sat down and made a list of my goals for her. Of course, as I became more experienced at parenting, I altered some of those goals, but I always worked from my goals as I made choices for my family. I wanted them to have the very best mortal and eternal life possible.
Heavenly Father has mortal and eternal goals for us, and they are perfect. Focusing our lives on achieving God’s goals for us is one of the greatest gifts we can offer Him. He wants us to return safely home to us. He knows it isn’t easy—but He also did everything He could to make it possible. However, eternity is up to us. His longing for us to return home is powerful, but in the end, it is entirely up to us to decide how much that return means to us. Does it mean enough that we’re making the necessary sacrifices, giving up our sins, repenting, and keeping the commandments? Are we staying focused on eternity?
I set out to be a good parent, and I could find no better role model than God Himself.
Back to school is an exciting time for some children and a stressful time for others. Some children have anxiety with change, and a new school year brings lots of changes. Other children just get so overly enthusiastic that it boils over into anticipatory craziness for parents, which can cause stress in marriage.
The summer sunshine and fresh air seems to make children grow several inches—at least it did mine. By the end of summer, it always seemed nothing in their closet fit. Back to school also can mean a strain on the budget. In addition to clothing, there are backpacks, lunch boxes, and endless school supplies to purchase. Believe it or not, this does not have to crunch your budget.
First, it is important that these expenses are placed in your budget well in advance of the beginning of school—plan for it as a recurring annual expense. Second, be realistic about what actually needs to be purchased. It might be helpful to read an article I wrote a while back, “Don’t Let Finances Defeat Your Marriage.”
Let’s talk about what is really important to your children when it comes to back to school issues. First, children need to know that you love them. That should go without saying. Second, they need a good education. Everything else is just not relevant. They don’t need all new clothes. They don’t need a brand new backpack every year. They don’t need a new lunch box every year. They don’t need to look like fashion models on magazine covers.
I kept a large box on the top shelf of my children’s closet containing hand-me-down clothing from relatives and friends. Every August (and any other time my children needed clothes or shoes) I took the box down and we went “shopping.” If what they needed could not be found in the box, then I made a list of what the kids needed. Second-hand thrift stores were next on my list. I tried to give each child one special outfit to start school on the first day—which is not to say that it was purchased new. Whether it was from “the box”, from a thrift store, or purchased brand new, it was something that the child felt special wearing for the first day of school.
When I was a kid, backpacks had not yet been invented. We wrapped waxed paper from the inside of bread bags around our books to keep them dry from the elements. (Yes, I know, I’m old, and most readers won’t even know that bread bags used to contain wax paper.) Then we put an extra wide rubber band over the stack of books, tied a piece of clothesline rope to the rubber band, and threw them over our shoulder. I’m not suggesting that we go back to that system. I just bring it up here to make the point that a brand new $40-$80 backpack each year is simply not necessary. Look around your home and see what might be used in place of a backpack. My kids used canvas shopping bags much of their time in elementary school. Backpacks may be more of a help as they get older and have more books to carry.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending a child to school with a paper bag lunch. As a matter of fact, a bag lunch will fit better into that canvas bag (or backpack). If a lunch box is purchased, make sure to purchase one that will last more than one year. When a lunch box is lost on the playground, the answer is, “Oh well, I guess you need to learn to be responsible.”
In cold climates, coats are necessary; but brand new coats are not. Coats often can be purchased from thrift stores, and then passed around the family for years. We don’t live in snow country, so most of the time my kids preferred to wear sweatshirts or sweaters anyway.
School supplies are important. Your children need the basics for the first week, and the teachers will send home a laundry list the first day of things to purchase later. It is often wise not to purchase too much before you get the teacher’s list. You do want to pick up things on sale prior to the start of school that you know for sure they will need. There are times, however, when you come in contact with a teacher who is completely out of line in the types of supplies they want you to purchase. I remember a particular teacher who wanted us to purchase a $17 art kit from the local art supply store when a box of crayons and maybe a few cheap markers would have done the trick. I simply went to the teacher and told her that I didn’t have $17 to throw at an art kit, and I was willing to bet that there were other families that didn’t either. It turned out that the teacher had never even considered the economic struggles of some of the families until I brought up the matter.
Here’s the nuts and bolts of this thing. If you don’t need the stress in your marriage from the financial woes of the back to school sting, don’t get stung. Use your imagination and work the problem. Your children will survive (and actually benefit from) not keeping up with the Joneses. If you give your children everything they want, they will never understand the meaning of the word no, and they will never understand how to work for what they need.
Today’s society is all about my rights. Little is said about my responsibilities, but a lot about my rights. I would like to focus today about not just my responsibilities, but our responsibilities, as parents to teach the gospel to our children.
This is not one of those articles where I run the gambit and tell everyone what lousy parents they are for deliberately neglecting their children. I won’t tell you that you have been derelict or malicious or anything of the sort. If I did any of those things I would have to be looking in the mirror when I said them, and I’m not so comfortable with the subject as to put myself through that kind of guilt trip. Instead, I would like to take a short behavioral inventory of my own life as a parent. My children are all grown and out of the house, so I am in a perfect position to play a little game of Retrospect.
In this day and age in America we tend to look at all institutions outside our homes as being responsible for the influence they have on our family. Unfortunately, we rarely hold them accountable for the effects of their influence. Examples include the power many of us give the public school systems to teach our children about life, behavior, attitudes, and about the world. We take our children to movies sometimes, because we believe it has a good message. But I would whisper in your ear, “But what about all the other messages that same movie teaches about attitudes towards values we as Latter-day Saints don’t accept?” We ship our children off to a sitter, in many cases, so we can earn that second income and have a better standard of living. We don’t always require a second income, and the Prophet has told us to stay home to raise our children unless we cannot survive without that income. But many times we convince ourselves that the cable, the second car, the Internet speed boost, the nicer clothing, or even the private school, whatever it might be, are all, basically necessary for us to live, and breath, and be happy.
These are excuses we make to ourselves about how we live our lives, and often they come, not because we are bad people, but we believe these things are necessities because the world around tell us they are, and, well, how would it look if we actually didn’t have those things? What would the neighbors say? How embarrassing. I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up in the grocery store. We are not necessarily trite, but sometimes our excuses sound a little bit so.
Words of the Prophets
I am a man, so I will focus my remarks to the men, trusting that the women who read this will already have their heads on straight. After all, it is usually the men who need to catch up with the women in spiritual things, right? (There is a wink that should be inserted in here somewhere.) The quotes from this article all come from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, published by the LDS Church.
My father was the most tender-hearted man I ever knew. … Among my fondest memories are the hours I have spent by his side discussing principles of the gospel and receiving instruction as only he could give it.
I am sorry to say that example did not exist in the home I was raised in. We were active in the Church. We all held callings from the time we were old enough to have them. But what would I have given for my father to bring up a gospel-centered topic for discussion? My father was active, in more than one Bishopric, etc. But I never really knew where he stood in the gospel. I had no doubts about my mother. Everything I ever learned about the Church and kingdom of God was from her. My father never really participated in any gospel conversations. He was just in the room when they happened. I never realized how odd this was until long after I had grown and left home.
What a powerful example it must have been for young Joseph Fielding Smith to see that a man, such as his father, one accepted of God, cherishing the principles of faith and virtue he also learned about at Church. Isn’t it magnificent that he learned those things at home before Church taught it to him?
Brethren, how willing are you to let your children see you moved by the power of the Spirit or by tender feelings? When was the last time your children (or wife) saw you physically moved by someone else’s sorrows? What exactly are you teaching your children about the power of a man to be both strong and tender?
We cannot control which moments our children will remember when they grow up, but most of what they will remember are those moments that were most meaningful to them. What is important to your children? Do we read to them? I read to my children all the time. We read the cartoon scripture stories from the Church until the covers fell off, but when they got older one of them told me they were sad that I never taught them the stories of the Old Testament. I nearly fell over. Yet they do remember me reading the stories to them from some of the children’s books that meant a lot to me as a child. Perhaps that says something about how I approached the gospel back then.
He taught us at the breakfast table as he told us stories from the scriptures, and had the ability to make each one sound new and exciting though we had heard it many times before. The suspense I felt wondering if Pharaoh’s soldiers would find the gold cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain is real even today. We learned about Joseph Smith finding the plates of gold, and the visit of the Father and the Son. We walked past the [Salt Lake] Temple on the way to school and he told us about the Angel Moroni … He taught us by the things he prayed for in our family prayers when we knelt by our chairs before breakfast and again at dinner time. …
I’m not saying that we all need to learn to be story tellers, but what others remember about us comes from what we have the most passion for. The genuine concern for a topic makes a big difference in how a story is delivered. If we are bored with a story, we can’t expect our children to find it exciting.
The first duty pertaining to the training of the children of the Church belongs in the home.
We all have busy schedules, but we need to remind ourselves from time to time that when we accept the responsibility of having a child, we also accept the responsibility from God to train up that soul in the way he/she should go. We will answer to the Lord for how seriously we take that responsibility. The Church is a resource. The public schools are a resource. Unfortunately, the sitter is sometimes a necessary resource. Our children should be hearing about life, eternity, sharing, good behavior, the Savior’s love, forgiveness, and all things the Lord loves from us, before they hear it from someone else. No one else can do the kind of job of raising that child the parent can do. Anyone else’s opinion of these things is out of your control. , or do we want our children to reflect our deeply passionate views of all things good about this wonderful time in mortality?
At age 18 my Down syndrome son functions at about age 4 or 5, which is a beautiful age if you think about it. He has no yesterday or tomorrow; there’s only right now, and everything in the world is new and interesting – at least for a few seconds. So he can entertain himself, but you never know what he is going to come up with. On one occasion I unrolled a pair of socks that he had put in my older son’s backpack and found a full size light bulb. If you put something down in the common areas of our house, you’d better be willing to never see it again. Like a 4 or 5 year old, he’s only sporadically considerate of the concept of “yours” and “mine”. Curiosity and creativity are the culprits. The quickness and stealth with which he can pick things up and put them down again in a different place is truly remarkable. Pencils at school, important papers on the kitchen table . . . nothing is likely to be where it once was if he has passed by.
One habit that used to make me crazy is his bringing home rocks from almost everywhere we go. It’s not really a messy habit, but one you have to watch out for when it comes to laundry . . . rocks in the dryer, over and over again, till I clued in. We also end up with bunches of rocks throughout the house. He knows where he puts everything so he must purposely put them where he wants them, but just to cut down on numbers I used to throw a few into the yard from time to time – until one day I realized that some big 6-inch ones had come from the grounds keeping décor outside a local store. I took those back after he went to school. They mean more to him than they do to me obviously; they’re rocks. Pile after pile, wash after wash: and then the payoff – – I was about to step over the latest stack in the middle of a common walkway in our family room when I saw this:
Could Disney himself have created a better replica of Pride Rock? It is an engineering feat; it must have taken him a very long time to build it. He must have known where he intended to go before he got started. I was very impressed and proud of his ingenuity. I could have stepped over this for weeks if I had to, but then one day it was gone. I love it when I am able to get a snapshot into his mind.
There are also times when the picture is there waiting to be seen but I fail to see it.
It took someone from the outside to get me into the loop during the time of his habit of encasing his toys, cups, stuffed animals . . . everything . . . with scotch tape. We showed a visiting friend a 12”x17” box completely covered over with tape. The strips were perfectly straight and narrowly connected all across the top, leaving the toys inside untouched. Again, quite an accomplishment but I must have rolled my eyes or expressed displeasure at the amount of tape being squandered because in admiring his creative interest our friend said “I’d be buying him tape!” (Hmmm, I had been hiding it.) I don’t know if one is supposed to be able to actually feel a paradigm shift happening but at that moment scraping across the floor of a room in my mind was the new concept: these are not resources being wasted, these are the tools of his life. Not just miles of tape I will have to unwind if he’s ever going to play with these toys again, or piles of rocks underfoot – – this is the way I am going to get to know him, this is the way – – the only way – – he is going to be able to show me what he’s thinking. He has a very, very creative side; I need to celebrate that he has found an outlet! He’s not going to cost us a lot of money in music lessons or sports teams . . . what’s the price of a little scotch tape against the chance to find out who my son is?!
Since that time we’ve gone through paper by the case. Scotch tape and staples, every crayon in sight, they are all his constant companions and he will set up shop anywhere. I could never have gotten him to practice writing numbers and letters if I’d asked him, but leave him on his own and he has copied every Pokémon card from every book. He has created paper figures and animals, a full-size “Beast” costume from bits of paper held together with tape covering even his shoes and some gloves, and when a puzzle piece went missing he used his considerable skills to craft a pretty sweet replacement.
He is always going to be found doing things we’d never expect and there are always going to be surprises (but fortunately the surprises aren’t as destructive as when he was younger). He will likely always be prone to picking up things that don’t belong to him (that I will have to return and apologize for). But that same curiosity has lead us to see into who he is, what’s important to him, and what he is capable of. The depth of these things we might never have known if I had continued to battle for “normal” rules of the house and hadn’t adapted, with the help of a friend, to my son’s way of working in the world.
A few weeks ago I took my son to the optometrist and she made a passing comment, “For healthy vision you have to regularly spend time outside”. She suggested a few minutes every hour. I started thinking about how once we step outside our eyes work to focus on faraway clouds, what we are holding in our hand, the horizon, the nearby butterfly. All of that variation is critical for the health of our eyes. When we spend most of our time in closed spaces, there are limits on what our eyes need to focus on. When we sit in front of a screen for large amounts of time, we focus on set, close distance. Our eyes don’t receive the diversity of input they require for their health! Going outside to smell the roses and look at the sky affects your vision! These thoughts led to a series of discoveries and memories about the incredible health benefits of going outside.
That line of thinking reminded me of a phone call with my mom a few years ago. We were talking about a new therapy counselors were using. Dirt therapy. Children weren’t getting enough time playing in the dirt and prescribing it, setting it up and having them play in contained dirt areas…helped them. The thought of a child’s main exposure to dirt being scheduled and contained is crazy to me. Consider really how much time your children have to play in the dirt. How much time do you have to play in the dirt? Now, I know dirt means laundry and my goal in life is not to increase the laundry I have to do. Then I stumbled on this little tidbit. There is a strain of bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae. It improves brain functioning, elevates your mood, decreases anxiety, and … decreases cancer! This bacterium is found naturally in dirt. Playing in the dirt affects your immune system in amazing positive ways! Is that motivating to get you and your children outside?
How about this? You’ve probably already heard that sun exposure produces vitamin D, the only vitamin that isn’t regularly obtained from what we eat. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium which strengthens our bones. Although we hear about skin cancer, did you know that an increase of Vitamin D and calcium reduces rates of all cancers? Increased sun exposure also increased the chance of survival of those who already have cancer. Children who are vitamin D deficient are four times as likely to develop diabetes. Morning exposure to sunlight increases your production of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep easier.
As I was reading all of this information I stumbled across another article that talked about the importance of movement in children: merry-go-rounds, climbing trees, rolling down hills, and other normal childhood play. To develop balance we need to be on surfaces that are naturally random. Core strength is developed naturally as a child learns to balance through play. Imagine a treadmill compared to running on a dirt path. Your body doesn’t need to constantly adjust on a treadmill, and those little adjustments develop core strength. Consider how a child naturally runs in a game of tag, darting back and forth, changing directions, and starting and stopping. Think of all of the core strength and balance that is developing. That balance affects their entire sensory system. For a child to ever be able to sit and listen and learn, they need to spend hours a day playing outside. Hours!
Yesterday I went for a wander with my children. We stopped at flowers and proceeded at the 1-year-old’s pace. We talked about why we are not going to bring the rolly pollies into our home, which was followed a child running back home to rescue the little colony of rolly pollies she had living in an Easter egg in her room, “I bet they’ll be so happy to be with their family again, Mom!”. We raced to the end of the block, we were up and down to look at bugs and clouds and cracks in the pavement. I had gone for the walk because the baby was sad and nothing works like nature. The goal was a little park a few blocks away. For a parent, a walk can be scary, with a child who runs ahead or into the street. It can feel mind-numbing as you match the pace of a young child or wait for them to follow a snail. I generally end up carrying a child at least part of the way. My mind can easily rush off to my-to do list, instead of staying in the moment with my children. Thanks to all of my recent research, I was able to see what else was happening on our little explore: we were developing our vestibular systems, keeping our vision healthy, collecting some fabulous vitamin D, improving our mood, and a host of other amazing things. We returned home ready to be creative and productive. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
I’d like to start off and tell you a little more about Baby Girl. She will be 3 next month. She has been potty trained since 2 , had maybe 4 accidents ever, and was potty trained in 3 days. She can set her own table for meal times, pour her own drink, and clean up after herself. She has a very good vocabulary and is very loving, strong, determined, and very compassionate. She doesn’t like seeing anyone sad. She can brush her own teeth, pick up her toys, dress herself, and make her bed with little help. OK, so why am I telling you all this? You must be thinking by now, wow, is she bragging! No, I’m not bragging, I promise. I am telling you this, because there are days, I barely acknowledge that she did any of these things. I have more lately, because I am trying a lot harder, but there have been moments where I didn’t. What I did mention was how she spilled her water again because she won’t sit still…and I remembered to mention that she didn’t eat all her food and I also had to remind her that while she dressed herself she forgot to put her clothes in her hamper.
My name is Krystal, I am guilty of being a negative Nancy. To be fair, I grew up with similar upbringing in the sense that my parents, especially my dad had very high expectations of us and there were moments we didn’t quite feel we ever reached them. I love my dad dearly and I wouldn’t have him any other way, but part of being a parent now, is learning from the mistakes your parents made then. This is one thing that I am seeing I am passing down and it’s not something I want to continue. I’ve had many conversations with my husband about how to fix this because I do not want my daughter to feel that she is not good enough, a trap I tend to fall into even with my own husband. Bless his heart, he helps me in the kitchen and does the dishes every night. The old me would have said “You made a big mess, there’s water everywhere!” Not nice, and not effective. The new and better me says “Thanks for washing the dishes tonight. I appreciate you.” End of story. While my husband is a grown adult, and can take me being negative from time to time, my daughter does not know the difference. She is learning from what I tell her.
Confession time. Want to know my biggest fear with my kids? My biggest fear is that my daughter will not feel good about herself on my account. That scares me more than any accident, any bump or bruise. I don’t want to break my daughter’s spirit. I am afraid by focusing on the negative I will miss out on all the positive, wonderful, beautiful qualities she has and therefore, she also will not see those qualities she possesses. I have seen this pattern of negativity happen in marriages, friendships, all forms of relationships, and even with myself. I focus on everything I’m doing wrong, instead of what I’m doing right. Those qualities I listed in the beginning..those accomplishments and milestones Baby Girl has reached..she didn’t reach them by magic. Somewhere, she must have had a mother or a father or both that guided her and taught her, right? I guess that means me and Yes, that person is you. It’s so easy to overlook this. I do it all the time, but every once in awhile, Heavenly Father reminds me, I am doing the best I can, and Baby Girl’s compassion, her spunk, is a reflection on me, and what I am teaching her. Everything we do, everything we don’t do, everything we say, and everything we don’t say filters down to our children and ultimately makes them who they are. I have heard the quote that says something along the lines of how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice. This is a scary thought for me because I do not always have the best way of getting things across. But hearing that and reminding myself is motivation to be better.
So, how can we stop focusing on the negative and be more positive? Let it go. So, your child didn’t do it the “right way.” What is the right way anyway? Does it matter? Not really. What matters is the effort. So what if they made a mess? They tried. There have been times where I am frustrated Baby Girl won’t nap, and I go upstairs to “lay down the law” and I walk in, and she has built a block tower she made “special for me” So, she didn’t nap. The old me could holler and yell for playing instead of napping, or, I can focus on what she did, and thank her for the beautiful tower she made me and either try to lay her down again, or get down and play with her and LET IT GO. My favorite quote (I know I’m just full of them) is from Glennon Melton, a fellow mommy blogger who said,
“Don’t let yourself become so concerned with raising a good kid, that you forget you already have one.”
That is so me. I do have a good kid. She’s an awesome kid! She is my biggest challenge to date, yet my biggest blessing I could ever want or have. If I could sit and write a list, I could go on forever at how amazing she is. I really and truly am blessed. I talk a lot about the hardships of being a parent and while they are all true, I am afraid you might think I don’t enjoy being a parent. I really do. When I can let go of the negative, and let go of all the things Satan puts in my way, I can see the good. The good is always there, we just need to learn how to see it. In my effort to be more positive, when we are putting our sweet Baby Girl to bed, we talk about our day, and I tell her 3 things I love about her.
I also make a more conscious effort to recognize her in the moment. For example, today, we played outside and I told her that we needed to come in for lunch. I went inside to start, and when I noticed she still hadn’t come in, I went to see what she was doing. She proudly ran to me squealing “Look mommy! I cleaned up all the toys outside!” I went out to look, and sure enough she had neatly placed them all back in the box. I was actually impressed with how neatly she put it all away,
something I could have missed if I was focusing on the negative. Instead, I made a conscious effort to tell her right then and there how awesome she was for putting it all away without me even asking! These kind encouraging words are what make our child who we want them to be. Nagging them or getting on them for not doing it right will not. My challenge for you is remind yourself what you love about your kids. Focus on the positive, and let go of the negative. In a General Conference talk President Eyring (a General Authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) spoke of gratitude. He talked about a gratitude journal he had where every day he wrote something he was grateful for. The same can be applied to our children. You can make a journal and write what you’re grateful about your children for, or something they did that you loved. Better yet tell them, like I am striving to do! Not only does it remind me of the positives, but it also lets your children know that Mommy may have had a rough day and maybe even yelled a lot, but I still love you, and this is why.
Summer. What fond memories that brings. Long lazy days. The beach. Relaxation. Friends. That’s the children version of summer. As a parent it becomes a different sort of feeling…fear of what to do with the darlings for 24 hours a day. Oh the pressure! I’m not up to the pressure of “best summer ever”. How about a recipe for one beautiful summer day?
1 generous cup of dirt and/or sunshine
A sprinkling of music
A heaping spoonful of creativity
Shredded, pureed, boiled to 135 degrees hard work and service
A dash of rational flexibility
1-20 good books
1/4 cup of screen rules
Bedtime as needed
Optional: duct tape, pipe cleaners, or goop
Don’t preheat, mother nature does an excellent job with the preheating…in fact if possible keep your oven off!
Even if it’s just to stare at the clouds or go get the mail, nature is amazing. It is healing and it’s powerful. It refreshes and rejuvenates. Memories are made in nature. Grow a garden, or just one plant. Go for a walk. Get to the skate park. Go for a bike ride. Walk around the block. Explore different parks. Just get outside every day. The sun is magical…and hot, so handle with care. And dirt is…dirty. Sorry about that.
Don’t wait for your children to be all plugged in or taking over the stereo. Take this summer as an opportunity to sprinkle upon your darlings all of your fabulous and frightful musical favorites. Then, dance like your teenager’s embarrassment is a renewable energy source. This is the most critical ingredient in summer mood. Do not neglect music!
Now is your chance to have a big stretch of time to create! Buy a huge canvas, make some play dough, learn how to knit, make brownies or bread or jewelry. Have a family art show. Write music, learn an instrument or get out the sidewalk chalk. No rules, no assignments…just all of the joy without the deadline.
The one simple key to make a summer day memorable and turn attitudes around? Hard work and service. Nothing works the same. There are no substitutes available. That bread you just made? Give away. That seventh picture your child painted–mail it to a missionary or a friend. Find a grandma to adopt. Find a children’s hospital with a need. Weed or help clean a local park. Just do one little thing. Put a cooler in your car with cold water bottles and hand them out to policemen directing traffic, or beggars or whomever looks hot. If all else fails, smile at everyone you see like it’s a game to see how many smiles you can get in return. Do that family project you’ve been neglecting. You may be tempted to not include this because of the difficulty involved. I assure you it is a completely necessary ingredient.
Sometimes in our attempt at perfection, or even fun, we get a little overenthusiastic. If you ever feel that you need Captain Von Trapp’s whistle or possibly a drill sergeant’s discipline-inspiring powers…consider flexibility. Sometimes the best part of the summer is the part you didn’t plan or schedule or produce a detailed minute by minute program for.
To last an entire summer go for rhythms. We wake up, then do x before breakfast, y before lunch and z before dinner. A little structure gives children an idea of what to expect without making mom crazy. A little structure gets things done and allows for play. A little structure is easier to be flexible with when spontaneous moments of fun present themselves. A watched pot will boil eventually, and an overly planned day may be fun at some moment…but you may be too stressed
Books, as needed. Don’t let the variable quantity confuse you into thinking that the quality of the book is not critical. The book will flavor the summer. One good classic may provide the delicate hint of thought you are looking for better than 30 “we finished the summer reading program” brain candy quick reads.
I know it’s tempting to skip this step. Your children may beg. Resist. Don’t throw away the screen rules. We all have rules during the school year about how much screen time is appropriate. Relax them a little, but don’t throw them out. There is so much to do and learn and be and do. It’s very easier to throw away hours at a time into the black hole that is the internet. They will never really remember fondly that one summer in which they sat with their eyes glazed over for weeks on end.
Last, but certainly not least… Although this recipe is recommended for one day, summer doesn’t work that way. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So please. Don’t throw out bedtime completely. It’s a great temptation. We want to stay up late and watch movies. We hope our bunchkins will sleep in. We want to relax. Don’t sacrifice the happiness of rested people for week after week, of summer excuses. Give on bedtime a bit, but don’t throw it out. Relax bedtime an hour, and we wake up at at a reasonable time. It keeps people generally happy and functional, while still allowing for parties and movies and fun. Morning will already be more relaxing because we don’t have to get the children somewhere specific by any set time. Wake them up and relax with them to make for happier children.
Optional ingredients: When all else fails…there will be a day or days this summer when everyone has cabin fever, it’s too hot, there isn’t anything to do, and little fights start to creep up. If your day isn’t shaping up like you’d like consider these options: duct tape, pipe cleaners, water or goop…or anything else you can think up.
Bake (like you have a choice).
We don’t recommend poking a fork in your summer day to check if it is well done. Don’t measure too early. Instead, take multiple pictures and enjoy it as it is. If your husband gets grumpy at your constant attempts to check for doneness, put down the camera and take someone’s hand instead. Expect the day to be uneven. Consider it a success if you can find that beautiful moment that grabs your attention and amazes you.