I like the idea of world peace. But I don’t know if I can contribute much to world peace until I can create peace in my own car. With six children in an ever-shrinking, confined space, finding peace is no small task.
There are usually fights over the seat by the window or who gets to sit by the baby. In the rush of entry, elbows and backpacks collide with unintended body parts. Someone is perpetually carsick. One of the kids decides that this is the optimal time to play the recorder. Our teenager rolls his eyes at the music selections I choose for the younger children. Someone is always touching someone else. And so it goes…
Why do we choose to live this way? Low expectations and poor habits, I guess. One day, I took a fresh look at our car rides and decided that we needed to make a big change. We knew better and could do better.
I thought of the scripture about being “steadfast and immovable” and always abounding in good works (Mosiah 5:15). Making the change would take parenting determination, a standard of high expectations and kid participation and commitment. It was a challenge, but I knew we could do it.
With a trial and error of solutions, we first learned what did not work. We tried an assigned seat rotation created by Mom. The fights over the seats were gone, but the kids grumbled about the imposed seat sentence.
On a long car trip, we tried giving each child five tickets. When contention broke out, we would remove a ticket. The child had to have at least one ticket left to get in the pool on the first day of our vacation. Our normally sweet child lost four tickets in the first 15 minutes. Because we were looking for bad behavior, the kids seemed to perform accordingly. We followed through with the plan for the rest of the trip, but decided this wasn’t for us.
We tried pulling over when the fighting started and waiting for the behavior to get better before we continued our ride, but it needed to happen consistently to be effective. Pulling over at night, on the freeway, or on the way to school wasn’t always the safest or most convenient idea.
A friend said she solved the same problem with a bigger car. We were already at capacity in our 8-passenger car and our garage size was limited. What now? This was harder than I thought!
I decided to find answers by looking to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If there was any group that needed to apply a gospel principle, it was us.
First, I knew that we were capable of changing. We needed to repent and have a “change of mind.” One day I found myself driving the kids solo for a 12-hour drive back home from a vacation as my husband had to leave early for a meeting. Before we left, I made sure that we spent a few minutes reading the scriptures. We had a family prayer asking for peace, help, and protection. I asked the children how they would feel if Jesus Christ was in our car for the day. Would He want to be there? Would He feel happy and comfortable? This was the mental shift we needed. The entire trip was pleasant and the children were loving and respectful to one another. The mental picture of having Christ beside them elevated their expectations for themselves. They intuitively knew how it would feel to sit beside Him. They wanted to be better, just thinking of His presence.
I love the children’s song “If the Savior Stood Beside Me.” My children know this song well. Even humming a few bars can be the reminder we need when we go back to old habits.
If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I think of His commandments and try harder to be true?
Would I follow His example? Would I live more righteously,
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me? (“If the Savior Stood Beside Me” Lyrics)
I also thought of the scripture that encourages families to have order.
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God; (D&C 88:119)
We needed to organize ourselves. We needed more order if we wanted more peace in the car. Were backpacks ready? Were we rushing to find shoes the morning of? Were we eating breakfast in the car as we drove to school? When we looked at the car ride as a process, we could see where it was breaking down. We were not giving ourselves enough time to prepare for the coming day and were not getting up early enough to prepare without rushing.
One thing that is unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the expectation that everyone contributes. Each member takes turns serving, such as teaching Sunday School, presiding over a youth group, praying or leading the music in church. It requires effort by all members, but the result is a vibrant organization that provides amazing opportunities and growth for children, youth, and adults.
The next step was to use this principle of participation with the kids. For those out of car seats, they decided that they would rotate each day of the week. They would each have a day by the window and the next day would be their day by the baby. Because they came up with the idea, they self-enforced their rules.
Finally, building love and an attitude of service was not going to happen overnight, but we decided to employ advice from a prophet of God:
And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:14-15)
It was not right to allow our children to fight and quarrel in the car. I prayed to know how we could teach our children to love and serve one another.
We held a family night where we practiced having a “soft answer” that turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). If someone said something mean, we asked what would happen if they responded by throwing a rock back. We asked what would happen if someone threw a cotton ball back. We practiced for a week putting cotton balls in a jar every time someone responded with a soft answer to an angry remark. When the jar was full, we had a treat the following week.
The Church’s website, ChurchofJesusChrist.org, had a children’s service idea to be a “secret service” agent. For one family night we gave dark glasses and a black folder labeled “Top Secret” to each family member. We exchanged family names and offered one act of secret service each day for a week.
The road to peace in the car has been bumpy, but worth it. The rest of our journey continues to be about cooperation, patience, love and sacrifice, which is the long haul of life. Success is now less about arriving at our destination and more about enjoying the ride. And while we haven’t achieved total peace in the car, we are definitely on our way.
This post was originally published on May 14, 2008. Minor changes have been made.
Lead image via SheKnows.com.