Last Sunday during church, I was trying to salvage some measure of spirituality by reading conference talks on my phone while sitting out in the hall with a screaming baby. He was, literally, screaming—not crying or fussing or searching for comfort, but just screaming because he can, and because he wants to, I guess. The harried parent pacing the halls with a baby and wondering about the point of it all is a Mormon cliché, and you'd think after doing this with six other babies I'd have resolved it in my mind, and learned that this time is temporary and it IS still worth it to keep coming to church. And I have learned that, actually, but it didn't stop me at this moment from feeling fragile and overwrought and overwhelmed and getting tears in my eyes every time someone smiled at me or said anything kind.
Onto this pathetic scene sprang Elder H. Burke Peterson with his "May I suggest that as parents we must require more of ourselves?" and I immediately knew he was right. Feeling sorry for myself doesn't ever help anything. I love his statement that "the ways of the Lord are simple ways," and then his examples of some simple things we can do, as parents, to make our homes happier:
What would you think of speaking more cheerfully? Trying more often to say please and thank you? What would you think of finding an opportunity for one sincere compliment for each child each day, and then watching them respond? What if you decided to be cheerful tonight at the dinner table, and in spite of what others might do or say, hold to your course. See how long you can uplift your whole family.
I felt chastened by this, as I often decide to "be cheerful tonight at the dinner table" and then do NOT "hold to my course," feeling that it is impossible to do when three people are asking me at the same time to pour more milk for them and one is needing her food cut up and another is throwing his bowl on the floor and two others are shoving each others' chairs farther away and two others are arguing about whether pennies are copper or bronze.
But of course Elder Peterson is right. It IS possible for a parent to rise above it, to maintain kindness and calm. I would do it if we had company, so of course I can do it when we don't. And he is also right that when a parent succeeds in the effort, it DOES uplift the whole family. If you are determined to outlast the crankiness and argumentativeness of the children with your own persistent good cheer—it can be done.
It reminds me of an article I read recently talking about how "family fun" usually requires lots of work and preparation, and part of her Q and A contained this:
Q. "What if I’m not having a super amount of fun myself?
A. Before we left [for the circus], I gave myself a stern talking-to: You are forty-one years old. You have been to the circus before. If you have a bad seat or have to miss part of the show, you can deal with it! (I find that if I speak to myself in the second person, I listen. Stupid, but it works.) If they need to go to the bathroom more times than can possibly be biologically necessary, I will take them. And I did. I'm very proud of myself.
I find this is true for me as well. I really AM able to be an adult about it, and deal patiently with the fact that I might have to wait a staggering amount of time before finally getting to take my first bite of my own delicious soup—but it takes me being in the right mindset, and too often, I'm not.
I want to emphasize that neither I nor Elder Peterson would suggest that parents should just give up on teaching their kids to be pleasant, and resign themselves to twenty or thirty unhappy years of martyrish self-denial. In fact, he says:
Fathers and mothers, may I remind you that we are always teaching. The home should be the great workshop of the Lord. Here is where children must be taught to walk in ways of truth and soberness, of love and service to each other.
But he does emphasize the positive chain reaction that parents can create in their home:
These are contagious actions. Children will learn to be happy and more pleasant. Homes will be cheery. The gospel of Jesus Christ is more easily taught and longer remembered in a happy home.
I love the reminder that simply by elevating my own attitude—not least at times when the kids ARE screaming or fighting or being unpleasant, since even the "great workshop of the Lord" can't compel or produce instant results—I can have a bigger effect than I might think. I can remember that I chose this life freely, and that if I look for the good, I will find it. I can take a deep breath and decide not to give voice to my frustrations. And the fact that my children will also be better able to remember gospel truths in a calm atmosphere is a great motivation!
Parents, we are the catalyst. …let us be sure we lead our families in [the Lord's] way. Contention in a home starts and stops with the parents.
Elder Peterson ends with a hypothetical:
[When a child is born,] instead of a doctor coming out and saying, “It’s another girl” or “It’s another boy,” how would we react if each time a child was born our Father in heaven made this kind of introduction to the parents:
“Thank you for preparing this little body for the spirit I have created. Now, I present her to you for a season to care for. Please teach her of me and of my Son. I so much want her back with me some day. It all depends on you. Remember this: She is loving. She will respond to teaching. She wants to learn. Please treat her with respect. The road will not be easy. Some of the time it will be most difficult. I want to help you raise her. Please call on me often for advice and counsel. Together we can help her fulfill her purpose in the earth.”
I wonder how we might treat these little ones if they had this kind of introduction. Would it be different?
As I read these words—while, it must be confessed, holding the phone at arm's length so it wouldn't be kicked out my hand by my tired, angry, screaming baby—I felt the Lord's spirit confirming that this, indeed, is what I have agreed to as a parent. There are times of joy and fulfillment. There are times of exhaustion and discouragement. I chose this, and I'm an adult, and I can handle it. And if that sounds harsh—well, the good news is I don't have to do it alone, because the Lord is anxious to advise me, and calm me, and enable me to be better—whenever I will humble myself and ask Him.
Other posts in this series:
Other posts in this series:
- Saviors in the Home by Nathaniel Givens
- A Home Where Mission is Part of Life by G
- Satan's Effort to Influence and Control the Human Mind by Daniel Ortner
- Abomination and Understanding, Works and Grace by Ralph Hancock
- Zombies, Mormons, and Ants by Jan Tolman