Thursday, May 19, 2011

Letters From Jane: Feeling Joy

Dear Friends,

My school year is wrapping up and it’s time to turn my attention to something I really love—all this talk about motherhood. I welcome your questions—though I hope you realize that you are wiser than you know and that if you were on a desert island with no internet and no access to any resources, you could find every answer you need. The beauty of the blog, though, is the feeling that you aren’t on an island and that you’re connected to mothers who believe as you do and share your dedication to this work of all works.

We’ve all heard about gratitude journals. The idea is that at the end of the day, when everyone is in bed and the house is quiet, we’re supposed to pause for a few minutes and recall and then list the things that we’re thankful for. It’s a good idea because it gets us looking throughout the day for the little things we’re glad we have. But what if instead of waiting until bedtime, we learned to stop right in the middle of what we’re doing and let joy distill--just let ourselves feel the full pleasure of a moment before moving on to the next one. I think we’re most likely to feel a little surge of joy when we get all of our senses involved—we touch and smell and listen and let it sink in. We see the rain on the window or the wind in the trees outside and we cuddle our baby and smell his hair and squeeze his round little leg and hear his breathing.

And then the secret to pushing that moment of pleasure all the way to joy is to consider that all of this is a gift from a Heavenly Father who loves us and offers us all that he has—not just at the end, but every moment. What if we actually tried to capture, say, ten of those moments every day—what if we didn’t wait for the spectacular—we just paused in the mundane to really see.

I confess that I have little tricks I do to create moments that I love. For example, I like to make cookies and then race to have the kitchen perfectly clean before they come out of the oven. Then I like to sit down with my children in my nice clean kitchen and drink cold milk from mugs with our warm cookies. It’s so prosaic and corny—motherhood….warm cookies and milk—but I love it. I love it every time.

And another one. I love to clean my room—I mean dust and vacuum and polish the mirror and put everything away and then lay there in that nice clean room and read—by myself if it works out, or with my children.

Both of these examples have involved creating order, almost as a prerequisite to joy. And I think you know what I mean when I say that order helps. But if we wait for order or a big bank account or perfect harmony, we’re going to miss out on a lot of joyful moments.

I’ve actually let myself feel joy when everyone is crying at once and there are toys everywhere and the TV is blaring. It’s just so chaotic that it’s really funny. And I love the feeling that I can regain control. I have the power to make everyone in this room happy—one by one –and to turn off the TV and put on some music and rally the troops in a new direction.

One of my best no-fail methods of feeling joy is to shift the focus to an eternal perspective. Sometimes when I’m just talking to one of my children, I’ll let myself see us—sitting here talking on the earth in this tiny moment of eternity. He will only be a fifteen year old boy this one time in the whole scheme of things. And who knows what things will be like when we leave this earth. Will we ever sit in a bedroom with soccer cleats and backpacks and discuss the challenges of life together—his voice cracking every now and then? I doubt it. This is the only now we have. I value it—and him and I feel joy.

I believe the ability to feel joy is a talent that, if practiced becomes natural and just like with any talent, some people seem born with it. If you’re fortunate enough to be one of those, then just carry on. But if you aren’t, stay with it. Your eyes will open more and more. And don’t forget to share your joys with your children. That way, they’ll learn to see them to.

Have an especially good day.



Monday, April 4, 2011

How do I improve my relationship with my 2-year-old?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I just stumbled upon your blog and started reading some various posts. I want to ask you and tell you a little bit about my 2 year old daughter and our relationship. She is beautiful. She isbdetermined, strong willed, defiant, dominant and oh so tiny. Any one that comes in contact with Lucy knows she's there. I love her; she is now my middle child. I have a 6 year old son and 4 1/2 month old son. My daughter Lucy is still not speaking and is easily frustrated with me. If she does not get what she wants immediately she screams at me unceasingly. Her and I seem to be continually battling with no winner. I don't yell, spank or say mean things to her, but I have noticed myself pull away from her needs and sometimes I feel it is simply easier to just ignore her adamant, demanding ways. Our relationship is very strained and it worries me. She is somehow different, happier easier to get along with around everyone close to her, her dad, grandma, aunt, etc.

I try to reason with her, set limits, but everything is a fight. We fight when I do her hair, change her diaper, dress her, try to make her meals. She demands so much attention it is taking away from her siblings. She loves her baby brother constantly wants to hold, and cuddle him, but her and her older brother are constantly fighting and she is always destroying anything he is playing with. He never wants to play with her or have her around. By evening I am so drained from the fighting and her constant screaming I want nothing to do with her, but of course she insists I put her to bed. I want our relationship to be better and for her to love me and I want to nurture her in the ways she needs. Even as a baby she wanted to be left alone. She wouldn't sleep in my bed even though I tried she wanted to be in a cradle by herself beside my bed. She didn't want heldand cuddled but instead would love to be left on her stomach on a blanket on the floor until she fell asleep. I nursed her until just weeks before her brother was born and have always tried to remain attached. She has such a strong spirit and I know she is sent from my Father in Heaven I just wish I knew what I needed to do to be the mother she needs me to be.

Thank You,


The Answer:
Dear Lyndsay,

Thank you for your letter. You’ve done a good job of describing the frustration of a challenging child. In my experience of raising a large family, I acknowledge that some children seem “easier” than others. Our challenge as mothers is to resist the temptation to compare and to develop a strong bond and relationship with each one, independent of the rest. It’s human nature, I think, for our hearts to gravitate toward the pleasant well-behaved child and to emotionally distance ourselves from the more challenging one. We do this in a number of ways.

I may have mentioned this in an earlier post, but I had an interesting conversation with a group of friends one day. One of them confessed that she had a “favorite” child. She told us who it was and listed the many reasons that this child had won her heart over the others (they had common interests, the child was grateful, made her proud in public, generous, happy, etc). The others in the group acknowledged that they too had favorite children. Then the conversation turned to the child they “didn’t really like”. Everyone laughed—knowing that “didn’t really like” was a strong phrase and that of course, they loved all of their children. But there was one, they all agreed, who was hard almost from the beginning and that it had never changed. They listed their grievances with “the difficult child” and they certainly seemed justified in their position.

You haven’t made such a claim about Lucy, but it’s easy to see that things might head in that direction. I would caution you and all mothers against establishing such labels—even in your own mind. It’s easy to build a case against a child, to go back and support your case with historical evidence, to continue gathering evidence daily. We do this because, in a way, it absolves us of personal responsibility. “This is just a hard child and has been from the start”. But such thought processes are unproductive and destructive. Very soon, a child senses that he is not like the others in our eyes and continues behaviors that divide and separate. When we recognize that a breech like this is beginning to form, we do everything in our power to repair it and bring a child into the secure circle of our approval and love.

I realize that this is just exactly what you are asking me how to do. The reason that I went into some detail about the mental attitudes of mothers, is that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that this is where the breech starts and that this is where the repair must begin.

There are two infallible ways of changing a heart. The first is prayer. Pray all through the day that you can be filled with love and understanding for your child and that she can feel it. Pray for ideas and thoughts and then act on every positive impulse. You mentioned in your letter that she seems to do better with others than with you. That’s good news in a way because it shows that she can control her behavior (admirable for a two year old) and that you can focus on your relationship. That brings me to my second point. Do all the tried and true things that strengthen any relationship. Invest unhurried time. Play with her and let her lead the play. Make lots of eye contact and when you look at her, think, “I love you.”

As a grandmother of grandchildren that live far away, I usually have only a few days to win over my two-year-old grandchildren. They don’t really want me to cuddle and hold them until we’ve spent some quality time together. I have a big fuzzy bean bag that we toss back and forth for as long as they want. There’s lots of smiles and eye contact. Then we read books (more close contact). We play hide and seek. Soon we have a nice little bond going.

You are her primary relationship. Much of your time is spent, of necessity, coercing her to do things that she doesn’t really want to do. This strains your relationship so you have to counterbalance all that coercion with praise, approval, smiles, hugs and meaningful comfortable time together. My experience has been that when my children feel really loved by me and when our relationship is solid, they begin to want to please me. And when I see them doing any little thing—making even the tiniest effort to comply or obey, I stop everything and look into their eyes and compliment them and thank them and hug them. The tide begins to turn.

Finally, recognize that this is the child that is going to teach you all the attributes of godliness—patience, long-suffering, gentleness, charity. This is the child that is going to force you to seek help—to search ponder and pray. You’ve been wanting to put more of that into your life, right? Now you have a purpose! This is the child that is going to refine and change you. This is the child that is going to grow up and remember the many ways that you loved her.

May the Lord bless you in your efforts.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Letters From Jane: Preparing Your Children For this World

Dear Friends,

I know I’ve dropped off the planet. As many of you know, I’m in school right now—finishing the degree I started 30 years ago. I haven’t been able to decide what to do about this blog. One great highlight of my life is checking in and reading your comments and feeling connected to you—especially when I hear about your successes in using a loving approach to parenting.

And being in school, really experiencing the attitudes and trends of the world, I feel more dedicated than ever to supporting your work right now—your work as mothers of small children. The basic values that form the foundation of my life—a knowledge of the reality of God and of his son Jesus Christ, the family—a mother, a father and children, a clear line between right and wrong—all these things are being systematically altered and blurred into unimportance.

These days you have now with your children are not only precious but more important than they’ve ever been. They are your chance to establish faith. Weekly family home evenings and attending church are so good but not enough. Talk of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can be woven into all of their days—expressions of gratitude, prayers over simple problems, repentance, stories from the scriptures, parables and commandments. There will come a day in their lives when doubt will be cast upon all the things you’re teaching them—about the rightness and wrongness of things, the origin and meaning of life and the reality of God. You are preparing them now while they are so believing and full of faith, for that day.

I know that the academic, secular environment of a non-religious college campus is extreme and it’s been jarring to my sheltered spirit. But because I came into it with deep faith in some things, that faith has been strengthened by the experience. Maybe it’s the contrast—light in darkness or clear truth vs. subjective fuzziness, but my faith has held up. And it gives me hope that all of our children can meet the world in this way.

I think we’ve all grown up hearing about how we’re a chosen generation reserved for these times. But of this upcoming generation—the ones playing at your feet right now—I believe it’s true. Their world is something altogether different than mine was—or even yours. It swirls with technology and ideas and global connectedness. Isn’t it interesting that the ancient truths of the scriptures are still the key to their gaining wisdom and understanding? The same gospel that made an anchor to the soul of Daniel and Nephi and Paul and the stripling warriors is available to your children in its fullness. It’s your mission to infuse and transmit those truths into the “fleshy tables of the heart” each day.

Don’t do it with fear but with faith. As the forces for good and evil line up, you are on the winning side. The powerful eternal truths of God told in your simple words and with your familiar voice are all that is needed. In all of your doings every day, do this.

I can’t make promises about how often or well I will be able to maintain this blog, but I’m staying with it because I just think I need the support right now—the support of powerful mothers in a shaky world.

All my love,

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out this article.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Wouldn’t that be a great alternative name for this blog? “How to Train Your Dragon—The Loving Approach to Discipline.”

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go get it. It’s a lesson in parenting!

Here were these difficult, impossible dragons—each with its own gifts and challenges. But the single perfect way to train each of them was not by coercion or manipulation or brutality. It was just all about learning to read them and appreciate them and give them the simple things they needed. It was all about mercy and gentleness. As soon as those dragons felt perfectly safe, they were tame. And they were bonded and devoted. They became assets instead of liabilities.

I loved that moment of truth—when Hiccup came to slay the dragon and then he looked in his eye and felt that connection. Instead of feelings of power and domination, he felt empathy. He recognized that the dragon felt just like he did. He dropped his sword and treated him as he would like to be treated. That was the turning point. Only then could he slowly, over many days, win his love.

And wasn’t it interesting how he started out relying on the tried and true dragon book for all his information. But he wasn’t successful until he threw it away and trusted his instincts.

And I loved how he stood alone—going against the culture of the day, caring more about the relationship he had formed than about what outsiders thought of him.

But gradually, as people began to see this new higher way, they became believers.

Now I realize it was fiction---but it contained a lot of truth.

So just keep it on hand and pull it out at the end of a long day and remember what kind of parent you really want to be—what kind of relationships you really want to have with your children.

Are you willing to eat a few raw fish if that’s what it takes to connect?

Have a great day with your own little dragons.



And another thing….that awesome dragon that he tamed was “The Night Fury”. Think about that when you’re walking the floor with a teething baby at two am.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Discouraged By What I'm Not Doing?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

I am in my ward’s Primary presidency and I have three very active young children ages five, three, and a new baby. My husband works very long hours (usually more than 12 a day) and travels. I am grateful to be able to stay home with our kids and recognize the blessing it is, but by the end of the day I’m exhausted, frustrated, and go to bed knowing that I’m going to have to do it all over again tomorrow. I know my situation is far from unique and that women all over the world do exactly what I’m doing everyday—probably with much more patience. But since I constantly feel emotionally and physically drained I feel like I have no energy for my Primary calling. I live in a very young ward with a large Primary so everyone serving in callings also has young children. I want to be dedicated and to care about the children in our ward and to feel a deep concern for their well-being, but most days I don’t even feel like I can offer my all to my own children let alone everyone else’s children. I’m not going to ask for a release from my calling and I feel happy when I’m in Primary, but the rest of the week I rarely think about the children in my ward and things I can do to help them and I feel bad for not wanting to care/feeling like I can care. Do you have any advice?

The Ornery Primary Lady
The Answer:
Dear Friend,

Actually, I would say that your situation is pretty unique--your husband working twelve hour days and travelling besides? A new baby and two other little ones? No wonder you're feeling overwhelmed. In response to your letter, I'd like to share a little lesson that I recently learned from my daughter, Natalie. It has really helped me and maybe it can be a lesson for all of us. Natalie has four little boys and another on the way. The oldest is five. About a month ago, I was really worried about her. She seemed completely buried--tired and discouraged. I don't live close to her and because I am finishing my degree right now, I wasn't even available by phone. Our hurried conversations always left me feeling helpless. I offered many prayers for her throughout my days at school. Then one day, she shared a new insight she had gained. It was so profound. She realized that it was humanly impossible to do all that was required of her in a day, perfectly. She was just one person--one tired, pregnant person. So she stopped and thought about what mattered most to her...what gave her the most satisfaction at the end of the day, and what disappointed her the most if left undone. She realized that what really mattered the most to her were her relationships--with the Lord, with her husband and with her children, She decided that those relationships would come first for her. She began to make sure that she made time for scripture study. She has always studied but now it became a top priority. She became more attuned to each of her children. If the laundry sat undone it was ok. It things weren't perfect, they weren't. At the end of the day, she measured her success by these relationships. She was surprised to find that by putting those things first, the other tasks usually fell into place as well. But inwardly, she felt a new peace.

All of that said, I want to encourage you not to give up on your church calling. I've known a lot of people who let their callings go in the name of "family comes first" and usually, they don't experience the relief they hoped for. Over the years, I've accepted callings and I see them as an opportunity to use my talents in serving the Lord. As a result, my capacities have increased and many of my talents have been developed in ways that are surprising. For example, I've learned to organize people, plan and carry out activities, assess needs and meet them. I've grown musically and learned teaching skills. I've learned a great deal about child development. Long before I had teen-agers, I had the opportunity to work with them and understand their challenges. It played a part in how I taught my little children when I got home--what I chose to emphasize to prepare them for those years. I came to understand that magnifying my callings in the church, not only brought blessings to our family, but expanded me personally.

Of course, there is another great benefit. As our children watch us give our all to the Lord, they learn that he is important--they learn to be magnifiers themselves. I certainly got that message from my mother. I'll never forget her years as a Stake MIA president. Back then, it was a tremendously demanding calling. I must have been about 6 or 7 when we spent an entire Saturday decorating the church for a "Centennial Ball." We transformed a room into an ice cream parlor, we hung chandeliers (that we had constructed from coat hangers, twinkle lights and spray paint) all over the gym--and more. It was so elaborate. But I learned that we give our best to the church. It's the Lord's kingdom on earth. I can tell you honestly, that my service in the church has never taken away from my family. When I start feeling like I don't like a calling, I sit down and list all the things I could be doing to magnify it and then I just start doing them little by little. Before I know it, I love my calling. And almost every one of my closest friendships have been formed as I've worked along side people in the church. It's the way our hearts are knit together. Those connections, with your presidency, teachers and especially the children can bring joy and meaning to your life as you make this sacrifice.

I hope this reply doesn't seem insensitive. I really do know that your life is very demanding. But remember that the Lord thinks you can do this even with a full plate. Maybe he wants to stretch you. I'm grateful that he has steadily believed in me through the years, challenged me and accepted my efforts. May he bless you.

With love,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Letter From Jane: A House Of Order

Dear Readers,

I know that when you read the title of this letter, you’ll be hoping for cleaning tips or organization methods.  I do have some of those.  But I want to say a word today about something more basic.  And I’d like to start out by issuing you a challenge.  This challenge is going to sound impossible.  So you know I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important and if I didn’t know how much it would bless your life.  Here it is.  I want you to begin every day with 15 minutes or more of scripture study, followed by a really good prayer.  I’m not sure how you’re going to do it…how you’ll need to juggle, but I want you to commit to try.  

And it really matters that you do it before everything else.  Here’s why.
  1. It clearly tells the Lord that he comes first with you—that everything else in your life is built upon this relationship.  You know that wonderful scripture in Ether (5:12)  …it is upon the rock of your Redeemer that you must build your foundation…  Picture that your days are like structures that you are building. When you place the Lord first, he becomes the foundation of your work.  Like paying tithing first, there is power in everything else that follows and confidence that your efforts will be magnified, blessed and that the windows of heaven will be opened.  When we launch into our day without that help, we are flying alone.  Our Heavenly Father becomes an afterthought…even an obligation.  
  2. You will experience an increase of peace.  I love this quote by Merrill Bateman:  “As faith grows, our vision of eternity expands, which increases our capacity to meet life’s challenges.”   There is no more challenging life than yours.  You need wisdom.  You need ideas and plans and blueprints to go on as you raise these little children.  Why wouldn’t we enlist the Lord’s help and depend on his direction?  There is no more satisfying experience than to receive a flash of inspiration about one of your children—knowing that it came from outside of yourself.  It’s usually something so simple but when implemented it turns the tide.  It’s always loving.  And peace comes because you recognize that you are not alone.  You remember that you are not the only parent here.  You are really just an instrument.  As I’ve mentioned before, these flashes of light do not usually come during the prayer or even during the scripture study, but later in the day.
  3. It is the way to truly teach your children the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It becomes written in the “fleshy tablets of your heart.”   You teach them from your own experience.  When you tell them of the reality of God, they know that you know.  Otherwise, it’s only words.  The accumulated days of study and prayer, produce in you, core strength.  There is no substitute for that.  There is no shortcut.   Our world is darkening.  In the past few weeks, I have watched some of my most precious friends struggle with their faith, lose their testimony and let go.  We’re going to see this more and more as we move into these final days.  Our children need more than visual aids.  They need to know because their mothers taught them.  
There are other reasons.  But unless you really commit to this and create this pattern in your life, you will not experience the blessings.  Give place for this expansion to happen.  It will give perspective and often solutions to every single problem in your life.  I know this from my own experience.  I’ll end with my current favorite scripture.  I read it in Gospel Doctrine class this past Sunday and I loved it.

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.  For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her tent shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”   Jeremiah 17: 7-8

All my love,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Discussing Sexuality With Children?

The Question:

Hi there,

I just have to ask, how and when do you discuss sexuality with children?  What do you include, or leave out?  I have a seven year old, and was surprised to learn that many of her friends have already had the talk from their parents.  My daughter hasn't expressed any curiosity about where babies come from, or how our bodies change, etc.  Help!

Thank you,

The Answer:

Dear Anonymous,

I'll confess that I made a lot of mistakes in this area.  I grew up in the most "Victorian" of homes and the topic of sex was never discussed.  Never.  So I sort of had the idea that since I managed to figure things out, it wasn't absolutely necessary to go into much detail with my children.

As a matter of fact, just a moment ago, while I was typing this response, my daughter, Marlee, who is at BYU,  sent an instant message and we had the following conversation:

marlee: MOM

me: Marlee! hello.

marlee: are you at school?

me: yes

marlee: me too!

me: I'm answering an Asking Jane letter about when to talk to your children about sex.  Not exactly my strong point.

marlee: haha.  Just say: "Don't tell them. That's what I did."

There you have it--a little glimpse into one of my weak spots.  So I'm going to answer this question based on what I know now and what I would do now if I had it to do over again.

What I did:
I expected my husband to talk with the boys, while I handled the topic (haphazardly) with the girls.

What I should have done:
As a mother, I would talk with each of my children--boys and girls--and make sure that this topic was safe and comfortable in our home.

What I did:
I waited until they asked before I talked to them.

What I should have done:
At around 10-12 (depending on the child), I would initiate this conversation if it hadn't come up yet.  I know there is disagreement about when.  A lot of people think 8 is ideal but I think it might be a little hard for my 8-year-olds to swallow.

What I did:
I assumed that once I'd talked to most of them, the word would filter down through the ranks.  So some slipped through the cracks.

What I should have done: 
I should never have treated this vital topic carelessly.  I should have seen that each of my children was taught individually.

What I did right!
I really taught modesty at an early age and a high regard for the body.  I didn't allow crudeness.

When I did sit down and talk to my daughters, I taught them in the context of our Heavenly Father's plan for us.  I used the Proclamation on the Family as a guide.  This conversation was really powerful because it became clear that Satan had an arsenal of ammunition and our discussion led to the many ways he uses it.  This topic really does invite the spirit because it is at the core of our creation and purpose.  Since I had often taught my children the plan of salvation, and they had an understanding of why they were here on the earth, they easily accepted this new information.

This is a wicked world and Satan has hit new lows in his distortion and display of sex. It's not okay to approach this responsibility in the careless way that I did.  We must give a clear and timely understanding to our children.  I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

With love,