Friday, December 11, 2009

What REALLY Matters?

The Question:

Lately I feel a little overwhelmed by all that motherhood entails. I love spending my days with my boys, and don't need a pep talk about that (right now). But I've been thinking long term, the things I want my kids to do, to know, to feel by the time they leave my home. I want to know that the way I spend my days with them now is not a waste of time. I don't want to just cross my fingers and hope I'm doing it right.

I want to know what things you did as a young mother that you look back and say "that was REALLY worth the effort," and which things you feel were not worth stressing about because they worked themselves out in time or didn't have the results you were looking for.

Maybe what I'm looking for is a list of how you would spend an ideal day with children who are too young for school. With your perspective, and long term results in mind, what things would top your list? And what things didn't really matter?

The Answer:

There are some obvious answers that come to mind--the development of talents, every moment spent infusing our children with faith and testimony, the efforts to build feelings of love and unity. We know that these efforts are tireless but the pay-offs are obvious. Children are so believing and curious. It's a perfect time to teach them truth.

But I want to answer this question in a broader way. Motherhood takes on much more meaning when we stop focusing on every little thing our child is doing and focus instead on who they are becoming. We can make our child do anything we want them to do. They are small and we're big. We can force them to go through the motions of sharing, picking up toys and apologizing (to name a few). But what we're after is the development of real feelings--love, compassion, a keen conscience about honesty, generosity. You get the idea--true inward feelings that lead to sincere actions. This is not accomplished in a day. It involves a way of parenting that respects and nurtures a child and allows him to act rather than always being acted upon.

I really believe that this nurture begins right at birth as we quickly respond to a baby's needs. In the first year, we build a bond of security. This demands a lot of a mother. But science shows that during that first year, the side of the brain which controls feelings and conscience is being developed.

Enough about that. Hopefully, a child emerges from the first year with a "loved brain" After that, we use everyday activities as tools to teach--not punish. We take the time to show them how to do things. We don't have to invent a lot of special projects. Our lives abound with them. We show them how to sort the silverware, carry a plate of food carefully, fold a towel, flip a pancake. We look them right in the eye and connect through the day. We keep life simple. This daily routine of living life and teaching allows us to really know our children individually. When we are in a constant pattern of scolding and forcing, we feel bad, they feel bad and they aren't progressing. We need to be in a mode of loving and teaching.


I believe in vast amounts of physical contact. Cuddle in a blanket and read stories. Give big squeezes. I would turn into a "mean old witch" some times, gradually transforming and begging my children to give me hugs to halt the process. Everyone would come racing over with hugs to restore me back to "mom". Just stop everything you're doing from time to time and give kisses and hugs and tell them three things you just love about them.

My mother's favorite piece of advice was "let them see the love light in your eyes". Just look right into their eyes and think "I love you" without saying it. They feel it entirely.

Keep in mind that when you look at children with disgust or even disappointment, their irrational minds wonder if you love them. Keep those looks to a minimum.

Pretend you're talking to someone on the phone when your child is near you and tell the pretend person how much you love the child and all about the nice things they have done that day.


Family home evenings and scripture study are so collectively powerful that I would try to never miss them. Make the gospel pleasant and fun and teach them what a treasure the scriptures are. Hold them with awe. Let your children see you reading them even for a few minutes every day. They'll catch on to the fact that they are kind of like food--a necessity of life.

Talk to them often about Jesus--all the things he has given us, how much he loves us, how he helps us. Build faith in him.

Teach them to repent. When they make mistakes, our first impulse is to punish them or separate ourselves from them by having a time-out. Sometimes that's ok. But we need to take the time to explain simply what they have done and what the results were. How can we repair this? How can we make our brother happy? How will you clean this up? I could honestly address this for a few pages. How we deal with their mistakes is right at the core of developing their conscience. The more loving we are, the less shaming we are, the more free they will be to feel their own feelings of sorrow for what they have done.

I know this may not seem to answer the question. The basic daily routine that became most effective for me was to make sure my children were fed well and got the rest they needed (I can identify a tired child in two seconds) and then to apply these principles to our everyday life--wherever we were, whatever we did.

Looking back over my long career as a parent, my only regrets are the times that I wasn't loving enough. I never think, "Why, oh why, did I get up in the night with that baby? Why didn't I spank my children? Why wasn't I harder on her?"

I have to end with a little story. Eric, as you know, is an outstanding father of two and my second son. A few months ago, he called me up and asked me out to lunch. He was so cute and fun to be with. As we ate our mexican food, he told me that he was just remembering a time when he was a kid and we had had a little falling out before school. He can't remember what it was about but he knew I wasn't happy with him and he knew he deserved my displeasure. Well apparently, a couple of hours into school, I showed up at his classroom door and took him out of class. We went to lunch and I told him that I was so sorry to have let him leave that way and how great he was. I share this story, not to say that I was an outstanding mother. I just find it increcible that after more than 20 years, that gesture of love has stayed with Eric. Maybe it was the shock of seeing my face at his classroom door! Or maybe it was the fact that I gave him more love than he felt he deserved. Certainly, that's what the Lord does for us.

Each day presents us with new challenges but when we are guided by vision and principles, they don't seem so daunting.


  1. Tonight I read this again, and had Kevin read it. He loved it, but said it made him feel badly about how impatient he had been with the boys during dinner. With this wisdom fresh on our minds we went about getting our boys to bed. We laughed with them, read scriptures with them, and just enjoyed them and we dressed them and brushed their teeth. We never raised our voices and they behaved better than they have for bed time in a long time. I want to read this every morning. I just love it. thank you, thank you.

  2. I love this. I'm going to pass it on to a few young mothers. I wish I had this advice when I was raising my boys but then again, this philosophy is very similar to what was role modeled to me by my mom. She did not sweat the small stuff, she kept life simple and focused on what truly mattered.

    I like how your Mom put great importance on keeping a child well fed and rested. I read once years ago that there is no such thing as a bad child, only an unhappy one. If the basics are not met, like sleep and food, there will be problems. We then are trying to deal with a brain and heart that are deficient. I see toddlers in stores who are clearly tired and need to go home and take a nap, but the mother is continually scolding them. I want to turn to the mom and say, "Take them home and feed them and give them a nap!" but of course I don't.

    Now wonder you are such a good Mom, Natalie. Your mom is so wise, and what a great idea this blog is. If she does this every week, in a year you will have 52 priceless posts....enough for a great book!

  3. This is a lovely post, Jane. I remember meeting you during mothers week at BYUI, and have always considered you an expert in the mother department. :) I hope you don't mind if I share this with a few friends.

    I especially agree with the things you said about love. I often look into my daughters eyes with love and admiration (How can I not? She is so sweet!), and I really can feel her respond to it. Eye contact is so important. Its almost electric, you know? Its amazing how a little extra love, attention and patience can change their world.

    Thanks again! Can't wait to see the next Q&A!

  4. This post was an absolute blessing to me. Wisdom and love oozes from your words glad to have found this. And Natalie...what an awesome question...i resounds with your momma's heart and the panic I sometimes feel when I think of the longterm...thank you both.


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