Monday, April 26, 2010

Discussing "Different" Parenting Views?

The Question:

Hi, Jane. 

I'm just wondering how you handled having "different" parenting views than those around you.  Family size, discipline, preschool, babies...  I think I'm a pretty tuned-in parent, but I have been more mainstream in some respects.  But as I read your blog, and a couple others, it opens my eyes, and I want to change.  And it all feels so right.  And I get excited, tell my husband, begin implementing.  And then I go to Enrichment (or Activities whatever it's called now).  Anyway, everyone there agrees that there is "a world of difference between kids who go to preschool and those who don't."  And all the areas could be hit, I think.  Do you just keep your mouth shut?  The thing is, I think I had my views before because that is what people around me talk about, that is what the books say, what the Dr. says.  I think it's helpful to let people know that there are other parenting methods, just as a courtesy, not to judge or boss, but because they are probably only hearing about mainstream parenting.  At least I wish people would have brought it up with me.  But mostly, then I start to really question it again.  Should I put my son in preschool?  Ha ha.  I just went to Enrichment tonight and it was an item of topic.  How do you keep from getting wishy-washy?

Thank you,

The Answer:
Dear Erin,
What a good question--a good way of putting it.  It's made me think about my early days of adopting this way of parenting. As I've mentioned, I was a "natural consequences" mother.  When I read about this and gained a vision of it, I was excited to share it with my friends.  But, honestly, I was met mostly with skepticism.  People felt that it seemed permissive and inconsistent.  They felt that children wouldn't know where they stood if there were not swift, steady consequences for bad behavior.  I wasn't sure either.  It was a new idea.  I think this type of parenting requires a leap of faith because, on the surface, there are not immediate results.   But, for me, I sensed a difference right away.  I was no longer the enemy, but the advocate--and that position felt more comfortable. 
My children who have been raised this way from the beginning are now young adults and teen-agers and they are pretty impressive people.  So impressive, in fact, that I am often asked for advice on parenting from people who know them.  I know that they are the way they are, largely because of this form of discipline.  As promised in the book, they each have a strong conscience and they each have a warm relationship with us as their parents.  We have almost no conflict in our home.  In spite of that, many of the very people who ask my advice and see the results, really can't imagine that it could work.  It's just very hard for them to relinquish that position of force. 
 You are just where I was 20 years ago--deciding to paddle against the current of the philosophies of the day.   You're bound to meet with skepticism or even opposition.    But today, I am completely secure in this because I'm completely converted.  No one could persuade me to do otherwise.   It feels good to come to a place in your motherhood, where you are more tuned in to your own children than to the voices all around you.  And that can happen relatively quickly as you begin to experience the benefits of this type of parenting.
Many of the comments on this blog have addressed the topic of judging one another.   While condemning is never a good thing, we do have the task of looking around and sifting through the many claims and philosophies that swirl around us and deciding what is really right for us--and that involves making judgments.  In that process, many camps develop--"Love and Logic" camps, "Baby Whisperer" camps, "Natural Consequences" camps, advocates of preschools, mothers with opinions about when to start solid foods, potty training, kindergarten...I don't have to tell you this, right?  Just prayerfully make your decisions and move forward with them.  Let the debates carry on...because trust me, they always will.  And they're good in a way.  They just represent mothers trying to be good mothers. 
The truth is, the more secure you are in your beliefs, the less defensive you will become.  And as you focus on living it instead of explaining it, you will receive greater peace and clarity in the process.
All my love,

3 1/2 Year Old Not Potty Training?

The Question:
My son Adam is 3 1/2 years old.  He has had a speech delay and has only been communicating well for about three or four months.  I have made a few feeble attempts at potty training him including one where he was given treats every time he used the toilet.  He was willing to participate but took no initiative at all.  After a week or so I got tired of training myself to take him to the bathroom.  When we talk to him about using the toilet he says, "NO, change diapy!"  He doesn't really care.  What do I do?  He is already big for his age.  He looks like a five year old in a diaper.  It is embarrassing!

The Answer:

Although he's on the upper end of the age range for potty training, Adam is still normal.  It's hard to know exactly what his hesitation is.   Because I didn't really experience this problem, I don't really have an answer.  But I did a little google search "Potty Training Problems" and found a wealth of great ideas and information that apply perfectly.  I skimmed over them and I'm sure you'll feel encouraged as you read.  You're far from alone.  This site was especiallly helpful.
Just one little caution.  Try not to be embarrassed.  It's an unproductive and divisive feeling,  Adam is really your only concern here--his success and well-being.  As a young mother, it's easy to let your children's performance reflect completely on you and because of his size, he's probably often faced with high expectations.   It's important that you stay on his side. 
Good luck.
All my love,

2 1/2 Year Old Wild Man?

The Question:
Mother Jane,
How great to have a mother to talk to! I have a little kid/little problem question. I am the mother of 5 young kids, 1 to 11 years. I thought I had babyness all figured out, then I had #4. The pregnancy was rotton, the sweet baby got up every hour, slept an hour, up an hour. He started getting sick at 2 months old and it has been one thing after another. For a while he would get better for 2 or three days, then sick again. He is the cutest little guy and so funny and we love each other so much. We kiss all day, but the little turkey is so smart, he can't stay out of trouble, he's got to be exploring ALL the time. 
Recently, he became intrigued by knives. I found him sitting in the corner of the counter staring at the serated butcher knife. As he was petting the chrome blade, he knew I was there behind him and said said, " Mom, I love this knife, I love this knife, mom." A few days earlier, my 5 year old came running to me and said, "Mom! Josh (name has been changed to protect the unaccountable), is playing with the matches!" I go in the living room and he has dumped an entire box of matches of the floor and like 15 have been lit! What 2 year old knows how to strike a match! I don't even know how he got them, we have removed all chairs from the kitchen and they were on the highest shelf in the highest cupboard! Just after he went into nursery, I went to pick him up and I noticed three kids bleeding from face wounds. I asked what happened and told me Josh had "gotten them". I told the Primary President they had to call me to nursery so I could protect the other children or he couldn't go anymore. 
This started just after #5 came home. They are only 15 months apart. The curiosity thing I can deal with. It's the hitting, scratching and pulling hair I am tired of. It has been intensly going on for a full year now. I have tried everything 100 times and he just doesn't care enough about the rewards/punishments/consequences to stop. I don't go to play group at the park because I don't want the other moms to cry when I pull up, I can't ask anyone to watch him because I'm afraid he'll hurt their kids. We have tried physically restrictive time-outs, "When you hurt us, you can't be with us" separation time outs, spanked him back, let the kids hit him back, pretended to cry because we were so sad, ignored it etc etc etc. Poor #5, he's the sweetest little boy, just one year old and he is either getting loved to death by Josh or wailed on by Josh. Please fix us. I'll even let you take him for a little while if you need to, ha ha ha........
Josh's Tired Mom
The Answer:

Dear Mother of "Josh",
Your letter reminded me so much of my good friend Cindy.  She had three little angelic girls--just unbelievably perfect.  I was raising my rough and tumble boys and I really felt that Cindy was a better mother than I was.  I tried to copy her methods but, try as I might, my boys wouldn't just sit in a circle on the floor and quietly play or color.  Then along came daughter #4--her version of Josh--the wildest girl I'd ever seen.  She was cross, sickly, defiant and full of mischief.  I'll have to be honest--I felt much better after that.  And I learned a lesson.  Some children are, for whatever reason, much more difficult than others.  I think the Lord uses them to humble us.  They take us out of the comfortable routines of our lives and demand that we constantly employ new strategies.  It probably doesn't seem funny to you, but I just laughed right out loud at "Mom, I love this knife.  I love this knife, Mom".  My friend told me about her nephew who was "Josh-like".  His parents tried to explain to him that Heavenly Father wanted him to be good, and Satan wanted him to be bad.  He said, "But I love Satan."  Of course, the parents thought their son was possessed...but he's actually turning out well.  Sometimes those tough children grow out of it fairly quickly--and other times, they're pretty challenging all the way along.  But almost always, they turn out to be extraordinary people, if their parents don't panic and crush them with harshness.  If "Josh" were my boy, I would:
1)  Pray.  I would pray for insight into his mind and for an increased ability to care for him.  I would pray that we could connect with eachother and learn from eachother.  I would just tell the Lord my feelings and struggles and ask for his help continually.
2)  I would keep him under close watch.  It's hard when you've had some relatively easy children, to shift into a more vigilant mode.  But that's what you'll need to do.  Assign family members to help out and teach them how to work with him...especially this year.
3)  No surprise, I'd continue to shower him with love and reassurance.  He was bumped out of the nest pretty early.  He's still not much more than a baby really.  It sounds like you're already doing this.  But really try to connect many times a day.  Look right into his eyes and make sure he feels all of your warmth and love.  When he's in this mode of constantly being corralled or reprimanded, he can start to feel like he's "out of your circle" and that the baby is in.  Little children who are as busy and curious and high-maintenance as he is, get used to receiving stern looks and glares from everyone--nursery leaders, family members, your friends--even strangers.  Those looks tell him that he's bad and unloved.  You can teach his siblings to smile at him often and look at him with love.
4)  Be in a mode of continual teaching.  Try not to let things escalate to where he's injuring someone or destroying something and has to be disciplined.  I'm with you that I wouldn't drop him off at the nursery or at the home of a friend right now.   It's too easy for him to develop negative habits and patterns.  He's a full-time job for a while.  Teach him appropriate behavior.  We often tell children "no" without being really clear about what we want them to do instead.  Have him practice little good behaviors like sharing, touching people's faces softly and gently, coming right when you call and then reward him.  Praise even the tiniest success.
Mainly, you are in a mode of protecting him and others until he has a chance to mature.  I've seen dozens of children who seemed hopelessly out of control at two, become really nice five year olds.  You're a seasoned mother with a great sense of humor.  You'll be successful.  You'll be telling that knife story with a chuckle when he graduates from college.  Keep that vision.  Pray hard.
With Love,

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Letter From Jane: Babies

Dear Readers,

We’ve talked a lot about love on this blog—about the importance of not just loving our children, but of making sure that they feel our love continually. Naturally that connection begins long before our children can understand the words, “I love you.” I believe that we begin making that connection before our children are born. New breakthroughs in science are proving that when an expectant mother loves and wants her baby, she emits high levels of serotonin which actually contribute to her baby’s brain formation. That means that when you feel excitement and pleasure just dreaming about your baby—your baby receives physiological benefits as he develops within you. What an astonishing thought! And of course when you take good care of yourself during pregnancy--eating nutritious foods, exercising and avoiding harmful substances, your baby is the recipient. I used to love taking a walk in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and feeling that sense of well-being that went deeper than just me.

When babies are loved and wanted before they ever come, they arrive with a great start. But I’ve come to believe that the first year of life is perhaps the most important one of all. I remember holding my own first baby for the first time—all the mixture of feelings—amazement, awe, recognition and a bit of inadequacy. Never had anyone needed me so much. He was all made out of…me. His skin, his fluffy hair, his little bright eyes. Here he was breathing, squinting around, trying to find food and I was what he wanted. When he was a few days old, I was marveling to my sister about how connected and intertwined we were—him needing to eat, me needing to feed him, how much he loved to be with me, how much I craved his feel and smell. She made a comment that set a course for my life as a mother. She said, “I read once that babies don’t realize that they are separate people from their mothers. As far as they’re concerned, you and he are the same person.” Yes. That’s exactly what it felt like.

For each of my babies, the first year of life is a time of very close, tight nurturing. They sleep near me (or with me), they bathe with me, they eat when they are hungry, I hold them when they want, they go where I go. I am definitely an attached parent. For each of our 11 children, I have basically given myself over to them for the first year. And through the years, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about bonding. It’s just a fascinating subject for me. Imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon a book one day at the library called, “The Biology of Love”. It’s written by a Dr. Arthur Janov who has developed therapies over the years to help people who got off to a bad start in life. He demonstrates in the book that during the first year of life, the brain is still very much in formative stages and that the parents complete the important connections that will last through their child’s life-time.

The book is intense but here is my best summation of it. I know it’s an over-simplification, but just tell me that it doesn’t make perfect sense to you. The brain is very complex but is divided into two hemispheres. One controls emotions and feelings while the other controls logical reasoning and thinking. When a baby is born, the logical side is dormant. It won’t kick in for about two years. But the feeling side is entirely active. A baby may not understand anything we say, but they are fully attuned to our voice, our expression, our smell, our touch. They cry and we respond—and as we do, we are building connections. The mechanisms in their brain that produce serotonin and dopamine are set. When babies are routinely neglected, there are whole sections of brain connections that are “pruned out” and unrecoverable. These babies grow up with hungers and needs that they can’t explain so they often turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. I realize that none of you neglect your babies to that extent. But I really believe that it’s impossible to give a child too much love or to respond too much in the first year. Dr. Janov points out that the process of nurturing a baby is labor-intensive but that we will put in the time now or later—now in building what he calls “a loved brain” that functions well and responds appropriately to life—or later, trying to understand and remedy problems from early neglect.

My sister’s casual comment was true. Our babies really are incomplete with only half of a brain—the feeling half. We provide the logical side until theirs is functional. It’s up to us to meet the needs that they can’t articulate or meet themselves. And it’s helpful to realize that they are not logical enough to have an agenda—to manipulate us. They only know that they need something, and often that “something” is just to be with us.

When a baby emerges from their first year with “a loved brain”—the feeling side of their brain fully connected and formed, the logical side of the brain begins to develop. Connections form between the two sides of the brain to create an emotionally healthy person. A person with a loved brain is more likely to be able to form strong, meaningful relationships throughout his life, to cope with and solve difficult problems he will encounter in life and to have a deeper ability to perceive right and wrong—because he understands and “feels” the impact of his actions on others.

I believe this. There is evidence of it all around us. And while it may seem like a burdensome bit of information, it is, for me, truly freeing and motivating. I am free to love my babies without reservation. And I am doing everything I can to insure a happy life for them. I know they’ll have hardships and difficulties as we all do. I can’t spare them those things. But I can give them their best chance to handle those things well.

I was talking to a young mother in our ward a few years ago. She was frustrated because she hadn’t done a thing for three days except hold her 2-month old baby—who was unusually fussy. The house was falling down around her and she couldn’t get anything done. I shared some excerpts with her from “The Biology of Love” and reassured her that though it didn’t seem like it, she was doing something permanently good as she rocked and soothed her baby. Later she told me how helpful that information was—that it had really changed her perspective. That’s what I hope this is for you—just a deeper understanding of the role you’re playing.

Over my lifetime as a mother, I’ve seen a quiet, concerted movement aimed at separating babies from mothers. In our society, women are cautioned to look after their own interests first. Modern methods encourage mothers to teach their babies to soothe themselves—that the ultimate success is to make your baby as independent as early as possible. Why is that success? A neat compartmentalized life doesn’t work with babies. Their needs vary from day to day and their deepest needs are often met at inconvenient times.

I know that you’re picturing a mother run ragged trying to meet the demands of her new baby as well as the rest of the family. But it really hasn’t been like that for me. I’ve found great personal pleasure in that first year and a deep sense of accomplishment. My husband is wonderful with babies—and I think it’s partly because I’ve shown him how to enjoy them. My other children have learned (without any formal lessons) that babies are precious and wonderful. Babies uniquely bind a family together. One of my favorite memories was bringing our seventh baby home from the hospital and laying him on my bed. The children all came in and gathered around. One of them said, “It’s like he’s a little fire and we’re all getting warm.”

Sometimes I want to say to young mothers: “Throw all the books away and follow your instincts.” Tie that baby on and take him with you. Don’t dole out love in measured doses. Just make it as natural as air. Kiss, snuggle, smell, whisper to, caress that baby all that you want to. Picture their little brain lighting up and thriving.

I’m including two pictures with this post. These are two of the few pieces of art that I own. The first you might recognize as “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen. I love that with all of her other responsibilities, her baby is cradled in and content.

The second is a statue that my son Nick brought home to me from his mission to Bolivia. I guess he knew what I would love! I love how simple and primitive this relationship looks—no car seats or strollers or swings or fancy nursery—just this essential mother/baby relationship that transcends worldly trends and trappings.

Of course, this “immersion in love” that takes place in the first year, naturally segues into the loving approach we’ve discussed as our children grow older.

If you are still reading, you deserve a medal! This post has been a small book. But I hope there is something in it that will encourage you forward in this great work. Ezra Taft Benson, in summing up the ten ways a mother could be effective in her child’s life, ended with this jewel.

“Tenth and finally, mothers, take the time to truly love your children. A mother's unqualified love approaches Christlike love."

Here is a beautiful tribute by a son to his mother:

"I don't remember much about her views of voting nor her social prestige; and what her ideas on child training, diet, and eugenics were, I cannot recall. The main thing that sifts back to me now through the thick undergrowth of years is that she loved me. She liked to lie on the grass with me and tell stories, or to run and hide with us children. She was always hugging me. . . . And I liked it. She had a sunny face. To me it was like God, and all the beatitudes saints tell of Him. And sing! Of all the sensations pleasurable to my life nothing can compare with the rapture of crawling up into her lap and going to sleep while she swung to and fro in her rocking chair and sang. Thinking of this, I wonder if the woman of today, with all her tremendous notions and plans, realizes what an almighty factor she is in shaping of her child for weal or woe? I wonder if she realizes how much sheer love and attention count for in a child's life."

Sheer love. I like that. And let me just add, at the risk of sounding patronizing—that I love you as well. Through the miracle of blogging, I’ve visited many of your homes and seen your babies. Each of you melt my heart. Good, good things are happening out there! Thank you for your dedication to this process.

All my love,


Friday, April 16, 2010

Name Of The Talk?

The Question:
I was reading the post 'Family Planning' from March 10, 2010.  At the bottom of the post you quote Dallin H. Oaks and said that he gave a talk saying how many children should we many as we can.  I would love to know the name of that talk.

The Answer:

Thanks for the question.  I didn't pull it up the article when I wrote my post, but this is the exact quote:  "How many children should a couple have? All they can care for!"

Here is an excerpt from the talk, given in General Conference in October of 1993:

Knowledge of the great plan of happiness also gives Latter-day Saints a distinctive attitude toward the bearing and nurturing of children.

In some times and places, children have been regarded as no more than laborers in a family economic enterprise or as insurers of support for their parents. Though repelled by these repressions, some persons in our day have no compunctions against similar attitudes that subordinate the welfare of a spirit child of God to the comfort or convenience of parents.
The Savior taught that we should not lay up treasures on earth but should lay up treasures in heaven (see Matt. 6:19–21). In light of the ultimate purpose of the great plan of happiness, I believe that the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity.

President Kimball said, “It is an act of extreme selfishness for a married couple to refuse to have children when they are able to do so” (Ensign, May 1979, p. 6). When married couples postpone childbearing until after they have satisfied their material goals, the mere passage of time assures that they seriously reduce their potential to participate in furthering our Heavenly Father’s plan for all of his spirit children. Faithful Latter-day Saints cannot afford to look upon children as an interference with what the world calls “self-fulfillment.” Our covenants with God and the ultimate purpose of life are tied up in those little ones who reach for our time, our love, and our sacrifices.

How many children should a couple have? All they can care for! Of course, to care for children means more than simply giving them life. Children must be loved, nurtured, taught, fed, clothed, housed, and well started in their capacities to be good parents themselves. Exercising faith in God’s promises to bless them when they are keeping his commandments, many LDS parents have large families. Others seek but are not blessed with children or with the number of children they desire. In a matter as intimate as this, we should not judge one another.

President Gordon B. Hinckley gave this inspired counsel to an audience of young Latter-day Saints:

“I like to think of the positive side of the equation, of the meaning and sanctity of life, of the purpose of this estate in our eternal journey, of the need for the experiences of mortal life under the great plan of God our Father, of the joy that is to be found only where there are children in the home, of the blessings that come of good posterity. When I think of these values and see them taught and observed, then I am willing to leave the question of numbers to the man and the woman and the Lord” (“If I Were You, What Would I Do?” Brigham Young University 1983–84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1984, p. 11).

Read the full talk here.

I hope this is helpful!


How Do I Help My 15-Month-Old Sleep In Her Crib?

We're posting a question today, and a Letter from Jane on Monday.  She just wanted a little more time to construct this letter about babies and's going to be good.  (no pressure though, mom:)  -Natalie

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I really felt like I had it all together before my daughter came. I thought I would be firm, and that she would sleep in her own bed, and that I would schedule her feedings. Then she came, and she just didn't want that stuff. And it just didn't feel like a good idea anymore. She had acid reflux (we didn't realize it for a couple months) and hated sleeping in her bassinet from day 1. So I let her sleep with me. I fed on demand. I tried to "attachment parent." And it's been amazing, really. She is so, so happy and secure, and just a delight. The only problem is bedtime.

I have read SO many sleep books, and almost all of them advocate some form of crying it out, saying I'm doing her a disservice by not making her soothe herself to sleep. And maybe I am. She is 15 months old, and I still nurse her to sleep. She really hates her crib. She cries and screams, and I'm convinced she feels abandoned. I've tried rocking her to sleep and laying her down after. She wakes up most of the time, or just doesn't sleep very long. I am tired. She wakes up a few times a night still to nurse. I feel like it's doable, though.

I'm just not sure what to do. I feel like I need to get my little girl's sleeping under control. At the same time, I don't want to damage my relationship with my sweet baby that I am totally in love with! Oh, I love her. I just want to make sure I'm not hurting her sleep long-term. Oh, I wish I could see how everything would turn out! In my head, it seems as if her feeling attached, nurtured, and secure is the most important thing. But will she be an insomniac? These are the questions that plague me.:)

Thank you,

The Answer:
Dear Anonymous,

It seems like bedtime/naptime struggles are some of the most common problems for young mothers. I know that trends have really changed over the years, but for me this whole process was fairly simple. I'll put it out there for your consideration.

I nursed each of my children for the first year. At that point, my doctor assured me that cow's milk was fine for them, so I gradually got them to take a bottle. (None of them took bottles while I was nursing them.) At around one year old, I would put my babies to bed every night and down for their naps, with a warm bottle. Once they were converted, they loved their bottles, so they always went to bed easily. I never gave them bottles except when they were going to bed--so a warm bottle and bed was a happy, positive thing. I also never gave juice bottles (too hard on teeth.)

Because I've received so many questions like yours, I decided to ask some of my other “old experienced mother” friends and they agreed—that’s what they did too. In the past few years, it seems that this method has fallen out of favor. I’m just not sure why. Most of my friends agree that their children had few cavities. One friend was more vigilant about brushing and none of her five children who took bottles have ever had a single cavity. Only one of my children had braces so I don't think it's an orthodontic issue. Maybe there is a study I'm not aware of that discourages the practice, but all I know is that it took a lot of the stress out of bedtime. And everybody seems to have turned out pretty well so far.

When they were three or so, I would take them off of the bottle so I could potty train--also very easy at that late age, and move them into a toddler bed so they could get up at night to go the bathroom. This transition was typically pretty painless. So, there you have it—the “old-fashioned, no fail, everybody’s happy” way to put children to sleep.

Let me also assure you that what you are doing now--nursing your baby to sleep and responding to her cries--will not turn her into an insomniac or damage her sleep patterns for life. You sound like a wonderful, nurturing mother but your baby has had an excellent start and it's time for you to get some sleep!

All my love,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Understanding Boys?

The Question:
Thanks for your uplifting blog and great insights.  I figured it’s about time I asked a question, so here goes:
I have two boys, ages 9 and 7.  I love them to pieces but lately, I am becoming so frustrated with some of their obnoxiousness:  the potty talk, laughing at stupid noises, sloppy behavior in dress and chores, showing off for friends, and just in general acting stupid!  One of my boys resists work by asking stupid questions, “What’s a room?”  “What’s clean?”  “What’s a broom?” in an annoying voice.  Another has shown amazing proficiency at chores in the past, but now resists work at all costs. 
Ironically, I used to teach a bunch of Primary boys that age when my own kids were younger and I’d get so annoyed by the same types of behaviors.  Of course, I vowed my OWN BOYS would never behave that way, yet here we are.  =) 
Please give me a little perspective on how boys this age think.  Is most of this stuff just temporary and best ignored, like a toddler’s tantrums?  Or should I intervene more and work harder at teaching appropriate behavior?

The Answer:

Dear Christina,
I loved this question.  I just laughed right out loud.  You really captured that age and stage perfectly.  I actually have thought a great deal about this issue over the years.  I think it's more important than it might appear.
Your boys are at a stage where they are discovering their own humor.  I think a mother can go a long way to help them in this endeavor--and encourage some patterns that will last for years to come.  I usually have a talk with my children at around this age that goes something like this.
"I've noticed that you are getting a good sense of humor.  That's a great thing because everyone likes funny people.  But we have a few rules about humor in our family.
1)  It can never be crude.  Crudeness isn't really funny.  It's just crude.  It isn't clever and it detracts from the spirit in our home.  Here are some things that I think are crude:  Vulgar noises, bathroom humor, talk about boldily functions, anything sexually degrading, certain terminology.  (I don't like the words "butt" or "sucks" or "crap" or a few others.  You'll have to decide what's acceptable to you.) 
David Bednar said,  "Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us."

I recognize that this stance is almost outrageous in today's world where almost every children's movie is steeped in crude humor.  But our children can be taught to find this humor offensive.
2)  It can never be at the expense of someone else.  Cutting remarks may seem funny, but when they injure another person, they show a lack of character.  We simply don't hurt people with our humor. 
3)  Humor cannot be smart-alecky.  (Your sons remarks about "What's a room?" fall into that category.)  
After laying down those rules about humor, I am pretty tenacious about upholding them.  "Remember, we don't use humor that way."  I try to teach them by laughing at their appropriate humor (even though it's only marginally funny at this age) and sharing fun stories that I know they'll enjoy.  By taking the time to work with them and develop their humor and personality in a positive direction, you are preparing them to be respected and appreciated throughout their lives.  Because, let's face it, many people seem to stay "stuck" in that grade-school humor forever.
All of that being said, I admit that I don't fully enjoy children between the ages of 9 and 13.  They are a little bit annoying to me--the way they want to tell you a whole movie in detail, their drama, their chitchat.  Don't get me wrong, I never stop loving my children or attempting to keep the relationship strong.  But I'm always so relieved when they arrive at 14 or 15.  They become truly clever and intelligent.  I completely enjoy them at this age and beyond.
You're a great mother with a lot of insight.  Good luck with this new little challenge.
With Love,

Getting My Husband On Board?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

First off- thank you so much for the time you spend on answering so many questions.
I really admired your letter to your readers. I really want to focus more on my relationship with my children as opposed to just disciplining like you wrote about. My question for you is how do I get my husband on board without sounding like I am nagging and wanting him to do things "my way"? I have been wanting to talk to him about changing our disciplinary ways with our children for a few days now, but I can't seem to find the right time or words to express to him how important this is to me. How did you and your husband work together?

The Answer:
Dear Jamee,
It was kind of a funny thing with us.  When our oldest children were young, my bible was "Children the Challenge" by Rudolf Dreikurs.    It is based on natural consequences.  It made sense and I had to train my husband in all of its ways.  We would sit around and brainstorm about appropriate consequences for various offenses.  We got pretty adept at natural consequences, but as I've mentioned before, I felt uneasy about the "outward vs. inward" motivations involved.  As I became converted to the loving approach and became more and more excited about it, I had the job of convincing my husband that we needed to scrap the old method.   He was really skeptical-- because in theory, it sounds permissive, inconsistent and ineffective.  But I started using it and pointing out the successes and little by little, he became a believer. 
I'd have to say though, that even after all these years, we're really different in our styles.  Neither of us are harsh but we don't handle things in exactly the same way.  I think that's ok.  Children really seem to adapt to and even benefit from those differences.
I suggest that you just ease into new ways of doing things and discuss them as you go along.  Explain the theories behind a loving approach and then try it out.  My good friend has recently had to go back to school, and her husband primarily cares for the children.   She told me that one day her husband was trying to resolve a conflict between two children.  Instead of punishing the perpetrator (which he would have done before), he focused on the injured child, assuring him that no harm was meant.  The guilty child looked on for a few moments, then ran forward and apologized--on his own.  The father was surprised and excited to see this apology without any outside prompting.  He began to catch the vision of the whole approach.
It's not a change that can be made overnight.  But as you both see positive results and talk about them, you'll likely move in this direction together.
All my love,

Whining Children?

The Question:

I just recently found your website and I love it!  I have already learned a lot.  I was wondering what you do about whining?  I have three children 6, 4 and 2 and our 4 year old is the worst whiner of the bunch.  Whenever they get told no about not getting to do a certain activity right at that moment or no they can't have a snack because it is almost dinner and every other time they get told "no" they start to whine, whine, whine and ask why.  There seems to be nonstop whining in our house.  How do we get them to stop and learn to accept that no means no and to move on with their day without whining about it?  


The Answer:
Dear Ashley,
I sympathize completely with you.  I just can't tolerate whining (or screaming).  I would start today to eliminate it.
I would begin to attack this problem by focusing first on myself.  I would be absolutely certain to never give in when they whine.   If your children are whining continually, there is a good chance that you are occasionally rewarding it.  They've learned that it's worth a try.
I'm sure that you've addressed the problem directly with your children.  It's always helpful to discuss these issues at a time other than when they are occurring.  Play a little game.  Have a cupful of Skittles and tell them that you are going to have a lesson about manners.  Have them ask for an Skittle politely and then give them one.  Next, have them ask and you say, "No, I'm sorry.  Not right now."  Teach them to say.  "OK, Mom".  When they get it right, praise their wonderful manners.  Do it again and again and then try some different scenerios.  Each time that you say 'no', have them say, "OK, Mom".  This teaches them your expectation and gives you a reference point when you experience an actual situation.  "Remember...what do you say when I say no?"  Of course they won't catch on overnight, but keep working at it.  I might even keep a jar of M&Ms handy and for a week or two and give them one whenever they say, "OK, Mom".
 Sometimes it takes very focused, concerted effort to change a bad habit.  But children usually respond well to positive teaching.  We occasionally go through a phase where it seems that everyone complains when I ask them to do something.  Then I know it's time to bring out the  "Sure" jar.  (It's especially impressive because the label came off of my deodorant so it looks very professional.)  I put in an M&M whenever I make a request and a child says, "Sure!" with enthusiasm.  When I feel that we've turned things around, they get to divide up the M&M's.  Maybe you could have an "OK, Mom" jar.
This advice applies to so many situations.  Just teach with a positive spin.  I predict your home will be "whining free" in a couple of weeks.  Or at least you'll see some serious progress.  Don't forget to pray for help.
All my love,

Very Attached Little Girl?

The Question:

Hi Jane,
I'm just loving this blog! I've really appreciated your posts explaining your more loving approach to discipline. I have tried to keep these principles in mind lately when parenting my two kids (aged four and two). However, there are some situations with my four-year-old daughter that I'm not sure how to handle.
My daughter--while very independent and well behaved when attending preschool, primary, or dance class--always acts very clingy to me at home. I cannot leave the home at all without her crying for me and begging for me not to go. These are all situations where I would be leaving her home in the care of my husband. My husband is really a great, gentle, patient, fun father. Once I can finally tear my daughter from off my leg and leave the house, she is totally content and happy the duration of my absence.
Bedtime is the only other instance where she exhibits this same behavior. We have quite an involved, well-entrenched bedtime routine: bath, pajamas, four books, teeth, prayer, song, story in bed, one-on-one talking, and finally a stretched-out painful goodnight! I generally like the routine and am glad that we spend this time together each evening; however, with only two kids (we want to have more) this routine can take a couple of hours every night. My daughter is tired at this time of night (Mommy is too), and she insists that only I do every aspect of the routine. Normally this is fine, but at times I need Daddy to step in to brush teeth or read stories. If my husband has to do anything she cries and is very emotional. Once a week I have a Young Women's meeting that requires me to leave in the middle of bedtime--and it can be quite emotionally draining on me. However, once again, once I am out the door she snaps out of it and is perfectly happy for my husband. The only obstacle is literally peeling her off my leg so I can leave! Also, each night after laying with her, talking, singing, telling a story, and praying with her (sometimes spending up to 30 minutes with her in bed) she still cries when it is time for me to leave. Interestingly, when my husband does put her down to bed she happily kisses him goodnight and doesn't put up any fight.
I know it is normal for a child to still be fairly attached to her mother at this age (again she doesn't do this type of thing when I drop her off at preschool, primary, babysitters, or dance). I know she has fun with her Dad and enjoys spending time with him. It is just that he is more efficient at bedtime and gets the routine done quicker, where I will linger on things and it is easier for my daughter to stall going to bed when I'm in charge at night. My husband and I kind of think that she is using crying (emotions) on me, because she knows I am generally more receptive to her emotions. Basically these tactics work on momma not on daddy, so she doesn't really try them on him. Anyway, these situations can be tiring at night, and I'm not sure how to be firm but still loving when I feel that she is being a bit manipulative (such a strong word to use when describing a four-year-old's behavior, but it is the most fitting description I could think of).
Thank you so much! I look forward to your reply.


The Answer:

Dear Caitlin,
It's taken me a while to answer this question--so long that it might not even be a problem for you any more!  Usually, this kind of problem is pretty short-lived if you downplay it.  Just peel her arms off gently and say, I'll be back soon, then leave without delay.  If you reduce the drama, it often loses it's effect. 
Another thing that I often did with children of that age, was practice.  Some time when you aren't leaving but you're feeling especially close, talk about the problem together.  "Remember how sometimes when I leave, you cry and won't let me go?...Why is that?"  If she can articulate her feelings at a time when emotions are not high, she might feel more understood.  Then practice with her.   Take turns being the mommy who is leaving.  Show her how to give you a kiss and say, "Bye Mommy!  See you soon!"  Once she gets it, do it again and again, praising her.  Tell her that the next time you leave, if she can do it right, you have a treat for her.  Carry some little treats in your purse for a while.
The night time routine does seem a bit manipulative.  Children hate to go to bed.  That parting is so painful for them and they try to draw it out as long as they possibly can.  She prefers you because you're willing to spend this extra time.  My suggestion is that you follow your husband's lead and shorten up the routine.  Just move cheerfully from one chore to the next despite her protests--'just two books each night" and when you lay by her, only stay for two or three minutes.  You have seen that no matter what you do, she cries for more.  So just be kind but consistent--but be on the same page with your husband.  In our home, my husband was the story-teller at bedtime and oversaw most of the bedtime routine if he was home.  It gave him time with the children and I usually had a baby to care for.  Maybe you can let your husband take that over if he's willing. 
It's a problem that will blow over before long on it's own, but hopefully, these suggestions will help that along.  Good luck.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Do I Keep An Eternal Perspective?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

I am writing this to you as I sit in a locked bed room at the very end of my rope. Despite the irrational feelings of despair at the moment, the question I am about to ask you is tireless and something I wonder about even when I am myself.

How do you keep an eternal perspective and stay cheerful even when you feel like you are being horribly let down by your family? Whether it be housework, picking up after oneself, bickering, and just plain old “helping out.” I cannot expect my family to be perfect but I find that a lot of times I fall into the “little red hen” syndrome in that I tow the line 90% of the time. Then I feel used, under appreciated, the only one that cares and on and on. It is a self pity party that I cannot even stand. I never did like martyrs so when I feel like one it is not a good place to be.

Oh, we have done all the usual natural consequences, chore chart, reward system, etc. etc. When they work they work well, and when they don’t they don’t. It is ebb and flow for sure. But on a day to day basis I get tired of reminding, nagging, asking nicely, and just plain pushing to get the little things done. I have great kids. I feel lucky. I have a great husband. I feel like I won the lottery most days when I think of my family. The days of joy outweigh the days of woe.

I know the problem is mine and my perspective. So, how do I stay cheerful when I have to remind? How do I stay cheerful when they are fighting? How do I stay cheerful when I am let down? How do I put this all into perspective and stay cheerful while I choose my battles and not take everything soooooooooooo personally???? How do I just plain let go and enjoy these years in all of their imperfection?


The Answer:

I know. This is really hard work. Sometimes, just knowing that, helps. I don't play video games but I understand levels and that each level demands new skills, and usually a person dies several times before they master a level. But they just keep at it and gradually become proficient. So it is with motherhood. Each child, each stage brings new challenges and there's no magic trick. You just stay with it. You keep teaching children to work, teaching them how to treat one another, and keep expecting good things of them.

But you are wise to recognize one of the great keys to joy--an eternal perspective. And I'm not just talking about the life after this one, I mean the whole thing--5, 10, 50 years from now as well as in the world to come. It's the ability to see "afar off" as Peter puts it--to lift your eyes above the chaos of everyday life and see that you are creating something meaningful and lasting. When you make a chore chart and really stick with it, it's more than just a way to keep the house clean. It's teaching children skills, responsibility and order. When you patiently work with your children (again and again) to resolve conflicts with each other, you are teaching them to be good spouses and parents. Without this perspective, you might get the feeling that you're not getting anywhere. Your efforts are so slow and tedious and "undone" that they are almost invisible to the untrained eye. A long range view involves faith and hope. It is envisioning results that haven't happened yet--like imagining eating an ear of fresh corn while your down in the dirt planting.

But it isn't all about long-range perspective or focusing on some future joy. Peace and happiness are possible in the "planting" season. You just have to recognize it for what it is--a season of growth for all of you. Enjoy it. You're children will never be these ages again. You won't be able to cuddle up with them, gather them around you and read, clean the whole house together. I had 11 children. I now have years and years ahead of me to knit in my quiet house if I want to. You will too. But try to fully enjoy this journey. I absolutely love looking at the blogs of my readers. Blogging seems to focus a mother's mind on the here and now--the immediate fleeting moments of life. They are about searching for and capturing the profound in the ordinary.

So say a prayer for strength, unlock the door and step up to this challenge. This is hard but doable and you'll want to have done it well. At my stage, my children express gratitude almost every day for the childhood I gave them--and it was all pretty ordinary. But I kind of miss the days when it was a thankless job because it was truly selfless service---a kind I'll never be able to give again.

All my love,


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Preschool and Routines?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

I really enjoyed your first "Letter" about discipline, and can't wait for your input on caring for babies. I've also been curious about your opinion on pre-school, as you once mentioned you had some specific feelings about it. I would love for you to elaborate on that. I'm also just curious about what a typical daily/weekly routine would look like for you with small children at home. I have a 3 year old and a 16 month old and I often wonder if I'm striking the "right" balance between housework, playing, teaching, going to playgroups, and finding "me" time. Did you tend to have a predictable weekly routine with specific activities specific days (and daily routines as well) or did you plan as you went along depending on what you felt like that day/week?

I am a very social person, and tend to be involved in 2 playgroups outside the home during the week, and sometimes have friends over here an additional day - this keeps me thriving but I also sometimes wonder if it's more important that we create activities and routines at home with just us. I have also considered working some formal "preschool" time into our routine with my 3 year old, but am not entirely sure how or where to start. Anyway, I welcome your thoughts and experiences!


The Answer:

Dear Jeanine,

Thank you so much for your great question. I can remember very well my early years with children. There always seems to be that nagging question lurking in the back of our minds, "Am I doing this right? Should I be doing more to prepare my children for school? Shouldn't there be more structure?"

The most wonderful, freeing realization you can have as a mother, is that you are creating a world for your children. When you tune in to their needs and key off of them, instead of what your friends and neighbors are doing, or even what the experts are saying, you will experience a new level of pleasure and confidence as a mother. I hate to say too much about it because, it's really up to you!

Some of my children loved drawing and crafts. When I noticed this interest, I would set up a little table for them and provide simple supplies and piles of paper. I made a shoe box for their best work and was amazed at the hours they would spend drawing, coloring and cutting things out to put in their box. Other children were not at all interested in crafts. They might enjoy digging or building with legos. One of my children loved animals. I couldn't get animal library books fast enough and we gradually built a collection of plastic animals. I've always had a chest full of dress-up clothes and I love puppets. Nothing needs to be fancy or expensive. But little children thrive when we feed their interests. I've always steered away from commercial fads--like action figures. I like to keep things simple, real and creative.

When it comes to preschool, I think it's completely unnecessary. I know it seems that if everyone else is sending their children to preschool, yours will be socially and academically stunted if you don't get on board. But these are precious, wonderful years. Those little three and four year olds are sponges like they'll never be again. Their ABC's are nothing. You are teaching them real life lessons--always in a context of faith. Listen to these inspired words:

"We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!" - Ezra Taft Benson

I have participated in play groups and cooperative "Joy Schools" over the years, but nothing academic. Each child has loved kindergarten and has been very successful. I knew that some of their classmates could read before they started, but I didn't care about that--unless my child showed great interest in letters and reading. Then I supplied little workbooks.

Besides their individual gifts and interests, your children will almost certainly share yours! If you love music, so will they. If you're a naturalist or an animal lover, your children will pick up on those interests. I majored in English and love poetry and books. Each one of my children share that love and are gifted writers. That bond has brought me great joy over the years. In the world you create for your children, you will discover the unique gifts your children come with and the talents that you all share. You don't have to follow lesson plans or color visual aids to make this happen. And you certainly don't have to drop them off somewhere. Just love them, enjoy them, and let them emerge in their own way.

Rather than structure and schedule the whole day, choose a few daily routines that you stick to. I loved the way my sister Susan would get all of her children ready for their day right after breakfast. After they were dressed, she would comb their hair, wash their faces and put a little vaseline on their cheeks. They just looked shiny clean. I always shot for that lofty goal and occasionally, I made it! Every day after lunch and before naps, my friend Lisl, chooses a picture from the gospel art kit and teaches the story to her preschoolers. She loves that time with them. These daily rituals establish order and build security. You can prayerfully decide what things are important enough that you will do them every day.

I love this role. I get to paint my walls and schedule my days and decide what matters. And while I can get ideas and inspiration from others, I love that ultimately, it's up to me. Is there really any greater opportunity for creative expression? I hope we can each fully appreciate and take advantage of this great trust and blessing.

All my love,

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Letter From Jane: Turning to the Lord

Dear Readers,

My heart is tender tonight as I write to you. I just have one thing that I want to communicate to you and I want you to absolutely know it. There is no book you’ll read or blog or expert or philosophy of man that begins to approach the help available to you from the Lord. He is real and he loves your children.

It is possible to go about your life as a parent without ever turning to the Lord for help. You can rely on others—or on your own thoughts and ideas. But I want you to know that the Lord is fully engaged in the success of your family. He knows your children entirely—their strengths, their struggles and their mission in life. He loves them with a perfect love and can offer you clear insights that are tailored to each one. These insights come in many forms, but I have learned to recognize them and once I receive one, I move forward with a perfect knowledge that it will benefit my child.

For example, let’s say that I have a 3 year old that is physically aggressive. Maybe it’s a growing problem and I’ve tried a number of solutions to no avail. Lots of people offer suggestions and I begin to wonder if my child really has a serious problem. In a humbled state, I ask the Lord for help. Or as Nephi so often did, I “cry to the Lord” for help on their behalf.

For me, answers rarely come while I am on my knees. But as the day—or the next few days progress, I will receive help.

Most often, this help comes in the form of understanding—I will be able to see just how my child is viewing things—his perspective. Children rarely think the way we do as adults so this insight helps me get to the root of the problem.

With this broader perspective will come an idea or several ideas that will formulate into a plan. I’ll feel an excitement to carry out this plan—knowing that it came from the Lord.

I will almost always experience a softening of heart toward my child. His strengths will seem more apparent. I might even have feelings of awe toward him—and a new tenderness.

Along with these insights, I will find that I am expanded personally—my patience, my wisdom and my ability to meet the challenge. And this is good because some of these challenges are not going to be over soon or solved in a day. You might have a child with a disability or some other ongoing struggle. Only the Lord can offer you the long-term help and enabling power you will need.

Listen to this great promise: “…if it so be that the children of men (we, as mothers) keep the commandments of God (agree to have children and are trying to raise them in righteousness) he doth nourish them, and strengthen them and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them.” (1 Nephi 17:3) Knowing this, we don’t ever need to feel isolated. We can know without any doubt that we will be helped, inspired, and expanded in every situation.

Many women struggle with feelings that they don’t have time to grow spiritually with all the demands of motherhood. But this process of praying for help, expecting it and acting on it, will build a “living” faith that will become your anchor. When really hard times come—and I’ve had some, and so have you—you will not feel alone. Because you really aren’t.

Besides these specific petitions for help, I encourage you to begin each day with prayer. I know that sometimes your days start before you’re really ready for them. You wake up to a crying baby or a needy child. But as soon as you can-- and maybe it will just be for a minute or two, go into your room, close the door and say a prayer. I guarantee you’ll feel a wash of peace. I have long had a routine of saying my morning prayer when I make my bed. I hum a hymn or primary song while I’m making my bed (opening song) and then I pray.

I am just an ordinary person with extra weaknesses and pettiness and struggles. But I’ve learned over the years that mothers have power with the heavens. The Lord seems quick to honor a humble mother. I know and testify that “I can do all things through Christ, which strengthened me.” Philippians 4:13

With all my love,