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,



  1. Thank you Jane, for such a great answer. I teared up at the end when you talk about selfless service. It hit me just right. I am a new reader and LOVING your blog and answers SO much. Thank you for what you are doing.

  2. I love the video game analogy! Beautiful post.

  3. And just to add to the discussion of keeping your head on those hard, hard days (or years!), I think it helps a lot to develop a few creative interests that cannot be "undone" by someone else, whether that's scrapbooking, sewing, photography, home decorating, journaling or some other interest. I love Dieter Uchtdorf's talk about creativity being part of the key of happiness. Of course, nurturing children is all about creativity, but it is also nice to have some things that turn out the way you want them once in a while. Children are way too unpredictable! =)

    Another talk I love is Daughters of God by Elder Ballard. He gives some wonderful ideas for finding joy in the moments and handling the tough parts.

    And I would echo what Jane says about a long-term perspective not just an eternal one. I'm loving the stage of life I'm at right now, with school-age kids as well as preschoolers. I can see the effects of some of my hard work on the way my older kids are turning out and I can rely on them to help and love the little ones. I also have had more experience and have learned not to worry so much about every little thing like I did when I had all preschoolers.

    I don't want to say that things get easier, because in some ways that isn't true. There will always be new challenges and struggles and frustrations. But the ones you are dealing with right now, the ones that make you want to lock yourself in the bedroom and cry? Those will subside. Over time, you'll see the results of your efforts, feel the approval and love of God in your life, and learn to judge yourself and your family with more compassion and perspective.

  4. Your perfect answer made me think of something I've been pondering on: what it means to endure. The answer lies in the word enduring- to see the joyous "end" during. Whenever I am having a bad moment (or day or week or month) of motherhood, I turn on some uplifting music and imagine the good things to come. The frustration leaves and the glorious long term vision returns. Thanks Jane!

  5. I really like your idea to keep a good perspective. When you said "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." That really touched me. I only have one child at the moment, but I'm expecting a second in October and I've been really nervous about how to handle their fighting when it inevitably happens. I hope I can keep that in mind when I'm breaking up fights. ( I'm teaching them to be good spouses...)

  6. I really needed this post!! Thanks so much!


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