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,


  1. I feel for this sister and agree with your response but would add one thing: don't do this alone!

    I was released a few months ago after serving in the Primary presidency both as a counselor and as president for several years. During the same time, my parents had a house fire and then divorced, and I added two babies to my family. My life wasn't nearly as busy as yours, because luckily my husband does not have to travel for work, but I still could not have survived this period without lots of help!

    Find a friend and trade kids a few days a week to buy you time to work without distractions. Recruit someone in your ward to hold your little one on Sundays while you teach. Absolutely simplify other demands on yourself physically and spiritually during this time of stretching. Know that others have been there, too, and that, most of all, God knows your desires to serve and your struggles as well and will bless you as YOU do YOUR best.

  2. I agree with Jane, and Lauren, but for some of us (like me), it is really hard to find that friend who's willing to help you out, especially if you have so many little kids and they do too. I have definitely been there, am even going through it now, and I understand about the husband being gone because mine is often gone for 12 hour days, only his schedule is revolving, so while it doesn't include travel, it includes nights and weekends and there are many things I can't make it to because he's not home and I have nobody to baby-sit our four children who are 7 and under. I teach primary and there are many weeks that I just don't feel like being there, but I always feel better once I'm there and doing it.

  3. I love what Jane, Lauren, and Royalbird have said. Can I expand on the "don't do this alone" suggestion? Sometimes, to improve the way we do a calling, we need to do LESS, not more. As a President, you have counselors and teachers and Scout leaders to call on -- learn to delegate. Make a list of all the things you are doing in your calling and try to figure out first, if YOU are the one that should be doing them (Can you call a committee to handle the Primary activities? Ask one of your counselors to be in charge of birthdays? Ask the teachers to be in charge of calling kids who are not attending regularly?) and second, if there's a way you could do them better or more efficiently.

    Find three things that stress you out the most and creatively attack them. Is it the scramble to see if every teacher shows up on Sunday? Maybe you could call two people to be permanent substitutes, to check in with you every Sunday to see if they're needed before going to Sunday school. Is it the long presidency meetings while your kids are going crazy? See if you can do them more efficiently. Make a master agenda that you pull out each time so you make sure you hit every item. Is it the scramble to know what to teach every time Sharing Time comes around? Find a time when you have some concentrated time and plan six months in advance, what you'll teach, ideas for how to teach it, and supplies you'll need to get. Use the time when you're feeling on top of things to plan for the times when you're not.

    Be prayerful about what you can delegate and how you can work smarter and you'll find answers. You can't run faster than you have strength, but sometimes we're wasting energy doing things that don't need to be done. Sometimes the most important things don't take a lot of time -- saying hello to the kids, knowing their names, complimenting them -- these are things that take mere seconds but mean more in the long run than complicated activities, elaborate costumes or hand-outs in sharing time, and long meetings.

  4. (I'm posting twice because my original comment was too long.)

    My husband also works long hours and travels. He's good about making time for us when he's not busy and we get a lot of time with him because we travel several weeks in a year, but the day to day stuff often falls on my shoulders with no relief. I have 8 kids ages 6 months to 11 years old and my baby is still up two or three times a night. It's been a stressful time for me and I constantly feel stretched beyond my limit. I've had to really slow down and focus on what's most important. A month ago, I went through every thing that I am doing and made some tough choices to prioritize.

    What can you cut out of your life permanently or just for the time being? I really, really wish I could sing in our ward's choir, but I've had to put that aside for now. I don't blog like I want to and I've had to put aside for the time being a focus on weight loss (though I do still try to be active). I don't scrapbook anymore, but I do write weekly emails that keep up our family history. I don't do facebook or forums much and we don't have television; I don't, I don't, I don't. It's hard sometimes when I start to list all the things I'm not doing. However, what I am doing is important. I DO run a mother's group that meets for a discussion once a month and a field trip the other day, but I'm able to make that work because I planned the entire year and delegated all the assignments back in August. I DO a couple of photography shoots a month because that's one of very few things I do that develop my talents. I DO read my scriptures daily and write in my journal every couple of weeks. I DO have family home evening, family scripture study, and family prayer. I DO spend individual time with my children and notice the positive things they do. I DO teach them to work and be responsible. I DO love them and pray for them and try to meet their needs.

    Some of the sacrifices I've had to make for the sake of my family have really hurt, but I know that God sees and honors those choices and I know that I can count on His help because I've sought it in prayer and I've been willing to do what it takes to live a consecrated life -- consecrated to Him and to my family and to those around me.

  5. Everyone has posted such great suggestions. I just wanted to add one more. Simplify your stuff. Go through your house and try to get rid of as many toys, clothes, books, etc as you can. Your kids will be able to help clean up their stuff if it's organized and not overwhelming. You will be able to keep up with laundry and dishes if there are less of them.

    And if you're not feeling like you love the kids in Primary (or your own!) enough, pray. Pray every night for them and about them. Not only will your love for them grow, but their lives will be blessed.

  6. Wow. I think there is a lot of great advice here. I really like the focusing on relationships. I think I can do a better job with that and will start taking that into account daily. Along the same lines, I would suggest making sure you spend at least an hour talking to or do doing something with your husband each night you are home together(and I don't mean chores), even if you are more tired as a result. Make your husband your best friend and confidant. With working more than 12 hours a day and traveling a lot, he is probably just as worn out as you are and needs you there as much as you need him. A good marriage makes everything in life easier. After we had been married for 7 years, we had a Stake President that declared friday nights Stake date night. He asked all of the couples to go out on dates, the youth to be available as baby sitters, and no meetings or youth activities expect for boy scout camp outs were ever scheduled for Friday nights. That date night has been great for us and has tied us closer together. Even after we have moved to a new stake, we keep date night as faithfully as we keep Family home evening.

  7. I love this entry and everything that goes along with it! I had a case of the "I don't do enough's" about a month ago. I finally realized I could let some things go without feeling guilty. Don't worry if you aren't perfect at your primary calling none of us are. The thing I have found is kids enjoy the feelings of love more than elaborate sharing times and other things. Just do what you can. I lead the music and what I have noticed is some of the most simple things are the things they love most. I promise they wont always remember exact lessons you taught them but the feelings of love will always remain with them. You can do it! Don't try and be perfect just try to do your best. Finally I am going to leave you with a bit of advice that was given at a primary meeting a few weeks ago (Paraphrased) The next year's theme (I know the scriptures are true) is for the teachers and presidencies as much as it is for the children. We don't get the constant nourishment of R.S. lessons every Sunday (and with a husband who is out of town a lot and 3 young kids probably not as much of sacrament meeting) This theme next year is our opportunity to really become closer to Heavenly Father and cast our burdens at his feet.

  8. Thanks so much--I needed to hear this too-- not so much about my callings, but about how to take care of what is most important to me and my 5 little ones. It is hard work!

  9. Wow! I just got off the phone 10 minutes ago with my mother telling her how overwhelmed I feel and then I read your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer this letter. It brought so much peace to my soul this evening.

  10. I have been thinking about this post for the past day, and I, like you, don't think your situation is unique. There are thousands...millions...of mothers in the world who are trying their very best and are totally exhausted at the end of the day. What mother hasn't felt that? Also, I don't think it is unique that your husband works 12 hour days. For people I know, I don't think that is uncommon. Even if people whose husbands work a typical eight-hour day, it is still not unique to go to bed exhausted and even frustrated. I have been there many times. It's because you love and give so much.

    I have been thinking about your calling, and the thing that keeps coming to my mind is the talk by Elder Ballard in Oct. 2006 called, "O Be Wise."
    It's fabulous, and it addresses some of what you may be thinking about. There are a few quotes in there that I really love. "Occasionally we find some who become so energetic in their Church service that their lives become unbalanced. They start believing that the programs they administer are more important than the people they serve. They complicate their service with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy...The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify."

    He talks about serving people and that being the primary focus of our callings. I would pray and pray hard to love those little children. (I'm sure you already do.) Pray to have the right expectations for yourself, and pray to have the wisdom to know what is the right balance for you in your stage of life. Put your energy where it can do the most good. A hug or a phone call can do more for a little child than a really snazzy visual aid. And remember that the Lord loves and appreciates all you are doing to build the Kingdom of God in all ways.

  11. This topic is what made me LOVE Pres. Uchdorf's talk in October 2010 Conference titled, "Of things that Matter Most". Read through that and then contemplate what is most important & things that can be simplified... I've read it a dozen times since Conference in my effort to find balance.

  12. Two years ago, I was facing some very serious health challenges, along with a pregnancy-my fifth child. My husband was working many late hours to establish his career and traveling extensively. And I was part of our primary presidency, when our primary president resigned from her calling and left the church. It was a very difficult time. As I regrouped from the emotional loss of my friend from the church, I also had to cope with the many challenges on my plate.
    I was very honest with the new president and counselor. My bishop was aware of my health problems. Burdens were shifted from my shoulders that I couldn't carry at that time. I made sure that I knew the primary children's names, and planned good sharing times. I was engaged at church and did my best, but I tried to not add to my challenges.
    At home, my husband and I sat down and prioritized what was most important. I helped my children get ready for school, made dinner, washed the dishes,helped the kids with homework and did what laundry I could. The rest of the time, I rested. I literally spent most of the year in my bed. My daughter would play and I would rest on the couch. It helped knowing that that I was doing what was most important.
    During that time, I felt such a deep assurance that I was doing what I needed to be doing at the time. I had to preserve my health for the sake of my family and for the baby who was growing within me.
    I believe that sincere prayer and looking at what is most important goes a long way. We mothers have to-do lists that stretch miles wide. But somethings just aren't that important.
    Pare down to the essentials. Do your best and have faith and trust that it will be okay.
    I regained my health and have a much different life now. I'm able to do things I couldn't two years ago.
    And here's another thing that I find really amazing. At the time I was so ill, I could hardly devote the strength needed to help my son with reading. I was literally too sick to do it. He's been struggling, but I've been blessed with the strength I need now to help him in ways I could not before. I truly believe that he'll be fine.

  13. Sorry about all the Ensign articles, but I was talking with my mom today about things similar to this & the December 2010 Ensign has an article about this as well:

  14. I know the person who asked this question and saying her husband works 12 hours a day is a modest statement. It's more like from 7:oo a.m. until 11 or 12 at night about 3 weeks a month, luckily the traveling is down to a minimum now. He's such a great dad when he's home and part of her frustration is that she knows he would like to be home more. She has received a lot of help from her parents and things are going better now.

  15. I greatly appreciate the message in this post and all the comments. Recently a woman in my ward gave a similar message when speaking in church and it has made a huge difference in my life.
    I recently graduated from Physician Assistant School which is a very very demanding program. During the last 7months of the program I was pregnant. When my adorable daughter was 4 months old I began working a couple days a week as a new graduate. I also have been teaching an online course since she was about 3 weeks old. My husband is in a Doctorate program and often travels for work.
    My baby spends at least 2 full days a week with a babysitter and she does a wonderful job. I feel like the time I have to be at home with her is our time and I have to treasure it.
    These last few months have been crazy and it doesn't look like it will get better in the future.
    I often have to decide between sitting down on the floor with my now 6 month old baby, doing housework or studying. Playing with my baby continues to win out and my house looks terrible and dinner doesn't get made until my husband gets home. It is all worth it.
    It is so important to make sure the relationships in my life with my little girl and my husband are strong. My dirty house often represents the time I spend with them. Sometimes if I squint I can smile and appreciate the mess because I know my priorities are in order.


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