The Secret of Staying Serene


A young mother tells how she copes with those hectic days.

Recently, while I was preparing breakfast, our two-year-old, Jarom, and Gigi, aged four, managed to pour a quart of orange juice over the table. I am not a bundle of energy at seven o’clock in the morning anyway, especially when I’ve been up during the night with the baby, but as I cleaned up the lake of juice that was streaming onto our white tile floor, I felt my nerves begin to twitch and a silent irritation build inside me. Fifteen minutes later when Jarom’s bowl of oatmeal hit the floor in a great clatter, my husband was amazed to see me burst into tears and rush out of the room.

As I regained my composure up in my room, and Van supervised breakfast downstairs, I realized that I hadn’t said my morning prayers, and, somewhat chagrined, I knelt and talked over my feelings with the Lord. I’m convinced I was unable to cope with the small crisis that occurred that morning because I had missed an opportunity when I first arose to gain the added strength I needed through prayer.

I remembered a similar morning a couple of years earlier when Tyler, then about three, had dropped his bowl of oatmeal on the floor. Quelling my first impulse to yell at him, I had calmly said, “Well, accidents will happen,” and started cleaning it up. His frightened eyes softened, and gratefully he murmured, “I love you, Mommie.”

The difference between my responses is not based on child psychology, although for the child’s sake the value in the second response is obvious. The difference lies in what I call “reservoirs of serenity.” I have learned that the only effective way I have to cope with the large and small trials of motherhood is by carefully maintaining these reservoirs.

Someone has said that it’s a good thing the Lord blesses young mothers with small children, because old mothers’ nerves just couldn’t stand it! But even a woman who has youth on her side cannot bear the complex and constant demands of a growing family without some kind of program for taking care of herself spiritually.

I began to recognize the need to do something for myself after my fourth baby was born and my oldest child was not yet four. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep for four years. We lived in a two-bedroom trailer and had little money for diversions. The children were so little I seemed to do nothing but dress them, bathe them, feed them, change diapers, and do laundry. Just getting all the kids ready for church seemed a monumental task. One Sunday morning as my husband came home from priesthood meeting and asked my four-year-old if we were all ready for church, she answered, “Yes, we’re all dressed, and after Mommy takes two aspirin she’ll be ready, too.”

Those were hectic days, and we didn’t have much money, but we did have a little stream out behind the trailer, which we’d parked in an alfalfa field on Grandpa’s farm. In the springtime the field would bloom golden with dandelions, then turn white when the seeds took over; finally it would turn a fragrant green and purple with alfalfa. The stream was shaded by cottonwood trees and Potawatomi plums, and a family of ducks lived among the clumps of green grass at the edge of the water. There were times when all the children would be napping (all of them—it seemed miraculous!) and I would find myself sitting by the open window that faced the stream, just listening to the water trickle over the rocks. Sometimes I would write in my journal; sometimes I would just think. But I found that after an hour of “doing nothing,” I was able to face the rest of the hectic day as my little ones awakened from their naps.

In the art of interior decorating it is the open space in a room—the right amount—that makes a room livable. If furniture and decoration crowd it wall to wall, the room becomes unbearable. If it is too empty, it is neither functional nor comfortable. So it is with life. The open spaces give us time to collect our inner selves, to muster our spiritual forces for the battle, to fill our reservoirs with a sense of calm. They give us a chance to listen to the Holy Spirit. Many times we say a hurried prayer but don’t have time to listen to the answer. The scripture admonishes, “Be still and know that I am God.”

We no longer live by a quiet stream, and we now have six children under eight instead of four under four; but I have tried to retain the pattern of making open spaces in my day. I still find nap time a good time to write, read, or just think, though sometimes I need a nap too. Getting up a half hour or an hour before the children gives me time to communicate with my Heavenly Father and read scriptures, again preparing myself to face the day. And if something happens that keeps me from this time by myself, I have to take some other time during the day to find a space of serenity, or I may not be able to deal with the crises I encounter. A silent prayer in a locked room, a few moments just sitting on a sunny front step breathing the fresh air, or just standing for awhile under a leafy tree watching the patterns of leaves against the sky and marveling at the artistry in God’s nature—these quiet moments help bring stillness into my soul.

My friends with one or two children often ask how I possibly remain sane with all these children. I really don’t think it’s naturally easy for me, any more than it is for them. We all get upset. But finding time to fill my reservoirs of serenity does a wonderful job of helping me through the trying but rewarding season of young parenthood.

[illustration] Illustrated by Parry Merkley

Celestia O. Whitehead, mother of nine, is ward music chairman and Relief Society chorister in the Anchorage, Alaska, Fifth Ward.