Challenges from Children: A Dad’s Journal


Dec. 31 —It’s been years since I’ve tried making a New Year’s resolution, mainly because of repeated failures. But now that I am trying to spend more time with my children on Sundays and become involved more in the home during the week I have discovered a new problem that no other approach has helped to solve. The problem is that I lose patience with my kids. I can’t understand it. One second I’m fine, telling myself I should take it easier on the kids; the next second I’m exploding because Matthew has put rocks in Adam’s pants, causing Adam to scream at the top of his lungs. Anyway, I recognize the problem—and I hereby resolve to overcome it.

Jan. 4—I’ve been pretty good. Every night when the kids are asleep I go in and just look at them, trying to recall the sweet or clever things they have done that day. It seems to help.

Today we went to Brother Jensen’s family relations class at Sunday School. He quoted the passage from Mormon’s epistle on how perfect little children were. I reacted pretty negatively at first, thinking that it was easy for Mormon to say that because he didn’t have any kids around at the time. Would he have said the same if his two-year-old had just hit the teacher in the eye with a Lincoln Log?

Jan. 5—My five-day-old resolution has gone the way of most resolutions. Stephanie pestered Matthew all day, Matthew picked on Adam all day, Adam whined all day, and I yelled from the moment I got home. I’m obviously a hopeless case.

Jan. 11—Brother Jensen is a nice man, but he’s apparently forgotten what little children are like. He is still trying to convince us that little children are perfect. It’s hard to believe that Matthew isn’t aware that he shouldn’t hit and torment Adam, even if he is only three.

Jan. 14—This is becoming a one-track journal, but I feel like such a failure where my children are concerned. In other areas I’ve always managed to succeed, but this is frustrating! It’s doubly annoying because I always vowed I would be a model parent—no shouting or arguing in my home. But sometimes I get so easily upset! Can you love with a “perfect love” and still yell, spank, and lose your temper?

Jan. 18—Today Brother Jensen not only told us to show love every minute, regardless of the frustrating things our children do, but he said we must also become humble like our little children if we are to be saved as a family. I’ve read the Book of Mormon several times, but I’d never before noticed that scripture. It’s Moroni 8:10. [Moro. 8:10] I wonder just how my kids are supposed to be examples of humility to me. Is Matthew sorry enough to make amends when he bothers Adam? No. Is Stephanie really concerned over the mess she made with mud cookies in the kitchen? Of course not. Even during prayer they often giggle, whine, and generally disrupt the Spirit. I must not be teaching them right.

Jan. 22—EUREKA! A good day! No major disasters, few minor ones. Last night I spent some time thinking about the kind of humility I’m supposed to be learning from the kids. I’d heard that being humble simply means being teachable. So the humility I need is the kind that will make me, like my children, anxious to learn and determined to become everything I am capable of becoming.

Jan. 25—I didn’t hear much of Brother Jensen’s lesson today, and it turned out to be a good thing. Adam was his usual squirmy, wiggly, two-year-old self during class; but instead of becoming annoyed, I learned something from him. Why does he squirm and wiggle so? Because he is not content to sit back and wait for someone to teach him something! He had to know first-hand what was in my wallet, why the man sitting in front of us didn’t have any hair, what would happen if he pulled on Brother Porter’s tie, what the world looked like from under the piano bench. It’s been a long time since I had enough humility (“teachableness”) to be curious about everything around me, and it was great to see some of the world through Adam’s eyes this morning. What a terrific Sunday School lesson!

Jan. 26—Monday again. We were trying to make cookies for family home evening, and Stephanie was “helping” us by getting her fingers into everything and bringing us whatever she could rescue from drawers and cupboards. I finally told her she could stir the mix after it was all in the bowl. When I turned my back she tried to move the bowl from the counter to the table, promptly spilling the entire contents on herself and our newly-cleaned carpet. I was about to explode when the thought came: “Learn humility from Stephanie.” So I kept my mouth shut and concentrated on cleaning up the mess. Little by little I calmed down, and peace came into my heart. Later, I considered how I might learn from this incident.

The answer was simple. Stephanie was merely trying to do everything I was doing. She had picked the most perfect model she could find in her little five-year-old world—me. And for her, humility meant not being discouraged—even though I assured her that she was not big enough to carry Adam, to do the dishes by herself, or to feed the baby.

Have I sought perfect models for my life with humility like Stephanie’s? Have I tried to emulate the Savior and the best attributes of the good people I know? Would I have the courage to continue trying to emulate them even though I was criticized or discouraged?

Jan. 30—It’s amazing what I’m learning from my kids! How could I have missed seeing it for so long?

Matthew has perhaps been my most exasperating child. He gets into everything. It was bad enough when he figured out two different kinds of “childproof” locks and invaded the medicine chest and the file cabinet. But one day he even started the car!

I finally realized that Matthew, like Stephanie, has been teaching me a great lesson. He is a perfect example of the humility to act, to practice, to persist, to do over and over until success is achieved. How many times have I known what I should learn but failed to because I did not struggle long enough?

Feb. 1—Sunday again. What a different month January was! Not many external changes: the children’s toys, pots and pans, and various foods still adorn the floor on a regular basis. I still lunge to save the baby from being hugged to death by a well-meaning brother or sister, and still keep a wary eye on our little lock picker. I still wrestle with the children at Church and miss half the lessons and talks. But I can no longer ignore the lessons in humility that my children are teaching me.

I am thankful to Mormon, to Brother Jensen, and to each of my children for teaching me that “parents … must repent and be baptized and humble themselves as their little children,” so they can be saved with their children. What could be better?

[illustration] Illustrated by Jeremy Rogan, Timmy Rogan, Jonathon Hull, and Thomas Hull

Harvey B. Black, a professor of instructional science and father of five children, is high priest group leader in his Orem, Utah, ward.

R. Richard Evans, a newspaper reporter and father of three, is a Sunday School teacher in Orem, Utah.