Mothers of young children face a number of challenges when it comes to their own spiritual growth. Sick children often cut down on church attendance. Pregnancy and nursing frequently preclude fasting. Small children can make church attendance grueling and leave the mother little chance to listen to or participate in meetings. And with little ones in the home, time and privacy are at a premium, making scripture study, prayer, or meditation difficult.
As I visited with several mothers of young children, many of them offered practical solutions to such challenges.
“I often found myself feeling resentful when my husband would walk out the door on Sunday mornings to attend his meetings,” one mother told me. “Because my husband was in a leadership position, it was necessary for him to attend. This meant that whenever the children were sick, I had to stay home. I was beginning to feel quite ‘inactive.’ Then it finally occurred to me that I had put the responsibility for my spiritual growth on church attendance instead of myself. From that point on, if I had to stay home from church with sick children, I’d still try to make Sunday a holy day.
“I read and studied the lesson that I would have heard in Relief Society. I listened to uplifting music. I changed my ‘everyday’ clothes for more appropriate Sunday clothing. I pondered my baptismal covenants and mentally reviewed them. In the meantime, I asked my husband to take notes of all the speakers at church. I also made a point of praying more sincerely. Now when I’m forced to stay home with sick children, I know that my Sunday can still be filled with worship. Although I miss—and need—the strength that comes from worshipping with my brothers and sisters at church, I can still enjoy the spirit of the Sabbath if I put forth a concentrated effort.”
Another young mother described her challenge of not being able to fast.
“My doctor advised me not to fast during my pregnancy. At first it seemed almost nice to have a good excuse not to fast. But before long, I really missed the spiritual intensity fasting gave me and that humble cleansing I felt when I fasted.
“I had previously assumed that simply going without food constituted fasting. But as I pondered the principle of the fast, I knew that not eating was only part of a true fast. I therefore determined that I would keep my food preparation to a minimum. I would eat only simple foods that took no preparation (milk, bread, cheese, etc.), and I would make an effort to open and close my efforts with prayer. I could still pay my fast offering, and did so with enthusiasm and heightened generosity. I purchased a Church hymnal for our home, and I would read and ponder the words of a particular sacrament hymn.
“These measures, along with others, have produced a spiritual intensity very similar to that which I have felt when fasting. I look forward to the day when I can go without food as part of my fast, but in the meantime I know I can still partake of the blessings of the fast in my own particular situation.”
One mother related the creative ways she was continuing to grow spiritually while working in the Primary.
“Sometimes, several of the teachers in the Primary and I would get together and complain about how long it had been since we had been able to hear a Relief Society lesson. We couldn’t wait for the day when we could attend again. One teacher refused to join in the complaining, however. Instead, she talked about how important she thought her job was and how much influence for good she could have with her young Primary students. She suggested that we all read and study our Relief Society lessons even if we couldn’t attend.
“Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and I had another idea. I asked the Relief Society president if she would record the lessons each week. Then the Primary teachers could share the tape during that week and listen to the lesson at their leisure.
“Not only did we stop complaining, but we actually started feeling sorry for the regular Relief Society attenders because they missed out on the growth and satisfaction of working in the Primary.”
One mother of small children handled her challenge—trying to find time for prayer and meditation—in a creative way.
“I used to complain to my husband that I never had any time for myself. Then one day during one of my complaining sessions, he asked, ‘Well, what do you do when the kids are napping?’
“I felt angry that he would even wonder. I always did all the house cleaning as fast as I could before they woke up. Later, as I thought about it, I decided that the best use of that time was to use it for myself.
“Now I read the Ensign, the New Era, or the Friend while the children nap. Sometimes I read the scriptures, study for my Relief Society lesson, write in my journal, or work on my Book of Remembrance. Occasionally I just sit down in the rocking chair, gaze out the window, and meditate.
“I used to rush around the house picking up toys, washing dishes, and dusting. By the time the children wake up, I usually felt exhausted and ready for my nap—and I felt especially irritated if they made any mess in my clean house. Now I feel refreshed and ready to handle the demands of my small children for the rest of the day.”
“When my husband gets home from work,” said another young mother, “I give him a kiss and then jump on my bicycle and take off. My husband plays with the children for a half hour while I pedal around town or up in the quiet country roads not far from our house. When I get home, I feel refreshed and ready to start supper. In the winter, I walk. When I’m alone out in nature, I seem to be able to think more clearly. I feel the wind and sun and an open, honest communication with our Father in Heaven. I meditate. I talk over my frustrations and my dreams, and I thank our Father in Heaven for my blessings. My body and spirit seem whole; I know who I am, and that what I’m doing as a mother is important, and that our Father in Heaven is aware of me and loves me. I feel a part of a very beautiful plan.”
One mother of several small children shared how she found time to pray.
“I used to feel pretty good about how much our family prayed. We had family prayer every morning and night, in addition to mealtime blessings. We helped our children with their individual prayers, and I said my own prayers every night. But somehow I still didn’t feel very close to my Father in Heaven. I tried to find additional times when I could pray.”
I found that when the children started fighting or making a mess, I could pray for help to control my anger—right then and there, before I lost my temper. I found that I could pray silently while washing the dishes or changing a diaper or taking a shower as well as on my knees at night before I went to bed. This brought a new source of strength to my life. Heavenly Father had always been there, willing to bless and aid; but I had mistakenly thought I must always wait until I had time to pray before I could approach him.
“Now I even see my little children follow my example. They will stop to pray silently during a nature walk because they are overwhelmed with the beauty they see—and sometimes they will even pray silently when they feel like clobbering their sister. I wonder how we ever got along before.”
Another young mother is carefully working to meet her challenge to attend the temple.
“It seemed like every time my husband and I planned to go to the temple, our baby sitter would cancel, we’d forget our recommends, or something else would prevent our attendance. It almost got beyond a joke. We finally decided that no matter what went wrong, we would go. We started calling a back-up baby sitters—just in case—and each time we got home from the temple, I would check the clothing for needed repairs or washings, put both our recommends safely inside the suitcases, and prepare everything for our next trip.
“We still have a hard time getting to the temple, but we do get there every month. We know that if we don’t make it a habit now, we probably won’t attend when it becomes easier to get away.”
One mother said that she pinned conference talks on the wall above her kitchen sink and at other strategic locations around the house.
“You’d be amazed at how much reading I can get done that way,” she smiled.
All of these mothers felt a need for additional spiritual growth; and most, if they were willing to make the effort, found answers to their challenges in personal and creative ways that suited them individually. Their sincere desire to succeed, coupled with the initiative to try, will keep them growing spiritually for a lifetime to come.