Recently my friend Michele’s three-year-old tried to build a fire in the middle of the floor. When she found him, he had crumpled up newspaper, piled up wood, and was striking a match, which had supposedly been out of reach. After explaining to him the dangers of fire, Michele told her son to put the wood back while she put the matches away. Moments later, her younger daughter started to cry. Michele returned to the room to find her son hitting his sister with the wood. And that was just the beginning of her day!
We’ve all had days like that. They may vary in detail, but the feelings of discouragement are the same. On those days I find myself teaching, begging, disciplining, and then becoming frazzled. Somewhere in the midst of this I end up in my bedroom asking, “Was I meant to be a mother today? Why did Heavenly Father put his trust in me to care for these spirits?”
These feelings of discouragement are sometimes reinforced in the world outside the walls of my own home. When people find out I am a homemaker and full-time mother, reactions differ. While some people envy me, some seem to consider my efforts wasted. There is much attention focused on the professional world, while the work of raising children full time is often ignored.
Yet I have discovered that when I am at peace with myself and with my Heavenly Father, the world can say what it likes and my children can do what they will. I have the peace and confidence to deal with the situation. Keeping my inner well full has had to become a high priority. I have found that to survive I need to actively work to stay emotionally fed, intellectually invigorated, and spiritually stimulated.
Finding Others like Me
I remember when our family moved into a new neighborhood in Washington. I needed to find a new playmate for Gary, my three-year-old, and to be honest, a friend for myself. To fulfill my emotional needs, I knew I needed to find other mothers like me. In the past I had been part of several mothers’ groups that met on a regular basis. I had learned that talking to someone who has faced similar situations, someone who can commiserate with you and even offer suggestions, was invaluable. Even if the contact is one-on-one, the result is the same: a sense that you are not alone, that there are others who understand and who can support you. It’s part of filling my well.
So one day Gary and I set off in search of another child—and mother. We took a walk without seeing anybody outside and returned home feeling even more alone than before. After a short period in our new home, Heavenly Father gave me a beautiful gift. I met Marie, another young mother who lived down the street. Marie was not a member of the Church, but she struggled with the same day-to-day problems that I faced. Her son, Matthew, and Gary became the best of friends, and Marie was as hungry for a friend as I was.
During that time, it was, in part, my almost-daily contact with Marie that kept me emotionally and intellectually healthy. In addition, Marie presented a unique opportunity for me to keep spiritually alert. She was also a Christian, and we spent hours discussing our beliefs. I found my testimony growing as we talked, and I often prayed for guidance and inspiration during our discussions.
Other Intellectual Avenues
Marie and I often took our boys to the library for story time. Gary loved the outings, and afterward we picked out several books—some for him, some for the baby, and some for me. I remember at one point when I was feeling particularly stressed. My nerves were taut; my energy was drained; I was frustrated. In a moment of quiet inspiration, I took the time to sit down and read one of the books I had checked out. After just a few minutes, I felt invigorated and rejuvenated.
That experience motivated me to explore other avenues of personal study. I found that studying the scriptures kept my mind active and filled my spiritual well at the same time. The classes taught at the Latter-day Saint institute adjacent to a nearby university were open to everyone, and courses were even offered at outlying stake centers, where baby-sitting services were available for a reasonable fee. I also considered taking a home-study course; many colleges and universities offer courses on a wide variety of topics.
I have even found opportunities to share intellectual growth on field trips with my children. Gary loves to visit the fire station, but I find I learn as much if not more than he does. We love the zoo, the science center, and virtually any museum. We have books on bugs and birds and botany, and we enjoy learning about the world around us.
A young mother I know has three daughters who are either in elementary school or will be starting school soon. She decided to get involved with their schools. She attends the school board meetings and is working for a quality education for her children and all of the children in public schools. It gives her a sense of accomplishment while using her intellect to further a good cause.
My friend Marie keeps abreast of the laws that are being passed or considered. If there are laws she feels are wrong or others that are necessary, she calls the office of her congressman or senator. Following her example, I’ve found that voting responsibly helps keep me politically involved and intellectually alert.
Interestingly, I have found that when I do things that challenge me intellectually, I have an easier time coping with the less intellectual challenges in my life—like diapers, runny noses, dirty dishes, and scattered toys.
Spiritual Habits Intact
Of course, these emotional and intellectual priorities are helpful, but alone they are not enough. Most importantly, I must keep spiritually healthy and alive.
I remember one Sunday seeing a young mother struggling with her child during sacrament meeting. Eventually she ended up in the foyer. “I don’t know why I even bother to come,” she commented to another sister.
“Because you don’t want to get out of the habit,” came the reply.
That really made me think. My habits of attending Church meetings, studying the scriptures, and doing things for my Heavenly Father needed to remain intact in spite of the demands of motherhood.
Service is another good habit to maintain. If I look outside myself, beyond my own struggles, a beautiful inward healing occurs as if by magic. Service does so much for the giver that it is almost a selfish act rather than a selfless one. My children love to make cookies with me to deliver to our neighbors. At dinnertime, sometimes it’s not much harder to make enough food for two families and take a hot meal to someone in the neighborhood or ward who is ill or struggling. My motto is: it doesn’t have to be fancy, only edible.
When time allows, volunteer work offers a great outlet and provides feelings of self-worth. When I was a little girl, my mother taught Cub Scouts at a day-care center for the mentally retarded. On Thursdays I would go with her as she taught that group of boys, most of them actually in their 20s. Even though I was small at the time, that experience made a lasting impression on me. There are many possibilities for volunteer work and community involvement that can strengthen us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
When I take the time to serve others, it boosts my spirits and makes me happier and more pleasant to be around. Of course, giving service also teaches my children to have a loving attitude and shows them how they should live.
Perhaps there are some types of service we shy away from when our children are young. A few years ago I was singing with a Church group at a rest home. I was amazed when one of the singers, a young mother, brought her small baby. But that baby did more for everyone in five minutes than our singing could have done if we had stayed for hours.
Visiting the sick and shut-ins fills my spiritual well, and that experience taught me that, unless my children will be an added burden, I can take them with me when I visit the sick and elderly. When I see the joy a child brings to these people, I am reminded again of why I wanted to be a mother. I don’t do most of these activities weekly. I admire those who do. I am, however, learning that I must engineer time for these purposes if my inner well is to be replenished.
Finally, prayer must be a continual part of my life. I remember one period when Gary started regularly hitting his little sister, Amy. He had always been accepting and loving toward her, so his behavior was disturbing. No matter what I did, he wouldn’t quit. I tried talking, explaining, warning, disciplining, giving him a time out, and then yelling. Home felt like a battleground, and I was losing the war.
My husband, Allen, and I talked about it a lot, and although we often pray generally for guidance as parents, we prayed specifically about this problem. We were each given different pieces of inspiration and insight; I felt we needed to be more consistent with both children so that Gary didn’t feel singled out, and Allen felt we needed to let Gary know we were willing to see things from his perspective. When pieced together, our approach solved the problem.
That experience reminded me, once again, that our Heavenly Father is always there to help us if we will but ask. He loves us and will help us to be successful in our sojourn here. Maybe sometimes I don’t feel like I was meant to be a mother today, but tomorrow is looking pretty good.
Let’s Talk about It
This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:
What are some easily accessible ways in which a mother might enrich herself intellectually?
How can the gospel help her overcome feelings of discouragement?
How can she make effective use of prayer in her role as a mother?