The Joy of Nurturing Children

No matter what your situation, you can find joy in nurturing children.

Following are the testimonies of three women who show that the spiritual rewards of motherhood are for everyone.

The Gift of Memories

“I love camping,” six-year-old Sara said as we returned home from a one-night camping trip. “When can we go again?”

I didn’t love camping. By the time my husband and I had prepared for every conceivable camping emergency, I was exhausted before we’d even left the house. Add to that the discomfort of sleeping bags, air mattresses, insects, and dirt—not to mention the hassle of keeping cold food cold and hot food hot, then another day of unpacking and washing when we got home—and I wondered, “Is one night away from home worth all this hassle?”

“Camping is no vacation for moms,” commiserated a friend. “I didn’t enjoy it at first. But my husband has so many wonderful memories of camping as a child that he really wanted our family to have that experience.”

One phrase from that conversation opened up my mind to the bright light of personal inspiration: “He has so many wonderful memories of his childhood.” I wasn’t just rearing children; I was preparing a future generation of parents—a generation that would need all the positive experiences I could give them to cope with an increasingly challenging world. Was it possible that children who have a happy childhood will be better parents?

The parenting puzzle of thousands of pieces came together into a whole picture for a moment. I couldn’t live my children’s lives for them, but I could give them a well of joyful memories from which they could draw throughout their lives.

Family home evening didn’t suddenly become a miracle of light every week, but even when the children were uncooperative and unruly, I tried harder to be consistent and to remember that teaching moments can become memories at unexpected times. I knew we were making progress when our young son asked, “Is it family home evening tonight?”

“That was last night,” I replied, “but we can still do something fun tonight.”

Helping my children feel and recognize the Spirit became another priority. When our children saw their grandmother receive a priesthood blessing prior to surgery, the presence of the Spirit was especially strong. Sara didn’t understand why she felt the way she did, and for nearly an hour I talked with her and explained that Heavenly Father often talks to us through feelings. I told her to remember those feelings so that she would know to listen when Heavenly Father was talking to her.

I started noticing other parents building memories for their children too. One time my husband had emergency surgery, and several days later a neighbor showed up with his four-year-old son at his side. “We’ve come to mow your lawn,” said the father. From my own experience, I knew that a four-year-old couldn’t help much, but I see that boy, now a deacon, often helping neighbors. The lessons and memories of his childhood are a natural part of him. I think he will be a great dad someday.

Seeing the value of memories has changed my perspective on being a parent. We no longer make messes; we make memories. One crisp autumn day I took my children and two of their friends to the park. As they ran from swing to slide and then rolled in the damp sand, I was filled with gratitude for this time they had to be kids. “Oh, remember this day,” I told them in my mind. “Remember the joy of autumn, of family, of friends, of God’s wonderful earth.” On the way home my son discovered enough sand in the car to make a handful and affectionately tossed it at me. We laughed together. We’d made a memory—we could clean the car any day.

I recall what Alma the Younger said about his conversion: that he remembered all his sins and iniquities (see Alma 36:12). But he also remembered the words of his father “concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). The angel opened Alma’s eyes to his past sins, but the memory of his father’s words brought him to his knees to ask for forgiveness.

I believe I understand better what is expected of me as a parent. I work harder at creating moments that matter. The demands of parenthood haven’t changed. Perhaps the pressure has even increased, but the blessings have also. I hope to pass on these insights to my children in memory after memory. Perhaps each precious memory I give my children will become another link in a chain of righteous parenthood as they help their own children make joyful memories. Eternal bonds, eternal memories.

And what about camping? It’s worth all the time we take and every memory we make. So we continue to make camping memories in our own way—by packing everything into the car and roughing it as painlessly as possible.

Ann S. Huefner, Utah

Fourteen Months with Tommy

My husband and I had been on our mission in Germany just three weeks when a bishopric member of the ward we attended, which was full of servicemen and servicewomen, asked me to accept a special calling. For the two hours of Primary each week, he wanted me to be a one-on-one “teacher” to a nine-year-old boy with a learning disability.

“Tommy [name has been changed] is disruptive in class,” he told me. “He has difficulty learning and doesn’t communicate well, so your job will be ‘custodial.’ ” We could join the other Primary children for singing and sharing time so long as I kept him under control.

My heart sank. I wanted with all my being to say no. I wanted to attend Relief Society. I hadn’t had time yet to get acquainted with my Relief Society sisters or many of the other ward members. How could I spend two hours every Sunday trapped in a room with a child I couldn’t even have a conversation with?

Then I remembered our favorite family hymn, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (Hymns, no. 29). I knew well the message of the song: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). And I also knew that I must accept this call.

When I met Tommy, I was in awe. He was an absolutely beautiful little boy. That first Sunday, we gathered up some trucks and other toys and went to our room. It didn’t take me long to realize that this young man with bright eyes also had a brilliant mind, and when I took time to listen, I found that he communicated well. I made up my mind I was not going to waste my precious time or his playing with toys. I was going to teach him.

For 14 months, until his father returned from the Gulf War and was transferred back to the States, Tommy and I met together every Sunday morning. Tommy’s eyes and face lit up when he saw me, and he smothered me with hugs and kisses. His attention span was such that it was hard for him to listen to a lesson as normally given, so I cut out little cardboard figures and used them to act out the lessons from the manual.

He knew the point of each story. He also loved to role-play lessons. His favorite story was of Jesus telling His disciples to allow the little children to “come unto me” (see Luke 18:15–16). He liked to play the part of the disciples, gruffly telling the children to go away. Then his face would light up when he said words similar to what Jesus said: “Let the little children come. Don’t stop them. Come, children.” He felt joy in the Savior’s love for him as a little child.

One day the Primary president asked him to give a talk. We each took turns acting the parts of the Primary president introducing Tommy, the Primary children in their seats listening to Tommy, and Tommy standing at the pulpit giving his talk. On the day of his talk, he was well prepared. He loved giving it. He even wanted to do it again.

The 14 months whizzed by. I was still able to get acquainted with the Relief Society sisters in other ways. Tommy’s mother was able to attend Relief Society, and I realized that this was more important than being there myself—after all, I had attended and served in Relief Society for many years prior to this.

I was rewarded beyond measure by seeing this beautiful child grow in spite of the challenges life had dealt him. Had I not been prompted by that scripture in Matthew, I would have missed one of the warmest, most fulfilling experiences of my life. For 14 months, I knew that I was making a difference in the life of this special child, whom I grew to love dearly. And he made a difference in mine.

Wanda West Badger, Utah

The Plan I Didn’t Understand

“Do you want to hold her?” my friend asked me, her face beaming with pride. The soft scent of baby powder floated up to me as I reached for the small bundle. I held her carefully, but the warmth in my arms only increased the pain in my heart. Would I ever hold a baby of my own?

My husband and I had been raised in large Latter-day Saint families, and we had looked forward to having a large family of our own. But when I did not become pregnant, our concern began to grow. I went to the doctor, and he told me I had a medical condition that often produced infertility in women. He said the probability of my getting pregnant would likely decrease further over the years. I went home in tears but clung desperately to a hope—a special promise given in my patriarchal blessing that I would give birth to and raise children. I remained optimistic.

A short time later my husband suggested adoption. We prayed for a confirmation of our decision, filled out numerous documents, went through many procedures, and then waited. In a few months a beautiful baby boy was placed in my arms, and he brought sunshine, love, and laughter into our home.

In the years that followed, we adopted seven more beautiful, energetic children. My life was full, but the promise in my patriarchal blessing nagged at the back of my mind. There came a point in my life when I realized it was threatening my testimony of the gospel. I wondered: “If I never have a biological child, will I still believe the Church is true? Does my entire testimony hang on the fulfillment of this one blessing?”

I struggled with these questions until I grew strong enough to say in my heart, “Even if the promise is never fulfilled in this life, the Church is still true. There are too many evidences of its truthfulness to deny it based on this one point.”

When I finally came to grips with this issue, my faith blossomed, and I was no longer nagged by the problem. It just didn’t matter.

When our youngest child was five, I went to the doctor for what I thought was a reaction to a hay fever shot. He said I was pregnant. As I left the office, I asked one more time, “Are you sure?” He nodded and smiled.

When I told my husband, he grinned and said, “If you’re pregnant, I’m Zacharias, and we’ll name him John.” We both laughed. Seven months later “John” was born. A little more than a year later he was joined by a brother.

Did the fulfillment of the blessing strengthen my testimony? It was certainly a confirmation of the Lord’s promise, but the real test of faith had come before my son was born. My greatest test was when I had to look at the foundation of my testimony and decide if it rested solely on the fulfillment of a single promise.

On my wall hang ten pictures—beautiful Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian faces—our ten children, eight adopted, two borne by me. Looking back I wonder how many children I would have had if our prayers had been answered immediately. Would I have valued the children as much if we hadn’t struggled to get them? If all my children had been born to me, would I ever have learned to appreciate the diversity of personalities, talents, cultures, and races that the Lord has created? Now as I see the Lord’s plan, I realize that it was perfect for me. But my test and spiritual growth came when I didn’t understand that plan and had to walk by faith.

Lorraine Jeffery, Ohio

Available to All Women

Elder Russell M. Nelson

“The spiritual rewards of motherhood are available to all women. Nurturing the young, comforting the frightened, protecting the vulnerable, teaching and giving encouragement need not—and should not—be limited to our own children.”

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 87–88.

Photographs by Robert Casey, posed by member volunteers