I will be attending a mom's retreat this October. As part of our preparation as attendees for the retreat, we receive weekly writing assignments starting about now. I truly look forward to these assignments, for they are such an amazing opportunity for growth.
Feel free to take part in these and do your own writing, even if you won't be attending the retreat!
Here is the first one:
(This is the theme for the entire retreat:) I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. . . therefore, first set in order thy house." (D&C 93:40,44) ... you are the house.
(Assignment:) Each of us is constantly narrating a story in our minds--it is the story of our own life. We are interpreting our actions and thoughts and even foreshadowing or predicting future events. How we narrate our own story is very powerful, but usually we don't even recognize the story we are creating in our heads, let alone stop to question whether it is accurate or not. This week, please ponder over the narration of your story.
What story are you telling yourself about your “house?” (Please remember that you are the "house.")
This past week, I've been paying more attention to the story I am narrating to myself about me. How I define "me" affects this narration a great deal. I have noticed a different narration take shape depending on which role takes the lead. Even the title I chose recently for this blog "my many names" shows that I recognize that "I" encompasses many roles. In my narrative, I see myself stretched in more directions than I would like, but each direction is indispensable. It is probably the most difficult thing I do in my life- prioritizing and balancing all the demands placed on me, and feeling pulled in so many directions all the time. Perhaps the title "my many names" ought to be a tool for helping me see myself as one entity with multiple names, rather than so many different entities; realizing that others recognize just as well that I am only one person and not superhuman in my abilities; that I cannot "run faster than I have strength."
As is suggested in the assignment, I don't usually recognize the story I am creating in my head. However, I am well aware of my feelings and emotions as it relates to my narrative. As I have paid more attention, I am realizing that because I am emotionally connected to my narration, it is a difficult thing to tell whether or not it is accurate. Perhaps the greatest gift I could receive is to see myself how God sees me, and receive from Him an accurate report so I could do better if needed, or feel better if deserved. For I am always trying to do better, yet not feeling so great about my efforts.
I do know which of all my roles bothers me the most, or for which the narrative is most painful; the one for which my narration is mostly questions, disappointment, guilt, sadness and regret. And it is the one that precludes the theme of this mom's retreat. It is that of mother. I find myself trying to be positive despite the stress and sadness of the negative things I see in my children's attitudes and actions. I wonder if I am expecting too much, after all they are just children? I wonder if these things are normal? I wonder if they knew how badly it hurt me to see them fight, disobey, not listen and act up, if they would stop? I think about God and the fact that even as a perfect parent, He nevertheless still has children who are contentious, even a third part that were lost.
Why is this? Why, when the role of mother is the one I have most wanted to play my entire life? It must be because all I have to judge myself by in this role is my children's behavior and attitudes, more especially their attitudes and behavior toward me. I see myself vicariously through their eyes, or how, by the way they treat me, I conclude they must see me. I have always believed in the law of the harvest and because the fruits I am reaping are, to name a few, disrespect, whining, unkind words, disobedience, back-talking, laziness, rudeness and un-appreciativeness, I constantly find myself berating myself and asking what have I done wrong?
When I step back, I think my kids are all basically happy, well-rounded, and even well-behaved for others, that they are provided a clean, organized, loving environment with proper boundaries and consistent discipline. I am the facilitator of much of the verbal teaching that goes on in our home. Obviously, I am also often the teacher by example. While much of what I 'do' all day is out of necessity; just barely keeping up with the basics of bathing, dressing, and feeding my children along with performing necessary temporal tasks i.e. laundry, helping with our family business, studying, exercising, serving others; I also do much that is deliberate in teaching and training them.
I take time each day to teach them the gospel above all else. We read scriptures, sing hymns, and I share experiences when appropriate, and my testimony with them. I listen to their questions and we have discussions. However, rather than the inquisitive, humble comments I would expect, I often get the rolling eyes, the pessimistic or silly attitudes, the facetious answers. Their attitudes speak so loudly that I am wasting my time, that I am preaching to the choir, that they are sick of the sermon. I can be feeling the Spirit so strongly and bearing out my heart, and they are concerned with the most temporal and unimportant things. I think "you are missing so much!" Certainly my children see that the way I live represents my values, and reflects the values taught in the holy scriptures? But then all day I have to intervene and stop fighting, mean speaking, name-calling and hitting and kicking, along with other unwanted behaviors such as messes, disobedience and other repeat offenses. I have to repeat and repeat to them what is expected, and remind of the jobs they have been asked to do. Although they know the expectation is to return and report, they get side-tracked and do all they can to get out of work.
Where have all my efforts gone? I pray this every day. I ask the Lord to inspire me to solve these issues. I know He is aware of my disappointments and sadness. I ask Him for that gift of seeing whether my efforts are acceptable before Him even though I do not get the results for which I pray and hope and work so hard. I constantly ask close friends for their tangible answers, their candidness and honesty about my parenting follies. They are as aghast as I at the things I tell them occur and that my kids say and do, and the way they treat me. This makes me feel all the more that I have somehow failed.
I know that my dialogue is, in short, one in which I am the victim. I am the hard-worked, over-stretched, well-intentioned, perfectionist mother, who, despite every effort whether by study or by faith and action, cannot achieve the results I desire in my children as their mother.
You see, just by writing it out, I can immediately see the problem with my even feeling this way. For a child to possibly feel emanating from his mother that because of him, she feels she has failed, is perhaps to predict more of the same behavior from him in the future. Certainly my children do good things, too. Perhaps I need to really focus, for my own benefit, on their goodness, so that I can see my amazing success-fulness!
I believe that what is insinuated in the question is correct; that "How we narrate our own story is very powerful." So I want my narration to change into one where I am empowered as mother. If it is true that "by your fruits ye shall know them," then by which fruits am I to judge myself as mother? Again the questions: am I trying to pick fruit before it is ripe on the vine? Am I trying to separate wheat from tares before the field is fully ripe? Will the true fruits come in many, many years while right now I should suffer these things? Am I making a pebble in my path into a stumbling block? Is there a ruler by which I should measure, about which I am unaware? Are my children's actions and choices my only measuring stick? Or because of agency, are these the worst measuring stick I could use?
There is a spark of hope that says maybe this is the reality, that I am being too hard on myself, that I can have confidence that I am doing my best and that the fruits will come of it someday. I just don't want to fail them. Knowing that "no success can compensate for failure in the home," knowing how painful it is to lose a child to sin or unbelief, I want so much to have peace in my home now, kindness as the rule, cleanliness as the mantra. I want to express my love to them rather than be cumbered with so much coaching and coaxing and pleading and reprimanding! I shouldn't loathe my duty as repeated reminder. I should just know that is what I should have to do, what is part of the job of raising God's children.
I welcome any dialogue on this subject.