I remember a time when my children were young and life was one child-causing-major-even after another. My youngest, Trenton, the worst culprit, was nicknamed “Torrent” because of the havoc he caused. The phase from 2 years-4 years of age was the most challenging with this particular child. The following things happened during this time: he broke apart a fuchsia pink Dot marker on the fairly new family room carpet (to this day, the crime-scene-like splotch is still visible); he flushed a Wii remote cover down the basement toilet, causing the toilet to flood into several rooms; he smashed our 3-week-old flat screen TV with a hand weight in hammer fashion (he later ruined the replacement TV when he and a friend were throwing Duplo blocks at each other and one made a nice bullseye on the screen); nail polish on a bedroom carpet; a set of keys flushed down the toilet. He’s pictured above in the buff trying to liberate the chickens and after having a fun time emptying a bottle of baby powder ). Do you now understand the nickname? This kid would not stop! In exasperation, I said one day, “I thought we were supposed to experience joy in our posterity?!” Life with this kid was primarily a lot of clean up, hair-pulling frustration, and costing us A. Lot. Of. Money! So how can we find joy in parenthood, often said to be one of the most difficult jobs on earth?
Understanding the importance of having children is essential to achieving this joy. The commandment to have children to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28) is God’s will for us. “For those married couples who are physically able, it is a spiritual obligation as well as a joy with subsequent blessings to bear and raise children” (Hawkins, 2012, p. 55). “Parents bringing children into this world and then rearing them in love and righteousness is essential to the great plan of happiness (Alma 42:8)” (Hawkins, 2012, p. 103). Knowing we have been given a charge while on earth to establish families and “rear [our] children in love and righteousness” (the Proclamation) can help us have an eternal perspective. Nephi also testified, “…for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
So how do we find this joy in the thick of parenthood? Specifically, I would like to address my thoughts to mothers, who often carry the responsibility of nurturing, along with a plethora of other tasks. “Rearing children in love and righteousness, as the proclamation admonishes, requires the best efforts parents have to offer” (Hawkins, 2012, p. 115). “Mothers who are feeling exhausted and stressed are less likely to feel they are able to mother the way they think would be best” (Hawkins, 2012, p. 135). How do we extend our best efforts?
I have discovered three areas of self-care that have helped me find greater joy in motherhood.
- Spiritual Care
Making my spiritual growth a priority has helped me keep perspective. I realized early on as a mother that I needed quiet, uninterrupted study time where I could immerse myself in the scriptures and prayer. Getting up before my kids provided this opportunity and for years, I have relished this alone time to be uplifted and strengthened by the Spirit., often receiving inspiration to improve my mothering.
- Physical Care
Taking care of my body has also helped me be a better mother. Exercise has had physical benefits in increasing my energy and stamina, but the emotional benefits of having a daily walk, lifting weights, or attending a fitness class have helped my overall well-being. Sometimes it meant taking the kids along in the stroller, but whatever I had to do to get it in, I tried to do it regularly. Eating healthy foods also improves my mood and ability to handle stress. Consuming junk has had the opposite effect, causing mood swings and fatigue. This has been the biggest struggle for me, but I continue to work to improve in this area.
- Mental and Emotional Care
Elder M. Russell Ballard offered some wise counsel to mothers. He stated:
“Find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give others, even to your children” (2008, p. 110).
Feeling like I was mentally stimulated was important to me when I was raising young children. Seeking to learn and become better has always been something I have enjoyed doing. I checked out self-help books at the library (often about parenting), joined bookclubs, and took local classes on various topics or skills. I now have more time for mental development and am taking classes at BYU Idaho pursuing a degree in marriage and family studies. I have discovered that distractions can prevent us from doing what matters most. Spending extended time on social media, TV, and other media can hold us back if we are not mindful.
I am proof that there is a way to have kids and have joy! I’m able to laugh about all the things Trenton did as a youngster now, but I’ve realized keeping a perspective on why we have children and striving to be the best mother I can be has helped me find joy in my posterity, just as the Lord intended (2 Nephi 2:25).
(Trenton pictured above testing for his high yellow belt in Taekwondo; photo fun with mom).
Ballard, M. R. (2008, May). Daughters of God, Ensign, 38, 108-110.
Hawkins, A.J., Dollahite, D.C., Draper, T.W. (Eds). 2012. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University.