Shortly before the birth of my very first child, Ruby, I received a blessing from my husband. In the blessing he said that my Heavenly Father was excited for me to become a mother and excited for me to learn new things in this role. I remembered this recently, and wondered, just what had I learned since becoming a mother. I thought of four turning points, and all of them have taught me more about love.
1. Love Requires (Lots of Inconvenient) Action
When Ruby was just a few weeks old, I remember lying in bed for a nap. I had just gotten to that pleasant doze stage, when she started to cry. I waited ... Maybe she would just go back to sleep? She didn't. I was so, so tired. I wanted to cry myself; I wanted to sleep so badly! I started to pray, and because I always feel like it's worth asking my outrageous first desire once (because, who knows???), I prayed that some angel would come and soothe Ruby to sleep. Perhaps some dead relative, that loved Ruby? Please? I got my answer: I was the angel God had sent to soothe Ruby. I got up and attended to her needs. The words of the hymn often run through my head: "sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven." I'm still hoping for those blessings of heaven, but I've learned that when I sacrifice my expectation for how the day should run, we have a happy home. Sometimes I don't get to accomplish exactly what I want to, exactly when I want to, but as I use the needs (not the demands ;) of my children as the skeleton for the day, and then flesh it out from there, my children are happier, and we all seem to get what we want on the whole.
There are times when kids are tired, frustrated, just plain having a bad day, and they will lash out at you. I've learned to not take it personally. They are only human (and little kids, to boot!), learning to control their turbulent emotions. Realizing that it is not about me, but about the rotten way they are feeling, helps me to forgive them instantly. I also know from sad experience that after you've made a mistake or injured someone you love, what you most want is to know that they love you so much anyway. I recorded the first time I discovered this in my journal, and I often need to be re-reminded, but I believe that I am getting better!
I did make a happy discovery with Herbie this week. For a few weeks he's been having a hard time cleaning up before lunch---lots of whining and gnashing of teeth. Finally when he came to me to whine, I said nothing, but gave him a hug for as long as he wanted. He trotted off to go clean, but re-emerged whining again. Ruby, who was already done, yelled at him to go clean up.
I said, "Maybe all he needs is a hug, Ruby." She laughed, and ran to give him a hug and kiss. Herbie smiled, and trotted back to his room. He came out one more time, asking for a hug from me, then Ruby, and then returned to finish. It was a triumph!
Sometimes kids are receptive immediately, and sometimes after a cooling off period, but they always need to know of our love for them!
3. Personal Stories Convey Love
One time on a walk, Ruby asked me, in a very defeated voice, if I'd ever done anything wrong when I was a little kid. She'd had a rough morning, and it was apparently weighing on her mind. I was shocked! Of course, I'd done millions of things wrong as a little kid, didn't she know that?? I immediately told her of the first incidence that popped into mind, and she was thrilled and visibly relieved to hear about it.
I find that telling my kids stories about myself at their age shows them that I empathize with their current life and struggles. I remembered the many wonderful memories I have of my Grandma telling me stories in bed about herself as a little girl when I slept over at her house, and I resolved to do the same for my kids. I've also found that nothing makes a kid feel more special than to tell them stories about themselves when they were even younger. I remember the look on my children's faces the night we told them all about their births. They were so proud and pleased, even when we said things like, "The top of your head was pointy, and your face was shaped like pear!" They acted like it was the most amazing compliment ever! I make sure I tell them stories about themselves regularly, and I record as many as possible.
4. I'm Not the Only One Who Loves My Kids
I bet you think this section will be about the great love God has for each of our children. That would be awesome, but it's not. It's about other people loving my kids. I don't know where I got this idea, but for a long time, I had a I-love-my-kids-you-love-yours mindset. And then I was taught a lesson. For many months, we traded off babysitting every week with a family who had the same amount of kids as we did. My husband finally finished grad school, and the day came where we had to say goodbye. The mother of this other family gave all of my kids big hugs, and then she started to cry. "I'm sorry," she said, "I just love your kids so much!" I was completely humbled. I never imagined that some other woman could love my kids, and I was ashamed that I could not say the same for hers. This is probably something that everyone else in the world knows, but was a revelation for me that day. My heart softened and expanded with the knowledge that there was so much love from others, and more importantly, that I could/should emulate that love for other people's children.
In conclusion, I'd like to add a disclaimer. These may have been lessons that I've been taught, but there are days (or periods of days) where it's just not working for me. Please don't be disappointed if you meet me on the street, and I'm not living up to all of these completely. I do, however, believe that these are standards of love and sharing that I should strive for in my role as a mother and in my interactions with my own and others' children. I appreciate God's great love and patience in allowing me to "practice" love and charity on my own children. Maybe someday I'll get there!