Monday, February 11, 2013
All They Really Needed to Learn Was How to Do the Laundry
Last October General conference, Elder L. Tom Perry reminded parents of the sacred duty to teach children to love and serve one another. We are to become goodly parents. Elder Perry promises that “building a strong family adds another layer of protection, insulating our children from worldly influences.” He suggested that parents pray for guidance, pray as a family, hold family home evening and family scripture study. He encouraged us to use what the church programs have to offer—meaning Primary, Sunday School, Seminary etc. He spoke of the importance of organizing your family, teaching them household responsibilities in order to hopefully establish this layer of protection from the adversary.
His last suggestion—teaching household responsibilities—caught my attention and reminded me of something that happened in our family when our oldest child Hannah turned eleven. We were living in the small, mountainous community of Pinetop back then and Annie our fifth and last child was born a few months prior. Many of you can imagine what a household with five children aged eleven and under is like. It’s busy, bordering on chaotic, most of the time loud, always in need of being picked-up, wiped up, or vacuumed.
Hannah was in sixth grade and had discovered her love for basketball which we were thrilled about since she was approaching 5 foot 8 inches. We were sure she would be six feet by the time she was a freshman in high school so basketball would be a great sport for her. We signed her up for a basketball clinic held by the varsity high school girls coach. It was time for her height to be noticed. I dropped her off at the school, one cold evening, with great excitement that finally a child of ours would be playing a sport that both my husband and I played in high school. We couldn’t wait to be the proud parents in the bleachers someday, maybe watch her play for a state championship in the future.
I traveled fifteen minutes through the woods, back to our home, unloaded the remaining four children that were with me, headed inside to start dinner, feed baby Annie and hopefully finish the laundry that was sadly laying out on the floor in each bedroom, waiting for me to put away. As I sat on the floor folding clothes I remember Annie, happy with a full stomach, cooing at me from her car seat. I had put her in the seat so I could easily load her back into the car when the time came to pick up Hannah. Tanner and Haley took turns, hanging on my neck, desperately trying to receive the extra attention that kids need when new babies enter the picture. Nicolina was in the kitchen working on homework and I was doing my best to multi-task the love, affection, laundry, dinner, shouted out answers to homework problems and keeping an eye on the clock so I wouldn't be late to get Hannah. And at this point you might be thinking, where is her husband? And I hesitate to say, but it is true, at the church in a meeting. But I’ll get to that later.
Somewhere in all that multi-tasking, I sadly, did lose track of the time. The phone rang in the next room and Nicolina brought it to me. It was the Varsity High School Girls Basketball coach, informing me that Hannah was still at the gym, waiting for a ride. I apologized profusely, and told him that I would be right there. However, knowing that “right there” meant at least fifteen minutes. I made nine year old Nicolina have her first babysitting job right on the spot, and flew down the road, hoping I just didn't ruin any chance Hannah had at playing basketball.
I pulled into the parking lot, humiliated that the coach and the assistant coach were waiting with Hannah. I apologized again. Hannah hung her head low with embarrassment, and climbed into the mini van. I felt horrible. When I had kids, I promised myself I never wanted to be a mom that was disorganized, disheveled, and however many “dis” anything’s there were, and here I was— disappointingly late.
Something had to change. I did use Elder Perry’s first suggestion, I prayed for guidance. I realized that I no longer could do it all. But I wondered what it was that could help me the most? Did I really have to pull Hannah from basketball and crush our vision of cheering wildly for her at an important game? No, I reasoned, too big of a sacrifice. Did my husband need to be home more and not fulfill his priesthood duty? That didn't seem right either. It had to be something else.
The next morning, my friend Nancy, who was an older woman that was Lutheran, and German, and very wise, came over to help me with some house cleaning. As I rushed to get the rest of the laundry put away so she could get to the deep cleaning, she observed, out loud, “why are you doing all this laundry by yourself? Get those older girls of yours two laundry baskets, one for lights one for darks for their room, teach them how to run the washing machine and have them do their own laundry.”
Ahh, the answer to my prayer. That’s how I was going to be able to keep the basketball dream alive.
Now, I know this might seem unusual to be speaking of the laundry, but the lessons my kids learned, and the change that occurred in our family when I taught my kids this one skill affected our home immensely and caused me to have great excitement. So here we go: a lesson in laundry.
It was tricky at first to have my two oldest girls completely in charge of their clothes. I worried they would accidentally wash something red with something white. They did, but they learned from their mistakes and I taught them how to use bleach. I worried that they would let the dirty clothes build and build. They did that too, but amazingly, all the outfits in the closet were worn and when the least favorites were the last ones on the hangars, it prompted them to get the favorite ones washed. I swallowed my pride at the moments when I saw they walked out the door wearing an item that wasn't exactly ironed perfectly, and reminded myself, that it was a clean item, and they left with a smile knowing they had done their best job.
I learned that when I worried that they wouldn't do the job, or do it when I thought they should, I sent them a message that I didn't trust them and lacked confidence in their ability to complete a simple task. Also, when I found myself reminding, nagging or at times demanding the chore to be done, usually, my children were quick to react with annoyance that I had taught them responsibility, but wasn't allowing them to act upon it.
What happened as time went by though, is that the lost uniform was no longer lost, they knew where they had put it. And the socks always had a match, because they were never mixed into anyone else’s laundry. In teaching them this responsibility, the benefit or blessing was less chaos and more peace. They had the sense of accomplishment of hanging items neatly, and I had the opportunity to lavish praise.
Tanner started even younger than the older girls doing his laundry, simply because he wanted to push the buttons on the washing machine. But we shared the fifteen minutes it took to put his laundry away together. Instead of him hanging on my neck trying to get my attention, he was glowing with pride when his little hands were strong enough to squeeze the hanger open to hang a pair of pants. I wasn't the one trying to get a chore done, I was helping him to get a chore done, and after we spent the relatively few minutes together, he then threw his hands around my neck and told me he loved me.
When the older girls became much busier in high school, with both of them playing high school basketball, to our delight I might add, I marveled that they had their uniforms washed and ready for each game; despite my unspoken worry that they would wear them dirty and then be teased for being smelly. But then I would have to remind myself that the natural consequence of smell was created for the distinct purpose to motivate children to wash their clothes. I made sure I had a family home evening lesson teaching this very principle.
There were a few times when the girls were very busy, and as the younger children were helping out more, I was able to sneak into their room and do the laundry for them. As I would fold and hang and iron a few things, I truly loved serving them. This was the way I had hoped I could nurture and help my children. This was not doing a chore, I was relieving them of a burden. Often they would come home, see that their work was done for the week, come and find me and thank me. That is when my heart would swell and the whisperings of the spirit would tell me that I had taught my children gratitude. And then later, if we were travelling in the car together, or discussing a lesson they might have had in Sunday School or young women’s, I would be able to tell them my experience of truly serving them and bear my testimony of the important words Mosiah taught, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
Now my son is seventeen years old. He already has told us that he is preparing now to serve a mission next summer. As I have watched him grow into a man, his personal responsibility has blessed our home. We taught him young how to operate an alarm clock, so he could give himself plenty of time to get ready for school. When he was on time and ready, it gave us the opportunity to praise him and thank him for taking care of his education. I found that because the kids were responsible for being ready, they actually had to beg me to get out of bed and take them to school!
When kids start learning at a young age to take personal responsibility, their confidence grows. And when kids have confidence, they are happy, and when they are happy, your home is happy, and personally, when I kept the irrational worries to myself, and my pride in check, I nagged at them less, and found the opportunities were more abundant to praise and encourage. At times I found myself thinking that, this is what the scripture in Alma 36:30 meant when it says, “inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God, ye shall prosper in the land.” Our land was our home and we prospered with peace and love.
I believe this is the protection Elder Perry encourages when he suggests that “creating stronger family cultures work in tandem with the culture of the Church. Our strengthened family cultures will be a protection for our children from “the fiery darts of the adversary” (1 Nephi 15:24).
It is stated in the Proclamation on the Family, that “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.”
Teaching my children how to launder worked for our family. I learned that it is not the purpose of the mother to do all the work and call it caring for the children. Caring for the children is helping them learn to do their own work. And that husband of mine? Gone to the church at a meeting when chaos was reigning at home? That wasn't how I wanted to support my husband. Because we became organized, started instituting the principles suggested, Michael was able to serve his priesthood duty faithfully, without worrying that he left chaos behind. When he leaves the house and says to his children, “help your mother”, what they hear is “do your own work so you are a help to your mother.”
A well meaning friend once commented to me, “well, you have gotten lucky with the kids that were sent to you; I have a piece of work at my house.” At first I thought, thank you, I do have great kids, but then, didn’t she? Don’t we all? The children that are in our homes are beautiful, pure and innocent spirits that God sent to us, to help guide them and teach them. In saying I was lucky, she actually was discrediting the unseen work of parenthood that requires the faith and determination to shun fear, swallow pride, forget unnecessary worries, and let go of perfection. She also was discrediting the work of those children, that are obeying, learning, and working hard to learn how to navigate the world.
I will end with Elder Perry’s blessing for goodly parents. He says, “God Bless you goodly mothers and fathers in Zion. He has entrusted to your care his eternal children. As parents we partner, even join God to bring to pass his work and glory among his children. It is our sacred duty to do our very best.”