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Behold Your Little Ones

Today’s guest author is Nan.  Her three little boys keep her hopping. It is a good thing that she likes camping, Harry Potter, Star Wars and Legos almost as much as they do. Or more. She is always up for an adventure, as long as she remembers to pack plenty of snacks and diapers. Besides doing the stay-at-home-mommy thing, Nan likes to read, write, work on scrapbooks, kiss her husband in the kitchen in front of the boys and cook. She blogs under the name scienceteachermommy at Nomad where neither politics nor religion are taboo subjects.

Years ago we lived in a rapidly growing area of the Church. Less than a year after being put into a new stake, two wards in our area were re-configured to make three. Our neighborhood was in the brand new ward.

The contributions from the original wards could not as have been more different—our section was mostly comprised of families with parents under age thirty, each of us dragging our little stair-stepped broods to church each week. The other portion contributed families fifteen years further along the spectrum. Their data sheets read like so: one grandchild, one married, one in medical school, one in college, one missionary, and one teenager.

Though ages in between were a little bit spotty, there were easily seventy kids in the ward under age eight and fifteen full-time missionaries on the bishop’s brag board. It was an interesting arranged marriage, to say the least.

The honeymoon period was mostly amicable, with one issue continually acting as the pea under the mattress—reverence. I remember sitting in one ward council meeting staring at my notebook, face burning with shame while the well-meaning brethren discussed various complaints from people in the ward regarding the noisy children. I also remember a sister’s comment from the pulpit in a testimony meeting about not having been in such a noisy ward since her married housing days at BYU. She followed her comment with, “I love all these little ones, of course.” I had my doubts. Of course.

But the most vivid of the many uncomfortable comments came during a lesson that was about taking the sacrament. The comments in the class inevitably led us into another reverence discussion, with plenty of well-meaning older sisters offering advice for keeping children quiet. One of these, a well-respected and bright mother of six, undoubtedly thought she was showing empathy for the difficulties faced by young mothers when she said, “I feel so bad for you young moms.” She explained herself by adding that our lives were so busy with babies and the tasks that must be done daily to keep our families running that it was unfortunate we had no chance to prepare spiritually for the sacrament or to ponder the majesty of the Atonement during the ordinance itself.

All around me women young and old began nodding in agreement. I was flabbergasted.

For while it is true that the comment had accurately described one side of motherhood, she had entirely forgotten that the Savior Himself looked for opportunities to be around children, chiding his apostles for trying to exclude them. Yes, Sundays are often frustrating and my weekdays full of routine minutiae, but they are full of other things too: spiritual lessons that I have been able to learn no other way than by a full immersion in the chaotic messiness that is childhood.

To that older sister I wish I could say, “When is the last time a child spontaneously hugged you and said without a trace of irony, ‘I love you, Mommy; you my best friend ever?’ When is the last time you were surrounded by little souls so completely without guile that it reaffirmed your faith in all humanity? When was the last time you heard a child bear his first testimony, knowing it was your influence and teaching that helped make it possible? When was the last time you changed a poopy diaper, smiling and singing to your little one, filled with joyful knowledge that you were performing a service nobody else was willing to do?”

Yes, studying, long minutes of uninterrupted prayer, and pondering are wonderful, even luxurious, things, but could any amount of study teach more true charity than spending your days washing, clothing, feeding, and teaching others who truly need you? I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes look forward to a time when sacrament meeting won’t involve taking a screaming child into the hall, taking a toddler to the bathroom or water fountain three times, breaking up various quarrels, or reminding somebody that “just one” when it comes to the sacrament bread doesn’t mean “one handful.”

But, at the same time, I hope I never come to a time when I forget the powerful lessons of this time either.

In a recent  fast meeting I had one ear on the testimonies while I colored a picture for my two youngest—they chose the colors and told me where to use them and we created a ridiculous ice cream-eating seal. The boy on the bench in front of us kept turning around to check our progress and offer suggestions. His grandmother kindly and firmly kept reminding him to “turn around, be quiet, sit down, and act reverent.” Finally deciding to be obedient, he settled down to his own coloring. As the first chords of our closing hymn began, our neighbor boy turned in his pew and handed me a page he had torn out of his coloring book—a king colored in a violent shade of orange. “For you,” he said with a disarming and innocent half-smile.

I saw in a flash that I was experiencing the greatest act of spontaneous charity I would probably know all week—a lesson in love that didn’t come through the quiet whispering of the Spirit, but through the generous act of a wiggly, mischievous little boy.

As I pray daily that my children will learn the lessons that their earthly parents wish to teach them, I must not forget to pray that I will learn the lessons that my Heavenly Parents wish to teach me through them.

26 thoughts on “Behold Your Little Ones”

  1. Love your thoughts here. I wish that those who observe motherhood from the outside, and those who are knee-deep in it (myself included), could both view it with a little more perspective. What a gift to see things as they really are, as the Savior sees them.

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  2. It's true – you have described motherhood as it really is, not the way I have viewed it in my saddest days. Thanks especially for the diaper-changing description. Even that task can be a kind, sacred service.

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  3. The grandmothers in your ward surprise me. I'm a grandma to several and I absolutely love the baby and toddler noises in our ward. It's music to my soul, even though sometimes it does remind me of the bird cage at the zoo. Even if the speakers are boring or ill prepared, I can always count on being uplifted by the children and the young families.

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  4. Bless you, Jill. The truth is, I think the sister meant to sound kind and empathetic, reminding us that such difficulty doesn't last forever. As my kids tick off the years with alarming speed, however, I realize that when some of the little-kid difficulties evaporate, so do some of the most marvelous blessings.

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  5. You are probably right…but not all of us grandmas forget those marvelous blessings. On the other hand, I look at my daughters in law and think, "HOW did I ever do all that??!!"

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  6. Recently we had a fifth Sunday meeting on reverence, at the end of which I ended up feeling totally hopeless and unwelcome in the ward. I KNOW my 2 year old is one of the most active children in the ward, since anytime there is any kind of play group or ward activity it is my daughter who is running away, squealing, and leading the other young children into mischief, so I felt like all the comments about noisy children were directed at me, at least indirectly. I felt so bad that afterward my husband actually went and got the bishop to come talk to me about how I felt and we ended up having a great discussion about having realistic expectations for your kids in church. We talked about how different kids have different temperaments and different needs, and you can't expect your kids to act like that perfect little family whose children never make a peep-you just do the best you can. He told me that our family was not a problem family, as evidenced by how worried I was about disturbing others, and that he was sorry I took it so personally.

    But, even with my extremely active 2 year old, and spending every Sacrament meeting constantly asking myself, "Do we take her out now?" I still feel the spirit all the time in my life. Not as much in Sacrament meeting, but I feel it when we have family home evening, and when we sing hymns before she goes to bed, and when we pray together as a family, and when I pray for help and guidance in my mothering duties. I agree with you – I have learned so many deep lessons from being a mom, I wouldn't go back for a second.

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  7. Good post.

    It has taken 15 years of mothering for me to calm down enough to enjoy it most of the time. I feel the spirit with my children now more than ever before. I think it was as much my tension and ridiculous expectations that blocked the spirit as much as their rowdiness. (Both at home and in church.)

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  8. I second Jendoop. Frequently I think I make the reverence disappear as I fret about what others around me are thinking.

    I have learned to appreciate what my children's presence in sacrament meeting means to others. Sometimes, I let them "roam" and visit other people, even though a part of me cringes at this. Here's who they bless with their innocent cuddles and love (folks who often carry crayons to draw with them):

    a diabetic woman in her 50s who has never had children because her health was too fragile. My children would rather sit with her than with me.

    a sister in her 30s who has Down syndrome. They smile at her and appreciate her.

    her sister, also in her 30's, who has never had children because her non-LDS husband is supporting his widowed mother, and he doesn't feel they can right now.

    two kids nearly to adolescence who would love to have younger siblings but can't–again a question of their mother's health.

    So much is gained through my children loving these other people. Sometimes I wish they were with me. Sometimes I'm ecstatic they're not. Sometimes I have to get up and go hush them when they are growing loud next to someone else. But I have learned that–to paraphrase a primary song–reverence is more than just quietly sitting…reverence is love.

    Story # 2 When my oldest was less than 18 months old, we attended my college roommate's father's funeral. I thought about finding babysitting but felt impressed to bring him along.

    During the funeral, he twice escaped from me and made a beeline for the stand. This was particularly interesting that day because President Hinckley was there–he was my roommate's great uncle. I swear my child recognized him and was heading for him the first time he escaped. The second time, I'm sure he was heading for the organ! But I had two very public retrievals.

    He was a handful and I was out in the foyer with him as the funeral was ending. I was still feeling embarrassed. Imagine my surprise when I was told by person after person how much they appreciated seeing my energetic little son (and in the interest of truthfulness, they also told me they could see what a loving mother I was)! Somehow, his "interruption" had lightened and comforted people. It also taught me a great deal about enjoying our children for what they are and not trying to force them into a mold. This experience may have indirectly led to my permissiveness in allowing my children to visit others because it helped me recognize how much we all need the expressions of love and life that small children are so excellent at sharing.

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  9. Being a mom with young children is funny. Do I want people to feel sorry for me? No. Like you, I bristle at that. However, I also want the work and sacrifice acknowledged. I want people to acknowledge that some things that are encouraged, or almost required aren't really possible sometimes.
    The sacrifice is worth it, of course, but it is still sometimes a sacrifice.
    A few months ago I went to stake conference alone. I kept hearing great talk after great talk. Oh, how I wished my husband could hear this and Oh, how I wish my daughter were hear to hear this. The spirit was strong, the messages were clear and pure. I eventually realized that the reason why I felt the spirit and understood their messages was BECAUSE my family of four kids were not present. So, I simply tried to appreciate the blessing of feeling the spirit in that way, while unhindered by my children (and husband).
    Although, I have to say I do get more good moments at church now that I am an experienced mother. Children 3 &4 just aren't as difficult as my newbie years.
    But younger mothers don't want to listen to older mothers. Look how you react to what was meant as kindness and understanding. She remembers those days of young children.

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  10. This was a great description of the tension in some wards. My last sacrament meeting talk was about the sabbath, and I specifically mentioned that I loved the noises of the little ones. At the same time, I could have said what that mother of six said. It was clearly well intended.

    If you wanted to say something to her, why didn't you speak up then instead of blogging behind her back? You acknowledge that what she said was true on one level; not all the dynamics can be explored in a single comment. She may well agree with you, or admire you.

    Now my youngest is a teen, I can finally admit that I hate taking care of babies. They cry all the time and I never understand what they want. I nursed mine for a year, I tried swaddling and massage and co-sleeping and everything else I heard about, but it was never fun or rewarding. I didn't like taking care of my own, and I don't like minding my younger grandchildren (although I do when somebody needs help). I am not a total dud of a mother (although I often felt it at the time); I thoroughly enjoy four-year-olds.

    And I hated dragging my preschoolers to church. I would never have said that at the time; I tried to prepare, I tried to be positive, I made great quiet books, but my husband had stake and stand callings, and it was mostly solo and stressful. I'm glad I did it, but "enduring" is the first word I would use to describe that era.

    I would be willing to help some of the young moms during sacrament meeting, but every family has their own rules and I don't want to intrude. It's an awkward dance.

    Also, what is the deal with older people hogging the back rows? Does that happen in your ward as well? I guess some older men have to use the bathroom a lot. But seriously, how ironic is it to sit in the back where you will see every child being taken out and in, and then complain about it? They can sit in the front of the chapel if they want a spiritual experience with fewer interruptions.

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  11. I have 6 children, three of them born within 4 minutes. So I do understand the difficulties of keeping a lot of small children reverent.

    My frustration now is that there are several families in our ward where I see no or little effort to remind children to be reverent during the sacrament. We have children behind us kicking the pews, talking in almost normal voices, playing with friends in the same rows, etc.

    I feel like I know pretty well how exhausting motherhood is. I thought I was going not going to survive raising triplets for the first 4 years. But never at any moment did I lose sight of the fact that it was part of my responsibility as a member of the ward to do everything I was able to do to help my kids be quiet during church, and particularly the sacrament, so that we didn't intrude on anyone else's experience with the spirit.

    I think it's wonderful that some people enjoy hearing children's noises. I think it's fantastic that some people can ignore all of the noises. I happen to lack that ability, and it is very difficult for me to feel the spirit when a heated discussion about silly bandz is being carried on 24 inches behind my head.

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  12. I am one of the "old" ladies in this discussion, I fear, though i am completely comfortable with kids wandering up or down a row to visit other ward members (me, included) during sacrament meeting. I'm also okay with a reasonable level of noise, if it isn't too distracting for the rest of the congregation.

    The problem for me is with loud crying, which used to be a signal to go stand in the back and comfort the child, or if that didn't work, to take the child out of the chapel. Sometimes a baby in our ward will be screaming during the sacrament and not be taken out to the foyer at all.

    If I may speak for myself and whatever other women share my age and/or opinion, we grandmotherly types have not forgotten what it's like to be young mothers; in fact, we remember quite well. What I think has happened is this: there's a bit of a disconnect between the generations, in that the cultural norm seems to have changed. When my children were little, you were expected to take babies and toddlers out to the foyer or cry room the very second they made a peep. It was just what everyone did. Today, a lot more noise is tolerated before mothers take their children out. I'm not saying either paradigm is right or wrong. I just wanted to make the point that we all need to understand one another better.

    I hope we aren't headed toward the day when it becomes politically incorrect to strive for a reverent chapel, especially during the sacrament.

    =)

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  13. I don't think she should say something directly to the older sister. I think she realizes that the sister meant it in a positive way. It is just that it made her think about her own point, which is valid, but something that wasn't the point of the sister's comment.
    What is really normal here is the us vs. them kind of feeling that you get when boundaries change. I was shocked that I felt it when our ward was eliminated and half of us tack on to one ward, and half of us tacked onto another ward. So we were suddenly going to a different building and invading their ward. I have moved and gone to tons of new wards, but this was SO different. It felt strange and I couldn't help but feel the US vs. THEM kind of feeling. I think both sides had to work hard to get rid of it.
    Wow, I can remember a lot of stuff. I could go on and on. Our ward had been great, a well run primary, but the new ward didn't split junior and senior and they made little attempt to engage the young children in their boring sharing times and they yelled at my son which made one of the teachers from our ward cry when she told me about it and why, oh why, do did they have to start all RS enrichments at 6:30 I can't feed my family by then and then no one shows up to start until 6:45? And there was no where to sit because they were all used to spreading out all over the chapel and they refused to open the overflow so where exactly was our family supposed to sit? (The ward that combined with the other ward in our original building of course had the battle of families being used to the SAME bench and battling it out for who got to keep it). See….ridiculous us vs. them stuff but so normal. You just need to see it. We blessed our 3rd child our first Sunday in the ward and I told myself this baby would bring us together because they would watch her grow up and feel attached to her.

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  14. Everyone has their own ideas about reverence. I believe church is for families, and sacrament is the only time we are all together. Children have to learn what it means to be at church and to whorship. They can't learn that in the corridor. Most people are trying their best to make it a happy and reverent experience for their family and others. I say, enjoy church and your children and don't fret about what others think so much.

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  15. It is clear that women of all ages have a lot to contribute to the reverence discussion, and even different feelings about what constitutes reverence.

    My intention was not to blog behind anyone's back, merely to use what happened as a way to present a perspective on mothering that has helped me through the years.

    I absolutely agree that the quiet, peaceful moments are golden chances for being taught by the Spirit. There is a reason children aren't generally allowed in the temple, after all. What I disagreed with in the sister's comment from all those years ago (not took umbrage with–there is an enormous difference) was the implication that because I had young, busy children that I somehow couldn't access the Atonement properly because my moments of peace and quiet were so few and far between.

    The post was meant to express that there are important spiritual lessons to be learned during all phases of our lives, and that children can be marvelous teachers even if their methods of teaching are, well, unexpected.

    Sister Beck, in her last conference talk, spoke to this briefly when referencing young mothers. She said that even in the midst of noisy children, a mother could feel the Spirit and have it in her home; but that if she shouted and was impatient then she would feel a loss of the Spirit.

    It isn't necessarily the circumstance that denies us inspiration and guidance, it is a lot about our handling of it. Of course different phases of mothering will be more or less enjoyable, depending on situations, personalities, etc., but the Spirit can still reveal truth, bring us peace and provide guidance to us both in spite of, and because of our life situation.

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  16. I absolutely loved your post, Nan, and I love the spiritual sweetness of little ones. If I had my way, there would always be a baby at my house (and my babies are the fussy, colicky kind).

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  17. I appreciated this post and the good reminder. Sacrament meeting during the last few months has been very difficult for me; I attend by myself and my four-year-old has decided to test every limit possible during that hour of the week. Plus I have a baby who is getting old enough that she doesn't just sleep. During the last few weeks I've become tense and teary even thinking about going to church. Our ward is a mix of older folks and younger families and I feel quite self-conscious about the behavior of my children and my obvious lack of spousal support.

    But this was a good reminder that I can still feel the Spirit and that we can all be more compassionate and understanding. And I think I will pray and ponder who I could sit by to help me out. I know some of the folks with grown children would not mind helping and I just need to be more humble about acknowleding that I can't do it all myself. I still remember an article about Relief Society in the Ensign a few years ago titled "Oh, How We Need Each Other!" and I think that applies to sacrament meeting too. Mothers of young children can try and teach them respect and reverence, and those further along in the path can be patient with children too. And sometimes children who are exuberant can still teach us lessons of love like my son did today when he ran from the stand and gave his dad a big noisy hug because he came to hear the kids sing.

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  18. Thank you. It was nice to find myself in the positives on that list. Today was my first decent Sunday in about a month- the others all ended in wild kids, a screaming toddler and a glowering mother.

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  19. Thank you for the reminder that I can get a different kind of spiritual experience from my children while they are young. Its so easy to focus on what I feel like I'm missing out on now that church isn't full of quiet moments for me to ponder and pray (and life isn't either!) But you are so right that there is a different type of learning that is going on, and if I open myself up to it, I will receive plenty during these years to sustain me and help me progress.

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  20. Great post, Nan.

    I just lead a weekday RS mtg on reverence. We had good attendance (I was surprised)! Our ward is full of wonderful, loving people and lots of noisy kids.

    What I learned in preparing to teach about reverence was that sometimes I don't expect enough of my kids and I forget to prepare myself and them for what they can experience at church. I have five–from 17 to 1, so I am back in the throes of noisy kids at church.

    At our RS mtg. I had an older sister assigned to lead a discussion on "Surviving Sacrament Meeting". She told us how she was given a book by a woman with lots of kids whose suggestion to keep kids quiet during church was to literally practice holding the child quietly every day for an hour!!! Needless to say, she didn't find this helpful with her five boys. The hilarious thing was that the author of the book was actually the aunt of our RS president! We all laughed about it. I recognized the different expectations that existed a generation back. But I also felt like it was important for me to have a reminder that I need to make time to actually worship while I'm at church–and more importantly for me–to teach my children what that means. So I pulled out the old FHE manual and taught them! It helped!

    I like the idea of getting help. That was what our empty nesters offered too. Anyway, sorry to go on so long and I hope I made sense.

    (We also have a back row full of older people!)

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  21. I remember a talk by Elder Perry (I believe) that said he enjoyed hearing children in sacrament and when they noise became distracting as in crying or screaming, then to take them out. So keeping my 6 young boyz (ages 10-4) quiet no longer brings me guilt! Especially when my husband is Bishop and I sit by myself! I figure if I can hear the speakers, so can everyone else!

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