Two weeks before Valentine ’s Day my daughter’s teacher sent home a box with instructions to decorate it and bring it back for the class party. We’ve made Valentine boxes for the past few years, so I was no stranger to the tradition and was at least grateful that this time we were given a box and did not have to scrounge for one ourselves. We kept running out of time to work on the box and it eventually got lost under the pile of debris that perpetually accumulates in the one corner of my kitchen that I’ve started referring to as the Black Hole. I tried to forget about the fact that we needed to decorate a Valentine box because I had much more pressing things on my mind in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Then, on the Friday before Valentine’s, my daughter announced that she wanted to decorate her box to look like a tea set and that she would need some stiff paper in red and pink. Inside I began to panic a little, because I’m not that crafty and I certainly do not have the skills to turn her vision into reality. But I still went to Hobby Lobby the next day and loaded up on pink and red cardstock and Valentine stickers.

The weekend before the holiday came and went. We managed to get the kids’ valentines made (thank you pre-cut foam kits) and the heart-shaped sugar cookies baked, but there was not time to decorate the box. Unfortunately Monday is now my longest day of work, and I had to work from noon until nine. Before I left for work I made sure that frosting and sprinkles were ready for the cookies and that supplies were in place for decorating the box. I felt another pang at the fact that, even though my help would have been meager, my daughter would be left to decorate her box all by herself. I had visions of the projects I had attempted by myself as a child that didn’t turn out like I had pictured them in my mind, as well as the lovely things my mother had helped me create (like a clay diorama of a Lipizzaner horse complete with felt saddle and bridle). I walked in the door at 9:30 the night before Valentine’s day with a bit of dread, knowing that I had not been able to be there for my daughter. Then I stopped short when I looked at my kitchen counter.

There was a Valentine box that was more beautiful than I had even imagined. I knew it was exactly what my daughter had been dreaming of and would be the envy of her classmates. My sister-in-law, who babysits for us, had spent two hours helping my daughter with her box. She had come up with creative ways to make the tea set idea work, and had enjoyed doing it too. I think that what made me stop short was not only the artistry of the box, but the fact that it had been a labor of love. If I had been the one to help my daughter, it would have been a labor of obligation, frustration, and annoyance.

I am perpetually amazed and humbled by the love that other people have for my children. Yes I love them and think they are wonderful, but it is so fulfilling to see that they are valuable in the eyes of others as well. I have sometimes noticed a strain of thought among mothers that they have to be everything and provide everything for their children. As a single parent I’ve quickly realized that this sort of thinking is impossible in my situation, since I can’t even  physically be with my children every hour of the day or else we wouldn’t have a home or food on the table. But for any parent and child it’s not the best either. No one person is perfectly able to do all things and be all things for everyone. I am so grateful for the teachers, extended family members, friends, neighbors, and fellow ward members who love my children and do what they can to help them succeed. I love it when one of their teachers from school or church shares with me how much they enjoy knowing my child or gives me a little insight into how my son or daughter behaves in a different setting than our home.

One of my fears in being a divorced parent has been that my children will grow up feeling inferior to other families; that they will feel somehow “less-than” because their family is different. At the end of the day, it’s just me and my kids reading our scriptures and saying family prayer together; there are now four of us in a house built for a larger family and sometimes it can feel like there is something missing. I love my children and know that I am the primary influence in their lives, but I also know that we exist within a wide web of love from those who surround us. I may be a single parent, but the truth is that most days I don’t feel very alone at all.

Who are the people in your children’s village? When you were growing up, were there people outside your family who loved you and helped you?

February 23, 2012
February 25, 2012


  1. Sage

    February 24, 2012

    Beautiful post! We are blessed in the church to have support with our kids’ spiritual educations.

    I agree how helpful it is to have teachers and others express true concern and love for our children. My neighbor has repeatedly told me how much she loves my spunky 5 yo. Her words help me when I’m struggling with cleaning up the messes she makes.


  2. Rosalyn

    February 24, 2012

    This is lovely, Jessie. And the truth is, even if we aren’t single parents, *all* mothers can benefit from realizing the help we have in raising our children. We don’t have to do everything alone.

  3. eliana

    February 24, 2012

    Fantastic. And I do love seeing other people love and appreciate my children–it touches my heart so much. My theory of surviving teen years is that you need as many adults as possible to love and support your children, to be there for when the kids don’t want to listen to you.

  4. Michelle L.

    February 24, 2012

    Oh Jess– this piece made my day. And the tea set Valentine box is gorgeous!

    As a little girl I longed for an aunt or grandma (or parent) to take interest in me; because I have very little family I’ve worried about this for my own kids. But I have friends who have taken a loving interest in my children (one who has become my little girl’s “Mary Godmother”) and it has made all the difference.

  5. Tay

    February 24, 2012

    That was a beautiful story. I also longed for attention from aunts, to be seen as valuable to them. And to the ones that did show me this, they have gained loyalty and trust from me. I love my aunties!

    As for my children, they have lots of aunts and uncles who adore them, all benefits of a large family full of people who love children. Hopefully this will establish trust levels for when they are teenagers, when they think I am the epitome of uncool. 🙂

    My next-door neighbor was my YW leader, a person who I could count on. And she has no girls of her own, so I know she really appreciated that I trusted her with confidential things in my life. And she never discussed things with my mother if I didn’t want her to. She is still a good friend.

  6. JKfrome

    February 24, 2012

    Great story!! Great lesson learned by you. No one can be everything to their own kids. I had a completely traditional upbringing, and parents who were “home” every minute there on the farm. However, two of my favorite people were aunts who always made me feel like I was unique and exciting. A heady concept when one is part of an eight kid family.

    One of the best things about the church is knowing that there are other adults who share your values, love working with your children, and will be backing you up when your teens are doing the necessary growth that involves removing themselves from the parental orbit.

    Yeah for an auntie who isn’t afraid to lavish love on your kids!

  7. Amira

    February 24, 2012

    I love your Valentine story.

    I miss having a ward village, especially to help teach our boys. But our families have come through for us and do Primary and Young Men’s lessons on Skype with our boys.

    I remember my mother once saying something to the effect that often the people you really love are those you love and help your children.

  8. Blue

    February 24, 2012

    I have a few small people not related to me that I feel very motherly towards. I just fell in love with them from the moment I met them. They’re like extra siblings for my little crew, and it makes me very happy to have chances to spend time with them. So even though none of the kids is in a single-parent home, this principle is valid for all of us. Beautifully-written, Jess! ♥

  9. KDA

    February 28, 2012

    What a lovely moment between your SIL and your daughter. My parents divorced when I was still a child, and we had many people who helped us along. We had three girls in our family, and we had friends with five boys. They invited us to go water skiing with them every summer for about 5 years during my teens. They also helped with home repairs and yard work. They were very kind to keep an eye on us. Thanks for bringing this idea into focus: the webs of influences people have on our kids, and the the gentle invitations we have to connect with people beyond our own immediate family members.

  10. Rachel

    February 28, 2012

    Oh, this story was so lovely!

    As a new mother I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of people who genuinely love my baby. I’m so touched by it. I’m very grateful that he’ll always be surrounded by people who think he’s amazing, particularly when, as one poster said above, he’s not in the mood to listen to me!

    I had one or two people growing up who always made me feel like they thought I was amazing – they built me up so much that I always wanted to live up to how they saw me. I’ve often thought what a canny parenting technique that is: to treat your children like the very best version of themselves, and let them want to live up to it.

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