Before a baby ever rests in our arms, most of us seek out parenting role models– people who have climbed the mountain ahead of us and can offer a few bits of wisdom. In books and in person, I’ve modeled my parenting after dozens of other families a few years or a few decades ahead of me.

Now, my kids are getting older (ages 10-22) and I still seek out families a few steps ahead of me (I’ve already targeted some fantastic mother-in-law and grandparenting role models) but I also make an effort to step back, spend time with younger families and learn from them.

The benefits are many. First, I want my children to love toddlers and babies. Once kids reach elementary school they can enter an artificial world where everyone is within a few years of their own age. I often remind my kids that the rest of their life will be spent with people of varying ages. Little people keep us humble and joyful. And well entertained.

Second, younger parents tend to be so earnest. And I love earnest. My friends in their first decade of parenting are trying harder, always coming up with new ideas and new ways to teach and motivate. I’ll admit, I’m tired. I’ve already done every practice method and chore chart. I’ve been to the zoo and the library and the Natural History Museum a thousand times. I’ve seen all the movies at Temple Square and wandered through the exhibits. But my younger children haven’t. Or at least not since they were in diapers. Joining our friends on outings reinvigorates all the familiar experiences. And my younger friends are a wealth of information– books, recipes, happy traditions, ways to promote kindness at home, etc.

The photos in this post are from a cookout with my friend and one of Segullah’s most talented writers, Catherine Arveseth, and her beautiful family. All my children crave time with their family– from my Mary who plays fairyland with Catherine’s girls, my boys who can’t get enough of her wild twin boys, to my oldest who loves talking to Catherine about ideas and scripture study.

Last week, we spent the afternoon at This Is the Place with our friends, the Pugsleys. I’ve wandered TITP so many times and was weary of the same tours, the heat, the dust. But with our friends who volunteer there each week, the tree lined streets came to life, their enthusiasm refreshed the pioneer games and the Deseret Alphabet. Next year, we’re volunteering with them.

My friend Kit has five babies, her oldest two years younger than my youngest. The births of their babies has served as a kind of Parenting 101 for my kids as we witness the work and the joy of so many small hands, so many needs and take turn caring for them. Although Kit and Kevin are only a few years behind my husband and I, they serve as a bridge between the generations– my older kids respect their opinions and ask their advice because they are just that much younger and cooler.

Finally, younger families remind me of all the good parenting I’ve forgotten. All families change over time, and some of that’s good. I was way too hard on my older kids, “You’re eight years old! You should be more responsible.” In many ways I’m a much smarter, happier, more relaxed parent. But in other ways, I’m just lazy– or tired. One of our violin teachers told me she only likes to teach the first or second child in a family, because parents tend to wear out by the time they reach their third. I see her point. But I also want to give my younger kids opportunities.

A few weeks ago, I spied an Armor of God print out on my sister’s kitchen table. Her children had colored and cut the pieces in what looked like a joyful Family Home Evening. “I remember using this handout!” I exclaimed. My younger children looked at me blankly.

Sure, we’d done the Armor of God FHE a half dozen times when my boys were little and loved to put on helmets and wield swords (OK, they still like helmets and swords), but we hadn’t taught the lesson once in my 10 and 12 year olds’ memory. The next week, we used her handout and had a marvelous lesson with crayons and scissors, some swords and a truly beautiful discussion about the Atonement of Christ.

And that’s why I’ll keep seeking out the moms balancing babies on their hip and the dads chasing toddlers through the lobby. And that’s while I’ll try to be quiet and learn. I’m full of advice– ask me my opinion on every parenting subject and I can go on for hours– but truly, I need to sit back and listen.

What have you learned from parents with young children?

Who do seek out as role models?

What advice would you give those ahead of you in life or parenting?







July 18, 2014


  1. Amira

    July 17, 2014

    We have a seven-year gap between our second and third (last) child. A lot of our youngest’s friends are the oldest in their families, so I’ve been spending time with parents of babies, toddlers, and young elementary children. There really is a huge difference. I get so caught up with our two teenagers, but being with those parents reminds me of how much fun I can have with my 6-year-old. His life is so different from his older brothers!

  2. Ana of the Nine+Kids

    July 17, 2014

    Yes. This is something I experience each day–feeling more relaxed and tired but knowing I can’t give up the ghost yet! 🙂 Do you have a link to that armor of God cutout? I have a few children who would enjoy that for FHE.

  3. Karen

    July 17, 2014

    Great idea to spend time with younger parents/families.
    There is 19 years between the oldest and youngest of my 8, and I often find that things the older ones remember doing were done before the younger ones were born, or happened when they were too little to remember. An example of this is camping. We camped quite a bit when the 4 oldest were young, and then we got tired, and camping just took so much work and did not feel like “vacation”. We had to make some effort to give our younger kids the camping experience. Even then, we tended towards short trips close to home. We did several days farther from home in bear country recently and boy were we tired. (a reminder of why we stopped camping-tents, air mattresses, and old bodies!) But it was beautiful and the kids had a great time.
    I know I also used to put more time into FHE. Being around younger parents reminds me of what I did before, and gives me new ideas.

    Ana of the 9+ kids- I can relate! I remind myself all the time of the importance of not giving up on parenting, especially as I have to teach the younger kids how to do chores etc, that I already taught the older kids. (Teaching them how is the hardest part!)

  4. Michelle

    July 17, 2014

    Thanks for your comments. Ana, I can’t find the printout online, I think it was created pre-internet era. But I do have this link my son just found to a similar story from America’s finest news source:,36457/

    • Karen

      July 17, 2014

      That is a funny article. I laughed out loud. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Karen D. Austin

    July 17, 2014

    Great observation. I have just realized that I am at the midpoint for being removed from infants/toddlers/preschoolers. My “baby” is 13, and I’m probably 9 years or more before my slightly older son or this daughter makes me a grandparent. I enjoy helping people with babies very young children. They are miraculous to me, and I don’t work with kids at my job or my calling. (I have almost always worked with college students or older adults or women of all ages.) It’s great to observe for a time the “splendor in the grass” as seen through a child’s eyes. Happy family reunion season to all the readers. It’s a great time for intergenerational connections.

  6. Catherine A.

    July 17, 2014

    For some reason this post made me weepy. Maybe it’s the rapidity with which we moved out of the baby stage and into the young children stage. Maybe it’s that I love you so dearly and cherish the times our families are together.

    I have a great desire to embrace each stage my children are in, and yet I fear I’ll never have the gift of perspective as one does with children spread out. I think “tired” can lend itself to less fuss and more focus on what matters. That is why I look to you and your family so closely Michelle. I need your wisdom. And the wisdom of others who have gone before. What I gleaned from your words here was the importance of mingling my children with other families we admire and love no matter the age. Of nurturing that charitable love for people and all children. I agree – parents at all stages have something to teach us.

    And may I just say, Xander was extremely patient with the boys that night. I love these photos. Also… we discovered a fairy forest in the Uintahs. Want to come explore with us? You can bring your fairy homes and leave them there. It’s magical! xoxo

  7. Kit

    July 17, 2014

    This is why you are one of my greatest role models, Michelle. You seek after all good things, knowledge and wisdom everywhere and in all places and in all people. Thank you for finding some in me.

    Even though my children are still tiny, I found myself thinking these very thoughts about a young mom of two in my ward just a couple of days ago. “You need to stop, listen and learn from her.” That’s one of the beautiful parts of Heavenly Father’s plan that I’ve seen over and over in my life. He gives me teachers everywhere and gentle nudges to keep me moving forward, back to him. Love you 🙂

  8. Cheri

    July 18, 2014

    Michelle, thanks for this beautifully written and heart-full reminder to cherish all my mom-friends of different ages. And their kids. I’ll be gathering with many of them tonight and will bring the feeling of this post with me.

  9. Tiffany W

    July 19, 2014

    Oh what a great, great idea! My kids range from ages 6 months to 14 1/2 years old. I worry about my youngest two not being as exposed to babies when they get older. I will definitely seek out younger families as my children get older.

  10. Tiffany W

    July 19, 2014

    This week, my three oldest boys were at various camps. I wanted to make sure that my three younger children had happy and fun experiences with me. I used to be such a fun mom playing with my kids, taking them to the park and outings. Now I am just boring and a bit of a workaholic cleaning my house and tending my yard and garden. We had such a fun week. I took the younger children to the zoo where they were filled with wonder and delight. They went to craft camp a couple of times and I helped them cut and glue to their hearts content. We shopped and played. It was so refreshing and fun. I am grateful for that time with my younger kids.

  11. Lisa

    July 19, 2014

    Oh Michelle, this is so true! I like your “reboot” idea. My oldest is 35 and my youngest is 14, so I’ve been actively parenting FOREVER. Add to that the 9 grandchildren, and I am just pooped. Like you, though, I keep reminding myself that even though I’ve done this or that a thousand times, my youngest only get one childhood and they deserve the best I can give them. It’s different now — we’ve more money and less energy; I just use what I have and do my best. And new parents ARE fantastic! Thanks for this great post.

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