Monday, January 31, 2011

Done is better than perfect

I learned this phrase at a meeting last week. We were discussing family home storage. Ward members had taken a survey about food storage, and we noticed that many people feel defeated by and can't make progress in storing food because they can't do it perfectly--don't know what to store, don't know where to store it, don't know what to do with it, etc. I actually see each of these concerns as valid obstacles, but our committee found that often, people don't do anything if they can't do it all perfectly. One committee member then taught us the phrase "Done is better than perfect."

I have been thinking about what that means ever since.

To me, it means that I can't get so caught up in the details of a task that I mentally shut down and don't do the task at all if I can't get the details just right.

Here is an example that I heard last Sunday. Sister Rosemary Wixom, LDS Primary General President, spoke at our Northern California Regional Conference Broadcast. She gave an example of a single mother who read the scriptures to her son every morning as he ate his breakfast. One day, he interrupted her to say that he wasn't listening to her, that he was reading the box of Wheaties. The mother responded that it didn't matter if he was listening; she was commanded by a prophet of God to read the scriptures and she wanted the blessings he promised. Sister Wixom said this mother received those promised blessings because she was obedient in reading the scriptures.

This was a perfect example to me of "Done is better than perfect." The mother could have been discouraged by her son's lack of interest. She could have beat herself up for not being more creative to get her son involved. She could have skipped the whole thing all together, figuring how much difference could reading to a boy who never listens make anyway. But she kept on reading, and she gained the blessings she was hoping for.

I also liked this example, especially one given by a General Authority of the Church, because it made me feel better about the scripture reading that happens in our family.

For example...Just tonight, when we read as a family, Jacob got to choose who would read first. We each read one scripture and rotate around the room until we have read two or three columns. Jacob chose by counting to see what would give Adam the shortest possible scripture to read. He did this because Adam likes to get the longest possible scripture to read. Then, when it happened to turn out that Adam got three very short scriptures in a row, Jacob rolled on the ground laughing. So much for feeling the Spirit as a family.(I used to fume when the Elders would do things like this on my mission, like choose the shortest song, that no one knew, just to be funny. Now I see it's typical teenage boy behavior.)

So now I can tell myself, when scripture reading goes like this, which is most of the time, "Done is better than perfect." We still get the blessings. (Sister Wixom said so.)

I am going to use this phrase to get through Family Home Evening, and fasting with complaining nine-year olds, and when I look at the job the kids do when they clean the house (although I will never tell them this--they don't need any encouragement to put forth less effort when it comes to cleaning!)

Actually, when I think deeply about this concept, I realize it applies to parenting in general. Sometimes, I wonder what on earth Heavenly Father was thinking by sending these children to such inexperienced, young parents. But we have just kept at it, doing our best, and having faith that it will all work out. And we have had faith that the Savior's Atonement will make up for our weaknesses, as real and as big as they seem to be.

But "done" is literally better than "perfect" in this case. Heavenly Father allows us to parent His children, knowing that we will make mistakes (again, evidence that making mistakes is part of the plan) and that we will learn the hard way most of the time. But He also knows that those mistakes will turn us, and will turn our children, to Him, over time. And He knows there is an infinite Atonement that will make up for all the mistakes, over time.

Truly, in this case, done is better than perfect.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Technical Foul!

I decided this week that being a mom of teenage boys is a lot like being a basketball referee. And not just because we are forever breaking up fights.

I have learned more about referees since the beginning of the year. Our oldest three children are working as basketball referees for the local rec league. They had to participate in a 5 hour clinic to review basketball rules and to practice refereeing games. Now they referee each Saturday for 2-3 hours.

One important thing I have learned from them is that the referee is in charge of the court. No one can give the referee trouble because he or she is the final word. The referee can give warnings and then fouls as freely and as often as required to establish this.

One thing my children are learning is that parents and coaches don't always respect teenage referees like they should. They yell at them and accuse them of making bad calls. It's no fun to be yelled at by a coach for the whole game when you are supposed to be in charge and when you are the one who spent 5 hours going over basketball rules that the coach usually doesn't know, especially when you are a teenage girl who has P.M.S.

The other important thing I have learned about referees, both from my kids and from watching the refs at Daniel's high school basketball games, is that the best refs make the calls as they see them. They aren't always right because they can't always see what is going on as well as the people in the stands. But they make their calls and then stand by them. And they ignore the fans, players and coaches as much as possible. When they can't ignore them, they unemotionally give a technical foul. That shuts coaches and players up pretty fast.

So how is a mother like a referee?

Well, she certainly deserves respect that she sometimes does not get. And she sometimes makes bad calls because she can't always see everything from the same perspective as the spectators (oh, to be a spectator rather than the ref when one child is screaming "he's bugging me!"...)

Mother has to learn to make the call and stand by it. And when they won't stop arguing, unemotionally give a technical foul and walk away.

Unfortunately, the 'unemotional' part is the part that gets me every time. What I usually do is get caught up in arguing my point until I get so frustrated I want to scream (and sometimes I do scream).

So my goal this week is to be more like a good referee. I am going to make a call about who was bugging who and who needs to apologize or do a chore, or about who gets to drive the car, or about who's turn it is to choose the show on Netflix, and then I am going to stand by it. No questions asked. (I am the final word most of the time, after all.)

And if I have to give a technical foul (like another chore or punishment), I am going to do it calmly and unemotionally and walk away, just like those high school refs. Nothing seems to ruffle their feathers.

Of course, they don't have to live with the players...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Things that matter most

Last week I was worrying. Our van was, again, making a loud noise that surely meant another very expensive repair. We had decided to buy a new-used van. We prayed about it together and separately, and we both got very clear, peaceful answers to go forward with buying a different van. Yet I was still worrying--I was worrying about having a car payment and about rising insurance payments, and I was worrying about giving up our current, beloved van and it's big 14" screen for watching DVDs on long trips.

I read these scripture from the Doctrine & Covenants on one of the days that I had woken up early and had been unable to go back to sleep due to my worrying. This revelation was given as the Saints were being forced to leave Kirtland, Ohio and sell or leave their properties, causing them to experience financial losses.

Section 117:4-8 "For what is property unto me? saith the Lord...For have I not made the fowls of the heaven, and also the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the mountains? Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth?... Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the weightier matters?"

I love gaining my perspective from the Lord. Suddenly I realized that I was focusing wholly on the drop, worrying about money and things, and neglecting the weightier matters. I was also not trusting that the Lord would provide and that He truly knows best. This helped snap me out of my worrying and back into trusting His judgement and revelation.

Since I read those verses, I have pondered and discussed with my family what falls in the category of the drop and what are the weightier matters. I believe that there is a broad, simple answer to this--eternal, spiritual things are the weighty matters, and temporal, worldly things are the drop.

But I think there are specific, daily choices between this and that which can be separated into these two categories. And I think these are individual to each of us and require personal revelation to figure out what belongs where.

For instance, last week it occurred to me that spending time on-line finding a stick family sticker to replace the one on our old van, which became a very time-consuming endeavor, was really drop since it kept me from keeping my daily goal of doing 30 minutes of family history work. Also, I noticed that talking on the phone or spending time of the computer--drop--can keep me from stopping to really listen to my 5-year-old or reading books to he and Anna when they ask--much weightier matters.

I love being reminded about what matters most. Rich and I are now together looking at things a little differently.

Today, for instance, I texted him to ask if cleaning the garage and taking down the Christmas lights was considered drop or if I could say it was a weighty matter and have us tackle it for family night.

He responded: In December, it's drop. In mid-January, it's in the middle. By February, it becomes a very weighty matter. : )

We cleaned the garage.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Learning more about mercy

Saturday was a busy day. We had the typical Saturday cleaning. Then our oldest three had three different shifts to referee basketball games. Then Jeffrey had a birthday party for his twin friends from 6-8 pm. He had been counting down the days since he received the invitation. Also, it was Stake Temple Day. Katie was signed up to do baptisms for the dead in the afternoon, and Rich and I were scheduled to attend an endowment session at 6:30. Oh, and there was a Stake Dance that night from 8:30-11 pm.

By 5:55 pm, everyone was fed, Jeffrey was ready for the party with two wrapped gifts, the house was relatively clean, instructions had been given for the care of the little children, Rich and I were dressed, and we were ready to head out the door. Then I realized that I couldn't find my wallet. I frantically looked all over the house.

Katie offered to drive Jeffrey to his party, so they left and I had a prayer and kept looking. At 6:10, I told Rich I couldn't go with him to the temple since I didn't have my temple recommend.

At 6:15, Rich found my wallet in the van. We left for the temple at 6:16. I felt like it was a tender mercy that Rich found my wallet, and I wanted to relax and believe that we were going to make it to the temple on time, but the cars in front of us were traveling unusually slow and I was tense.

We pulled into the temple parking lot at 6:22. We hurried in, hoping we wouldn't make the whole room full of people wait for us. Our Stake President and his wife greeted us at the door. They seemed calm. The brethren checking our recommends were friendly. They seemed calm. Then, a nice sister greeted us as we separated to hurry to our individual locker rooms. She said something like, "No need to worry. You are just fine."

I knew we were going to make it into the session, hopefully without embarrassing ourselves too much, through what felt like a series of tender mercies

As I found my seat in the endowment room, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn't even the last woman in there. In fact, another five or six people came in before they started the session.

As I sat there, I thought through our day. Although it had been a busy day, I had spent 30 minutes looking something up on the computer that could have waited. That contributed to our tardiness. I felt humbled by the mercy Heavenly Father showed me, despite my weaknesses, to help us get to the temple on time.

Mercy. This seems to be one of the reigning qualities of our Father in Heaven. My prayers are answered even when I am not perfect in my efforts. I am forgiven every time I ask. I usually only feel love, not chastisement or heavenly scolding. When I make mistakes, which I do daily, He helps me to right the wrongs.

Heavenly Father provided a Savior so that we could make mistakes and repent and still return to live with Him again. It seems as if making mistakes is actually a part of the 'plan.'

Sitting there, I pondered how often I show mercy as a parent, especially when I consider that making mistakes is maybe part of the plan.

Am I patient as my children make the same mistakes over and over? Am I kind enough when they say they are sorry and express a desire to do better? Do I gently offer mercy when they don't live up to my, or their own, expectations?

Right then, I made a promise to be more merciful in the future. Then I prayed for help to feel more inclined to show mercy when that promise is tested.

It was tested right as we walked in the door.

The older three children had left for the dance before we got home. They had left without doing any of their dinner chores. They would be home too late to do the chores before bed. The chores had to be done because we had church the next morning and needed to have some dishes for breakfast.

Upon further investigation, we found that the boys had sat around watching a favorite tv show until it was time to get ready for the dance.

My first reaction was frustration and anger. Those kids! I wanted to get angry at everyone, and then make the teenagers feel the consequences by waking them up early to do their chores in the morning before church.

But then I remembered, I know with a gentle nudge from the Holy Ghost, my promise to show mercy. Funny how my first reaction is always anger at their imperfections.

I was reminded how hard they work all week long and how busy they all are. I was reminded how nice it feels to have the night off and to get a break from work. I was also reminded how it was their first day of referee work and that they were probably extra tired from that.

Instead of fuming and storming about the house, doing their chores, Rich and I came up with a plan to reward the little children to do the undone chores. It worked!

I felt happy, and I was able to be kind to the three teenagers when they got home later.

I am going to try harder to show my family and myself mercy. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. There is a time and a place for consequences, and there is a time and a place for mercy. Thankfully the Holy Ghost is available for guidance as we walk this fine line.

But I think I will try to err on the side of mercy more because that is the way my Father in Heaven treats me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parenting Wisdom from the Stake President's wife

Tonight we went to the Stake Standards Night with our teenagers. Parents were invited, too. We considered sending only one parent, but I'm so glad we both went.

What I expected was a talk on how important it is to keep the standards the Lord has outlined in the For The Strength of The Youth pamphlet. That is what our Stake President spoke about. However, his wife also spoke. She discussed the tender mercies of the Lord in our lives and how to recognize them. She showed a slideshow of pictures of her husband as a boy and of some times in her life when she has felt the tender mercies of the Lord.

Her talk was full of uplifting examples of how personal the Lord is and how often He sends tender mercies to show His love for us.

I went up to Sister Harrison after the meeting to talk with her. She is in our ward, and in fact, is Anna's sunbeam teacher. Anna sat on her lap in sharing time today. : )

In the course of our conversation, I told Sister Harrison that I am having a hard time being patient with our teenage boys, not because they are doing anything wrong so much as that they are hard to live with. They get so angry and crabby a lot of the time, and they bug and tease younger siblings and generally require a lot more patience than our teenage daughter (which is the opposite of what I expected at this stage of life.)

She gave me advice that I know I will always remember and rely on as I raise teenagers, and children, from now on. She said that, because our boys are comfortable at home and know they can trust us, they can release all their negative feelings around us, knowing that we will continue to love them. She said they deal with a lot outside the home and have to be 'good' while they are away. Home is the place where they know they can release all that stress and negative emotion and that we will still love them. Eventually they will learn to find a different release, but for now, they feel safe and comfortable doing it at home with us.

Wow! That was sure a paradigm shift for me.

I love the Gospel and am so grateful for excellent friends, and for timely meetings like Standards Night. I got at least as much as the teenagers out of it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Potty Training Power Struggle

Disclaimer: I am going to write this whole blog post about what is apparently a subject that is unmentionable in a public setting like this. But it's my blog, so I guess if a public discussion of potty training offends you, or bores you, stop reading now.

I am in the middle of a power struggle. It's a power struggle that I have pretty much avoided for nearly 17 years. And it's not my fault. (I don't think it is, anyway.)

Anna is attempting to potty train. Well, attempting if you mean wearing underwear and changing her clothes a lot. But if you mean actually going potty on the toilet, then she's hit and miss with the whole thing. Now that I think about it, maybe she's just making a fashion statement.

I am the mother of seven successfully potty-trained children (well, unless you count Jeffrey, who still struggles with accidents, but he is only 5 and he does have a bladder that gets about twice as big as it should and apparently doesn't feel that painful urge to go that the rest of us have. So I don't think that counts.)

My usual potty training approach is to wait until they beg me to wear underwear for a while. Then we only attempt it if they have some immediate success. Or we bribe them. One of those two approaches has worked every time all these years.

But Anna keeps changing her mind. She begs me to wear underwear, but when it comes time to actually go potty, she refuses to go and begs to have her diaper back about half the time at least. But it goes against my motherly instinct to have a daughter tell me she's going pee while she's wearing a diaper. Or, at the very least, it goes again my penny-pincher instincts.

To illustrate the struggle we are having, let me describe a situation that happened at a basketball game the other day. For some crazy reason, we let Anna wear underpants in public. (So basically we were asking for trouble.) Rich assured me that she had gone potty just before we left, and the game was only an hour or so, so I figured we were okay. But then Anna announced that she had to go potty during half-time.

My first mistake was letting her go into the stall alone. My second mistake was letting her go into the handicapped stall. She immediately locked the door. I told her to go potty on her own while I went in the stall next door. She proceeded to dance about the big open space while singing to herself.

After I had washed and dried my hands, she was still dancing around. I peeked under the door to encourage her to please go potty. She shouted "Don't look!" Just then, two women entered the bathroom. Anna was still shouting "Don't look! Don't look!" at the top of her lungs. One of the women gave me a shocked look.

"She wants her privacy," I told the woman sheepishly.

By the time both women finished washing and drying their hands, Anna was still dancing about and I was done waiting. I jimmied the lock, marched in and forced her to sit on the potty for about half a second until she announced, "I'm done." Grrrrrr......

I gave her a lecture as we washed her hands and went back in to the game, having missed half of the 3rd quarter.

I keep threatening to take away potty training rights. I keep threatening to keep her in diapers until she proves she is serious.

Of course, we have tried bribery--I have a whole pack of bubble gum stashed away and we have offered every prize we can think of--but that also only works when she's in the mood, and never long enough to actually earn the prize.

Yep, she's a tough one.

Over the years, the advice I would give a mother like me is to 'Wait until she is ready' and 'You can't rush these things.' But I'm not buying it now that I am the one that needs the advice. We are talking about being done with diapers! I can see the finish line. Can't we just sprint to the finish?!

No, you can't. Not when you're dealing with a stubborn 3-year-old.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dealing with Anxiety

I just finished reading 29 Gifts by Cami Walker. (Inspiring read, but I have to note that there is a decent amount of swearing that began to bother me.) It is written by a woman who has MS and has dealt with a lifetime of chemical addiction. She learns to deal with her illness by giving something to someone for 29 consecutive days. One specific thing she wrote taught me an important lesson. She said, "For me, anxiety always stems from fear, so I ask myself what I am afraid of."

I struggle with anxiety in daily living a lot. It feels like it has gotten worse over time. I think it's because our life moves so quickly, so I feel anxiety about all the demands and my inability to meet them all. I learned several years ago that anger is often a secondary emotion that comes from fear, the primary emotion. So it makes sense that anxiety would sometimes come from fear as well. It's amazing how much easier it is to deal with anxiety when you recognize it as a fear about something specific.

For example, the other day, we were leaving our house to take Daniel to the third basketball game in three days. I was reluctant to leave because I really don't like to be away from our home day after day like that. But I didn't want to miss Daniel play in the last game of the tournament. The tournament was held in Carmichael, which is about 20 minutes from our house. I was feeling very anxious as we left because we were leaving Anna home with the rest of the family while we went to the game. The other two days we had taken Anna with us.

I decided that my anxiety was stemming from fear. So I spent the drive in the car thinking through what I was afraid of. I realized that I was afraid that Anna wouldn't be safe while we were gone. I thought through that fear, mentally disputing it. We left her snuggled in our bed, watching cartoons. We left her with Katie and Jacob watching her. Katie was downstairs cleaning, but Jacob was sitting at the table in the kitchen, doing a project, just a few feet away from her. She is old enough now not to put things in her mouth, and our home is child-proofed, so she was safe from harm if someone wasn't paying attention to her every second.

I also realized that I was feeling badly that she would be watching cartoons all afternoon as well as when we went to the temple later that night. Sure, it wasn't the best thing for her to watch tv for that long, but since it's not our regular routine, it would be okay for one day.

I was able to analyze my feelings and figure out all the things that were making me anxious, and then I was able to let go of the anxiety, realizing everything would be fine at home and that I had no reason to fear.

This one skill is invaluable to my peace of mind! I am so glad I read 29 Gifts, just for this little coping strategy alone. I do a lot of feeling anxious and I have a hard time relaxing. Maybe it's hormones; maybe it's age; maybe it's just motherhood. I am so grateful to learn a way to deal with it rather than just suffering through it.