Family Systems

A couple of months ago we'd had it!  My hubby and I returned home from our anniversary date, excited to take the kids out to spend some time as a family. When we walked through the door, only one of our daughters was home and the house was a MESS.  Yes, their list of chores I'd left them was checked off, but beside that nothing had been done.  When questioned, we got more than mediocre answers from our children.

So what did we do?  Well, after a nice long rampage about how we were not going to deal with such disrespect anymore, we declared the family outing was cancelled and shut ourselves in our bedroom to watch our annual Christmas movie.

Things had to change. 

There's so much out there about having family systems and chore charts and check off lists.  There are incentives and even allowances given to get kids to clean the house.  Until recently, I was quite proud of the many systems we had tried with our family through the years.

But something was missing...

Our kids were learning that as long as they did just what was on their list, they didn't need to do anything else.  Then, when asked to do something extra we'd end up getting some sort of argument about how it wasn't their job or the annoying question, "Why do I have to do it?"  I had sworn with all our systems in place I had trained my kids (especially the now teenagers) how to clean and help out around the house.  After all, they had their jobs and it was pretty structured.  So it must have been working, right?

The funny thing is, before the returning home fiasco, I'd been trying to explain this very thing to my husband.  I didn't feel the kids were pitching in.  It seemed everyone would get up, get ready to go and leave their messes behind for me to clean up.  So, inwardly I was very grateful for this opportunity for him to see what was going on "behind the scenes," so to speak.

Things did change. 

We not longer have dishes days or assigned chores.  We believe in a system called: The Family Works Together.  After dinner nobody leaves the room until it's clean...Mom and Dad included.  On Fridays, the kids come home and we spend an hour or two cleaning. I do have a chore list, but it is a community list.  When a job is done, it gets checked off.  Nobody stops until every item is checked off the list.

Can I just tell you what a difference this has made in our family?  We still get some grumbling, but it's just not a battle.  And the weekend begins with a beautifully clean home (I love that part).  Friday cleaning also makes Saturdays more enjoyable.  I don't wake up ready to micromanage the kids into cleaning up all the things they didn't pay attention to throughout the week!  We can plan more family activities or work on our own individual projects without housework hanging over our heads.  This has also alleviated the feeling that I'm just left behind to be their maid.  I take care of the basics, but leave the rest for Friday Family Cleaning Day.

Ethan asked me today, "How long are we going to do this Friday cleaning thing?"

I responded, "Until it stops working."

And for now....IT'S WORKING!

 - - - - - 

If not me, who?
If not now, when? 
 - - Todd Merkley


Start with Hello

I LOVE this campaign our local school district is doing right now.


It seems so simple, yet so foreign to many people.  There are days I'll run to the story and not look up or talk to even one person.  We are all in a rush to get things done or looking at our devices, we fail to recognize the people who are around us..  Starting with hello is such a beautiful way to start conversations, notice others and be a friend.

This reminds me of something my mother taught me when I was running for school secretary in middle school.  She said, "When you smile at someone, just keep smiling.  Then the next person you see will smile back.  It's like a chain reaction."   Though I didn't win that election, I still remember that sage advice those many years ago (and try to follow it).

Currently, on lds.org you can find this beautiful article entitled, "What my Kids Taught me about Loving Anybody."  I love the first story where the author is asked if her 2-year-old knows the cashier he's waving to.  Her response was, "No...He waves to everyone."  Why do we grow out of that - - that unabashed, "Be my friend" kind of attitude and confidence?

Both the school campaign and this article have inspired me to reach out just a little bit more, be aware of those around me when I'm out running errands, and to look for those who may need a little lift each day.  That's my Monday morning message.  :-)



Mistakes we Make

"If you hadn't made that mess, you might never have come home."

image from amazon.com
I recently read this quote in Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff and it struck me forcefully.

If you hadn't made that mess...

How many times do we look back in our lives (or even at the end of every day) and think, "Man, I should not have done that!"  Or "Why did I do that?"

How many of us are in fear of taking that step forward, speaking to someone who makes us nervous, writing that book that's been on our mind for years (I could go on), simply because in our minds the question festers, "What if I mess up?"  

In this particular story, Hollis Woods is a foster child who just can't find the right family to fit her.  She goes from home to home until she finds one family who has some potential.  They love her, accept her, and talk about adopting her.  She feels good. But then a disaster happens...and she runs.  Well, I hate to give anything away, but through a series of events Hollis digs herself into an even deeper hole which leads her back home.  Thus the line, "you might never have come home."

Sometimes we look at our falls as failures or the end of the road.  We forget to recognize that without those learning moments, those mistakes, those regrets, we might not be where we are today.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown talks about how the events of our lives have a beginning, a middle and an end (just like storybooks).  You start something new, it gets really tricky for awhile as you work out the kinks, and then you have a victory or, sometimes, a failure.  The middle is often the part when the rising plot occurs, leading to the climax of the story.   Of this Brown says, "Experience doesn't create even a single spark of light in the darkness of the middle space.  It only instills in you a little bit of faith in your ability to navigate the dark.  The middle is messy, but it's also where the magic happens (italics added)."

In order to get to the ending of our story, we need that middle part: the messy, unsolved, confusing, seemingly impossible part.  To become who we need to become, we need those learning experiences.  Didn't Adam and Eve teach us, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never would have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption...(Moses 5:11)."

Wasn't Joseph Smith counseled by the Lord during one of his darkest moments, "...all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (italics added)?" (See Doctrine & Covenants 122:7)."  

It wouldn't help Adam and Eve to live in the place of regret knowing that without their fall, they would not have joy.  It wouldn't have helped Joseph any to skip that hardship when he knew the glorious reward at the end. Likewise, it doesn't help us to dwell on our regrets because we will have them!

Again, Brown teaches, "'No regrets' doesn't mean living with courage, it means living without reflection.  To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life (italics added)."  I love that phrase, "living without reflection" because that is what we are to do with our struggles and pains, our doubts and our failures.  We need to look inward and upward, seeking to know the next step and what lessons the Lord desires to teach us.

image from amazon.com

This reminds me of one of my favorite children's books, Beautiful Oops!  There are just lovely images of mistakes that happen, but then become something stunning on the very next page.  That is what is happening to us!  Whether we are in the beginning, the middle or the end of our experience, we are becoming something stunning - - even a masterpiece!  Take each day as what it is and embrace the fabulous journey. It takes some tears to get there, some hard work is necessary and some real self-introspection, but it is well worth it in the end!

 - - - - - 

"Struggle happens.  We give our children a gift when we teach them that falls are inevitable and allow them to participate in a loving, supported rising strong process." - - Brene Brown


Youth Magazines of the Church

Have you seen the new format for the youth magazines of the Church?  The New Era and The Friend have some really cool features now.  I know, it's well into the new year...but I just looked through the January and February editions and was so amazed at what the magazine editors have done.

The Friend
At the back of The Friend there is now a section called The Friend Junior!  What a brilliant idea.

In the middle of the magazine there is a scripture section which has a challenge card encouraging the children to be like one of the prophets from the Book of Mormon.  There's also a scripture reading activity where you read the verses to color a picture.  Then, right in the center is an easy pull-out poster for an even deeper challenge.

The New Era
This magazine also has a pull-out poster in the center.  This is very similar to the poster in The Friend, but obviously geared more toward the teens in the Church.

I am just amazed at how interactive these magazines have become.  This makes it so much easier to incorporate them into our family life.  For the little boys I've copied and cut out the Book of Mormon prophet cards and laminated them.  On lds.org you can find full-size pictures of the prophet.  I have laminated those as well.  My goal is to post the picture in the kitchen to remind the boys which prophet and principle we are focusing on each month.  I haven't quite figured out how we're going to include The New Era poster into the lives of my teens.  I need to try to ponder on that one some more.

I have to admit, this last year or so I've pondered whether or not to even order the Church magazines anymore.  "It's all online," I would tell myself.  But I just still couldn't let go of having that visual reminder coming in the mail every month.  I'm so glad I didn't listen to that inner voice because these are totally worth having around!


Times and Seasons

My Family Then...

There was a time when I'd wake up early to delve into the scriptures.  It was like I couldn't get enough!  And early morning was really the only (and best!) time for me to devote the energy and thought I wanted to them.  So I did it.

Lately I have been waking up to family scripture study and getting the kids off the school.  I wait for that one precious hour or two in the middle of the day when the boys are occupied and my "to do" list is (mostly) checked off to spend time on my own spiritual nourishment.  I have been feeling kind of bad about that shift in schedule.  I've had thoughts like, "If I would just wake up an hour before the kids, I could study then."  I have even  had the thought that I'm not putting the Lord first in my life (literally) because I postpone my scripture study until the afternoon.

Then a friend sent me this message,

I was thinking recently about how we can have passions and areas of expertise and how they seem to consume our lives and our free brain space. Like, when I first studied homeschooling that was pretty much what I read about all the time. I found it fascinating and important and delved into the topic of education. I've kind of moved out and I think I've been searching for a new topic....Anyway, I was thinking that it's time for me to find a new topic to become passionate about.

 As I simmered on this a bit, I thought about my own season and the thoughts I'd been having about my scripture time.  Not that it relates directly, but by reading her comments I realized when I study has nothing to do with my commitment to the Lord; it just signifies a different season for me.  At the time when I was waking up early I had six kids, was homeschooling, and had very little "alone time" during the day.  I was also gospel doctrine teacher and really needed that time to prepare myself to teach.  Now I have teenagers who are gone a lot of the time (and even when they are home, they have their own work to do) and only the two younger boys to occupy as needed.  I'm also serving in Primary which leads to a different kind of study and focus.

We, as mothers, hear advice, counsel, instruction, and ideas so often and then think we need to apply them all (well, at least I do).  For me, I'd latched onto the teaching that the best time to study is in the morning when revelation is clear.  Again the phrase, "put the Lord first" became literal to me, rather than internal and figurative.  Though these teachings may be true, judging myself against these ideologies and how I'd interpreted how to live them led me to feeling bad about myself and what I have to offer.

It reminds me of a story from Weakness is not Sin wherein the author and her husband are called to serve as a Mission President in another country.  She talks about how she wants to be strong while out in the mission field and study her scriptures with vigor.  While praying about how best to serve in this capacity the Lord answered by instructing her to exercise daily.  She was confused because it seemed so contrary to what she'd felt she needed to do to be successful.  It was a different time and season for her.  She needed to keep her health up to take care of those missionaries.  She'd already become confidence in the scriptures and therefore could fit it in throughout the day and in various situations. Studying was not as important during that season as exercising.

My Family Now...

And so I try to remind myself and gain a full picture of what season I'm currently living in.    My family is different now than it was four years ago (it feels longer than that!).  They have varying needs and are going in many directions themselves.  I am different now, with different needs.  Each season will be different...maybe not better, maybe not worse...just different.

I think the one thing that makes each season delightful is knowing we're engaged in what the Lord needs and wants us to be doing.  We can glean from all of the great thoughts, examples and ideas of others for sure because we know  prophets and others are placed in our path for our profit and learning, but the ultimate answer comes when we seek it from the Lord. Those subtle promptings only mothers get for their home and family are vital to the work we do!

So, carry on in your own season.  Take responsibility for your life as you seek the best way to guide and strengthen yourself and your family.  Love them.  Just love them.  And love yourself.  Love where you are and be happy. This is the counsel I give to myself...and to anyone else who needs to hear it. ;-)

 - - - - - 

"I am impressed by countless mothers who have learned how important it is to focus on the things that can only be done in a particular season of life....There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family....What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else." - - Elder Russell M. Ballard, CR April 2008
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