You have probably read, or at least heard of, a little square picture book with a blue cover and a baby on the front. It’s called “Love You Forever”. In this book, a mother sings a song to her child, and even as he grows and moves away, she finds ways to be with him (or stalk him) and hold him as she sings this song. The interesting thing about this book, is that there is no tune to the song included with the story. Mothers around the world read this book and sing this song to their kids. The tune is different for each song, I’m sure, as she has to make it up as she goes along. But the message is the same: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
Much in the same way, we have our own way of parenting, sometimes making it up as we go along, not knowing what we’ll do until the exact moment we’re doing it! But our message to our children is the same: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
I became a mom when I was 26. I had no idea what I was doing, and I sometimes feel like I still have no clue. But there are some things that I have learned about life, myself, and the gospel, as I have stumbled into the parent, grown into the person that I am right now.
When you have a child, a bizarre thing happens: Everything in the world disappears, except for the tiny human that’s just been placed in your arms. This tiny thing, with its tiny feet and tiny fingernails, its sweet smelling, squishy, smooth red, white, and purple-hued skin, its feather-soft hair that tickles your nose when you raise its head to your lips...this minuscule package becomes everything you live for. Nothing else matters, but everything changes.
When you have a child, you become its world too. You gave her life and you are her source of life, at least until she’s able to take care of herself and do things on her own. You slice up bananas and hotdogs into itsy-bitsy pieces so he won’t choke; you put the scissors and knives way up high; and you pad the corners of bookcases, tables, and fireplace hearths, so that when she starts testing her newfound independence on those now chubby legs, she won’t get hurt when she falls.
When you have a child, you instantly become the most important person in his life, and as he grows, he watches you and bases his decisions on what you have taught him. Even when I don’t think about what I’m saying or doing, I know that my kids are thinking about it, and they are trying to figure out what’s okay, and what’s not.
Little kids learn quickly to stay away from hot irons and street curbs. As our kids grow, we teach them to stay away from other dangers that may not be as obvious. We try to teach them right from wrong, but as we know from having been kids ourselves, and even as adults, it’s not always easy to do the right thing. One of my all-time favorite quotes is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. He said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
If you are a lucky parent, you will have the chance to see your child’s heart break. You will see their pain as they realize that they have made a mistake. And you will thank your Father in Heaven that He has given you this opportunity to teach your child about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. You will get to sit on the edge of her bed and hold her hand as you search for the words that will be her healing balm. You will get to see his relieved face, and the tears from his tightly closed eyes roll down his cheeks as you bear your testimony, a testimony that you received when you too made a mistake, that he is and always will be loved by his Father in Heaven and by you. You will feel her squeeze your hand, as she realizes that she can repent and be forgiven. The minute you see the Atonement work in the life of your child, is the minute that you understand it more fully. And you will be more grateful than you ever knew you could be, for the gift that our Father and His Son have given to every single one of us.
I am grateful for the Atonement in my life, for the forgiveness we can receive through it, and for the unconditional love of our Savior. As parents, we learn to love unconditionally.
Sometimes when you have a child, you might struggle to know who you are. You might think that the only thing that identifies you is the fact that you are now a mom, or a dad.
A couple years ago, we had a young family over to dinner. They had two small girls, almost one and almost three. We didn’t know the family very well and were asking each other the general get-to-know-you questions that we normally ask: where are you from, how did you meet, what do you like to do in your spare time? The young mother laughed and said, “I don’t know what I do in my spare time. I don’t do anything. I don’t have any spare time.” I assured her that in a few years she’d be able to have hobbies again. She seemed to think that was a far-fetched idea.
I remember being a younger mom, thinking that that was the only defining factor of who I was. I used to do things! I went to school, I worked, and now, I was just a mom. I felt closed off from the “real world” and distressed that I could never find time to be by myself--even when going to the bathroom--because little hands were constantly wrapped around my knees or tugging at my shirt.
I felt frustration that I was no longer able to create and contribute the way I once had.
There was recently a widespread idea going around in an effort to help women who felt overwhelmed to feel better about themselves. The idea was to tell us that we are “enough”. This never sat well with me. Synonyms for “enough” are “adequate, tolerable, acceptable, sufficient”. And I don’t feel buoyed up being told that I’m adequate. Instead, I know that I am a child of God. As President Uchtdorf reminded us, we are “spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe...Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.”
We are not enough. We are more than enough. We are spectacular. Every single one of us is a child of the most powerful being in the universe. I’d say that’s more than adequate.
And I’d say our kids think so too. When I think of my childhood and the best times I had with my parents, I remember baking a pie with my dad, or going with him--just the two of us--to the grocery store. I remember being tucked in by my mom and asking her to tell me again about how she got that scar on her chin. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a lot of money, but I don’t remember huge, expensive things.
For Mother’s Day, the kids wrote down some of the reasons they love me:
- She loves us no matter what (Yes, even when we’re a pain in the butt)
- She makes dinner
- She does laundry
- She listens to whatever I have to say (even when it's snoozeville to her)
- She will solve all of the codes I make
- Mom is always there to get me back on my feet
- She helps me with all my extra school work
- She laughs at my puns (even the bad ones XD )
- She lets me listen to One Direction in the car
- She sings and dances to my favorite songs with me
- She helps me practice my volleyball!
None of these things are things that take a lot of time or any money, but they are a big deal to my kids. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
Being a parent is helping me love and trust my Savior more. It’s helping me to figure out who I really am and what I need to do to return to live with Him. I am trying to help my kids figure that out too, but until they are parents, they may not totally get it. Because everything changes when you have a child.
And I’m grateful that it does.