After a great discussion with my LDS book-reading friends I’ve been pondering some great questions; questions that have led me to learn what I really want (or need) in life, who I want my children to become, what it means to be excellent or smart or accomplished or beautiful. My goal is to simply use the knowledge and resources I have now to enhance my own education as well as that of my children. So, I need to ask myself some questions:
1) What does being excellent mean to me?
2) Who do I want my children to become?
3) What is my main purpose as a mother?
After the “what” questions, I need to ask “How”? How am I going to raise excellent children, lead them to where they need to go in order to become who they need to become, and how am I going to fulfill my main purpose of being their mother.
What does it mean to be excellent?
It’s a little ironic that just as I’ve been pondering these questions the very first Christmas card of the season arrived in my mailbox. Of course, it is from one who I would label their children as “excellent.” The letter contained long lists of each child’s achievements. Though these talents must be mentioned and celebrated, and I am glad to know what they are doing in their lives, it just brought again to my attention how much emphasis we put on the outward achievements our children accomplish. Does this make them excellent? I admit I have been found watching the activities of other kids and thinking, “My kids don’t do that, I must be doing something wrong.” I think I have done somewhat well in keeping my children guarded from doing too much outside activities at one time, but the pressure is there to create that “excellent” child.
One sister in the book discussion mentioned that we need to look at the characters of our children rather than simply their activities (or outward talents). This statement led me to ponder the many lists in the Gospel of characteristics we need to develop. Examples would be President Hinckley’s “Be” list, the characteristics of divine nature found in 2nd Peter, the characteristics of a little child found in Mosiah, the 10 Virtues also proclaimed by President Hinckley and the Beattitudes. All of these examples have their overlaps, of course, but there is a lengthy list. It is important that we take the time to evaluate our own progress in obtaining these characteristics, as parents and as a family whole.
Who do you Want Your Children to BE?
Years ago, when my oldest (now 10yo) was one, my husband and I sat down and created a family mission statement. First we made a list of our priorities and then I formatted it similar to the mission statement of the Young Women organization in the Church. Over the years I’ve gone back to see if there’s something that needs to change based on how our family has grown, but I can’t do it. This statement is who we want to become, individually and as a family. On our priority list we have strengthening our talents to help others, missionary work to spread the gospel, loving to learn and seek knowledge both spiritual and temporal, and developing those characteristics that most reflect our Savior’s. This is a general statement, fit for the whole family. I am now working on creating my own personal mission statement (thank you Mr. Covey) and I believe the Thomas Jefferson Education idea of a “Six month Inventory” of each of our children serves as a great foundation for the mission statements of our children.
Right now I can think of three words of who I want my children to be: Individual, Leader, and Follower.
I want my children to understand the principle of agency in the sense of how much power they have over who they can become. I want them to become confidant within themselves as individuals, not simply from outward praise and by pleasing others. I want them to recognize themselves as the great individuals they truly are inside. I hope that they can learn from both their strengths and their weaknesses, not in comparison with those around them. I want them to build a personal relationship with their Savior.
I want them to lead their lives in such a way that others will want to follow. I want them to serve, to give, to love. When I think of a leader I don’t necessarily mean president of any organization or group, I think of someone others would want to be with and to follow.
And of course, I want my children to be followers of the Savior. As we were reading in the New Testament this week for devotional we read of the account of the fishes in the nets. At the end of that great story, the disciples leave their nets and follow Him. I posed the question then to my children (and inwardly to myself), “What is the Lord asking you to leave to follow Him?” I want my children’s testimonies to be pure, sure, and their own.
What is My Purpose as a Mother?
In re-reading President Ezra Taft Benson’s excellent talk on motherhood, I was impressed by this quote by President Spencer W. Kimball, “When you have fully complemented your husband in home life and borne the children, growing up full of faith, integrity, responsibility, and goodness, then you have achieved your accomplishment supreme . . . and you will be the envy [of all] through time and eternity (italics added).” President Benson went on to list ten things we can do to fulfill our mission as mothers, to better raise our children “the Lord’s way.” Pray with them, be their friend, be at the crossroads, love them, read to them, and more. There are two goals I feel I now have as a mother.
First, I need to focus on my own growth and education so I can then give more to the education of my children. If mothers aren’t seeking, reading, and learning themselves it gives them little to draw from when their children ask those amazing questions. I have found that when I focus on my own personal growth I’m also less judgmental of others around me. I’m looking inward instead of outward on how to improve our home life and in the world. I’m much less critical of how my children choose to use their time, or far less concerned about their level of learning compared to their peers’. To do this, I need to first place the Lord in my life. I find that serious, daily scripture study is the key to minimizing my anxieties and puts the weaknesses of myself and others in proper perspective. Elder Bednar said in an article Feb. 2010, “There is a hierarchy to what we need to learn, some things are more important than others.” That quote struck me because I have lately been “stressing” over all the many books I have by my bedside, itching to be read. I’m yearning to learn everything and overwhelmed that I cannot learn it all. Understanding the hierarchy of learning helps me to prioritize “every needful thing.”
The second purpose for me as a mother is to be a mentor, guiding my children toward their life’s mission. It’s not hard to look at my children and know that each one has their own very distinct and individual gifts, talents and weaknesses! One discussion topic brought up this week was how we need to allow our children their individuality. My purpose needs to teach them correct principles so they can govern themselvesThe way for me to ensure that I am focusing my thoughts this way are by, again, building my relationship with the Lord and turning my children likewise.
One of my favorite books is entitled, “Raising Up a Family to the Lord,” by Elder Gene R. Cook. I love the idea of “raising up.” In a recent presentation on marriage, the couple released a helium balloon to the ceiling indicating that sometimes we just need to let go of the petty and the past in our marriage. As the balloon rose I was impressed that we also need to raise our voices to the Lord and leave matters in His hands. Our God wants to direct us, He wants us to succeed, He wants us to turn to Him. If we can learn this most important principle as mothers, we can more fully lead our children to the Savior. We can lead them home, and there is no greater achievement of excellence than that!