Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Learning and Choosing to Be Happy at Home

I originally wrote this post as a guest post for another blog (which doesn't exit anymore). I recently found it in my draft box and I am going to post it here so I don't loose it. This was written when I just had two little children (I can't believe how small they were!) and I was still trying to adjust to the instructions God had given me to stay at home with my children. I think my advice is still good... in fact I probably need to listen to myself a bit more. 

When I was 17-years-old one of my best friends and I were sitting backstage at play rehearsal. I can't remember now what prompted it but I remember that I turned to her and told her,

"Promise me, cross your heart and swear to die, that if I ever call you and tell you that I am getting married before the age of 24, have a baby before I get my Master's Degree or decide to be a stay-at-home mom that you will kidnap me and hit me with a baseball bat- even if I tell you I am happy-- just remind me of what I told you today."

She promised, because she could see I spoke those words in dead seriousness. I really meant them. In my 17-year-old mind getting married young, not having an advanced degree, having a house full of babies, and having no career outside of your home were the epitome of failure. Those were all the things that "ordinary" LDS women did and I was certain that they were all faking happiness. I was certain that I was not, and was never going to be, one of those "ordinary" LDS women.

Well, ten years later I am truly grateful that my friend seems to have forgotten her oath, because it turned out that I got married at 21, passed up the opportunity to do my Master's degree to have a baby, chose to be a stay-at-home mom full time instead of continuing with my career path, and fully intend (if God wills it) to have a house full of babies. Basically, according to my 17 year-old self, I am a failure.

Yet I am sincerely happier than I have ever imagined I'd ever be.

I honestly don't know where my 17 year-old perspective on motherhood and womanhood developed. My mother worked full-time for all of my growing up life but she always loved being a mother and made us feel loved. I had wonderful youth leaders who guided and taught me, and most of them were stay at home mothers. 

Yet despite all the wonderful women in my life I think that the world's perceptions of womanhood and motherhood must have been the stronger voices. I wish there was a way that I could go back and tell that very confused and angry little 17-year-old that the path I have chosen, even though it is not what I thought I would choose, has brought me more joy than I could ever fathom. I wish I could give her a little glimpse into the lessons that God would teach her and the paths he would lead her down in the next ten years that would soften and change her heart. I wish I could tell her that "our ways are not always God's ways" and that he knows better than anyone, even us, what will make us happy.

Specifically there are three lessons that I've learned over the last several years that I would like to share with her. I don't know if she would have listened, but perhaps she would have.

1. Seek for higher forms of validation.

I will easily admit that being at home full time with my children has not always been easy for me. I am naturally more ambitious and driven than my husband and we could probably switch roles-- him stay at home and me have a career-- and be pretty happy. Yet that isn't what God had in mind for us. I think that God knew that choosing and learning to be happy and productive at home would be the greater challenge for me than having a career or a job. It has been a challenge-- the greatest of my life. It has pushed my patience, challenged my intellect, tried my testimony, and has ultimately helped me develop a testimony of womanhood like no other experience could have. By far, the lessons and tests I've had at home have been more grueling and more challenging than any college class or any job.

Yet, I think that the most important lesson that I've learned by being at home full time is how to seek for higher forms of validation. Homemaking and mothering tasks are often thankless jobs-- the dinner you make, the house you clean, and the child you nurture go unnoticed or are acknowledged only with simple thank yous or smiles. There is no boss to give you feedback, no supervisor to praise your work, no co-workers to compare your work against, there is no award for "mother of the month", your name doesn't get put in publications, no initials go after your name, and no media outlet pays you much attention. Being at home requires that a woman learns to seek validation from the Lord, learning to base her worth, her work, and her progress against the Lord's measure of success rather than against the world's. 

In her talk "And Upon the Handmaids in Those Days will I Pour Out My Spirit " President Julie B. Beck quoted Eliza R. Snow who said,

“Women should be women and not babies that need petting and correction all the time. I know we like to be appreciated but if we do not get all the appreciation which we think is our due, what matters? We know the Lord has laid high responsibility upon us, and there is not a wish or desire that the Lord has implanted in our hearts in righteousness but will be realized, and the greatest good we can do to ourselves and each other is to refine and cultivate ourselves in everything that is good and ennobling to qualify us for those responsibilities.”

and then Sister Beck went on to say,
"Good women always have a desire to know if they are succeeding. In a world where the measures of success are often distorted, it is important to seek appreciation and affirmation from proper sources... We are doing well when we increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help others who are in need. We know we are successful if we live so that we qualify for, receive, and know how to follow the Spirit. When we have done our very best, we may still experience disappointments, but we will not be disappointed in ourselves. We can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when we feel the Spirit working through us. Peace, joy, and hope are available to those who measure success properly. "
I've learned that the fruit of the work a woman does at home does not grow as quickly as the work she does in the world. It is like growing a beautiful garden it takes time-- even many years-- before you enjoy the fruit of your labors. Often times the progress and growth is almost unnoticeable to everyone, except for those who have watched it and cared for it every day. I know that for me it has been a long hard lesson to realize that the Lord measures success much different than the world does and that I can't get distracted from the work He has for me to do by seeking after worldly recognition and success.

2. Don't live in the future.

Not long ago I read a post by another young mother who mentioned how she was excited for her children to grow up so that she could get back to school and finish her education. While I don't think there is anything wrong with this young woman's desire to finish her education my heart sort of ached for her. I wanted to tell her,"In the eternal scheme of things we only have our children for such a short time. Enjoy it, cherish it, and if you really want to continue your education then do it. Set goals and have dreams and even take some  classes, but don't wish this time away." 

I agree that there are "times and seasons" in a woman's life but I feel that too many women compartmentalize their lives. They set boundaries and time limits to how long they think that they should be in the "pre-marriage" season, the "married without children season", the " changing diapers and chasing small children" or the "children in the house" season. 

The biggest problem with putting your life into tight compartments of times and seasons is that you always risk that things might not turn out how you planned. You might not get married, you might postpone children only to discover that you have difficulty getting pregnant, you might get all your children grown up and out of the house only to find that as a grandma you are watching your grandchildren (and changing diapers) all day long again. Basing your current happiness on your future success is just setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointments and frustrations.

For example, when my husband and I were first married I had no intention of having children until after I had finished my Master's degree. In fact, my husband and I had started our application for the Peace Corps, which requires a three year commitment. It would have meant postponing children for those years because if you get pregnant they send you home. We'd prayed about it and really felt good about the decision. Yet not long after I started having some health problems and was faced with the chance that I might not ever be able to have children. When I was faced with the fact that the children, who had never been a priority in my life, might never come suddenly ALL I wanted in the whole world was to be a mother-- badly, desperately. I spent many hours on my knees praying and begging God, telling him that my heart had changed and that if He would only let me be a mother I would treasure that gift always. As a result we withdrew our application to the Peace Corps and made other plans. It was a hard year. Yet when I look back at it I am so grateful for that experience. It changed my soul deeply.

Up until then I'd always struggled with conceptions of femininity and womanhood (just ask my college roommates who heard LOTS of my theories) but that struggle helped me see what was most important and how God wanted me to spend my time and talents. I realized that if at the end of my life I had degrees, travel experience, publications and fame but had missed out on some of the children who were suppose to come to my family because I was busy doing other things I would never be able to heal that ache. My priorities shifted and now even though I am still involved in lots of "outside" pursuits-- like my blog, my book project, and my doula work-- my home and family are my highest priorities. 

I am still learning how to balance and juggle all the balls I've chosen to pick up and sometimes it can be tricky and a bit messy. Not long ago I was feeling very overwhelmed and it was making me miserable and stressed. I was touched by Julie B. Beck's talk at the BYU women conference in 2010 in which she talked about how she had learned to prioritize things in her life. She said,
Years ago I began using a system that works for me, and maybe it will work for you. There was a time when I needed to prioritize, and in one of those sacred meetings between me and the Lord, He gave me three categories that I have worked from, and they have been a guide in my life. The categories are the essential things, the necessary things, and the nice-to-do things. I started writing those things down. I asked, “What has to go in the category of essential?” What things must be taken care of, and if I don’t take care of them, the blessings of eternal life won’t be mine nor will they be my family’
I split a paper into three parts and made my own list of "essential", "necessary" and "nice-to-do" things in my life. Things in my "essential" list were things like: prayer, scripture study, time with my spouse, family home evening, church attendance, teaching and nurturing my children. Things in my "necessary" list was things like: self-improvement and education, cook meals, clean my house, fulfill my church calling, and visit family and friends. When it came time to make my "nice-to-do" list I was astounded, really astounded, when I realized that it was my longest list and that almost EVERYTHING that was making me stressed out was on it. I saw that I needed to put some of my "nice-to-do" balls down so that my "essential" balls didn't suffer.

In the end I've tried to only keep those projects and outside pursuits that I feel are callings from God but I don't let them encroach on my most essential things. For example, I do a lot of writing for my blog and my book project during my children's nap times and late at night. Yet I try really hard not to covet those times because I find myself getting resentful if someone wakes up from a nap early or has a hard time going to sleep. When I find myself resenting my kids because they are "getting in the way of my work" I just to remind myself of who is higher on my priority list.

Finding balance can be really hard, but it is crucially essential. Not everyone will walk the same path that I have but this mortal life is so short that we can't afford to live in the future. We need to decide what our highest priorities are in this life and then work towards those goals with our whole souls; choosing to be happy with where we are and what we are doing and not counting on future events to make us completely happy.

3. Focus on building an eternal organization.

Growing up friends, teachers, and leaders often compared my personality to Anne from the book "Anne of Green Gables" and in High School I was voted the person "Most likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize" ( not that I put any store in High School polls). I saw myself leading organizations, funding charities, running for office, petitioning governments, writing books that would change the world, and all that sort of stuff. When I was pregnant with my first child, my son, President Julie B. Beck gave her talk "Mother's Who Know" in the October General Conference and in it she said,
"Mothers who know are leaders. In equal partnership with their husbands, they lead a great and eternal organization. These mothers plan for the future of their organization. They plan for missions, temple marriages, and education. They plan for prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Mothers who know build children into future leaders and are the primary examples of what leaders look like. They do not abandon their plan by succumbing to social pressure and worldly models of parenting. These wise mothers who know are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most
Her analogy of the home as an eternal organization resonated with me. I'd spent most of my education focusing on how to work within and how to strengthen organizations and so it was wonderful to me to hear that I could apply those skills to my own family. Furthermore, while getting my undergraduate degree in Public Health I had many opportunities to work with organizations who were focused on making significant improvements in the health, education, and gender relations in the US and abroad. I remember one day, not long after I had gotten married, I realized that the focus of almost every single one of the organizations I was involved with was on women. They were encouraging women, especially mothers, to become educated, active and involved in their children's lives and in their communities. 

I had a powerful realization that even though I was doing beneficial work encouraging other people to make changes in their own communities that the greatest influence and power I would wield was if I PERSONALLY got involved in my own community and family. This truth was reinforced to me even more strongly when one summer my husband and I were helping with a focus group in Amman, Jordan. One of our participants, a young man not much older than me, blurted out in broken English, "Why the #@!* are you guys here? You have enough problems in your own country that need fixing. Focus on those for #@!?."

He was right.

There were problems right below my nose that needed just as much attention. Yet somehow it just didn't seem as glamorous or important to work on those ones. Yet as I pondered on his reaction I began to see that if each person, in every family, in every country, would just focus on improving themselves, their families, and their communities we would have a pretty incredible world. Yet imagine how EVEN more incredible that world would be if every man and woman was focused on creating an eternal family.... an organization that would last beyond this life.

That would be the basis for Zion.

On the days I get discouraged with my house, my husband or my children I just try to remember that I am laying the foundations of an eternal organization. Unlike the worldly organizations and charities I could spend my time building, my family and Christ's church are the only two organizations that will survive beyond this life. I know, with certainty, that all the work I put into them will be worth it. I am laying up my treasure in heaven where moth (or recessions, political unrest, or budget cuts) can not corrupt it. Having that perspective makes everything I do as a mother and as a wife meaningful.

That is just a little of what I wish my 17-year-old self had understood but I guess I just need to be patient because she will learn it... of that I'm sure... and one day she'll be able to testify that the greatest happiness available to women comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ and applying its principles to our lives-- in all their variety.

It really does... cross my heart and swear to die.


  1. In my experience, it isn't staying home or working outside the home that matters. It's seeking personal revelation about what the Lord wants for your life. I know faithful women who have chosen both paths, and I know some who have taken a middle road. They have all done amazing things for God's kingdom. Not saying you don't feel this way - I just wanted to put this out there to help everyone keep it in mind. It seems like you've done that in your own life, and for that, I'm truly happy for you.

    1. I agree. The Lord has different plans for each of us and sometimes the "necessary" things in our list include work-- to support our families or do the work god gave us. I wrote this post when I was a new mom and had been struggling with the instructions The Lord have me to stay home rather than work liked I'd thought I would. I know that for some women being at home is easy, but I know that I've struggled with it sometimes. It's helped me to remember tgat this is what god wants me to be doing (others will get other instructions) and to seek for his validation instead of worldly validation.

    2. Oh, and just one more thought :) You know, I don't know very many women who stay at home who aren't also involved in something else. Most of the women I know who stay home also have side buisnesss, part time work, volunteer work, charity work, church work, etc... I think that the Lord wants us to be involved in our homes and in our communities and churches. And I think you are right, women can do that in many different ways.

      Also I remembered this post I wrote awhile ago. It sort of fits in here too


  2. If you are naturally more ambitious than your husband, then your role is perfect for you. Not that it doesn't take ambition to go to work...but it takes a special ambition to go to work with little tiny people who have a million needs all at the same time. Thanks for these thoughts. :)

  3. I will always be grateful that I became a mother while Julie Beck was the general Relief Society President! She shaped my entire life as a mother and gave me something to strive for! Thanks for this Heather!

  4. This weekend was pretty rough for our family and will require me to roll up my sleeves and get to work on rebuilding. So this post was perfectly timed to help me have the motivation and hope that I can do it. As always-thank you for your wise words.

  5. I love your site and that you are sharing your life and knowledge. I have bought your book and downloaded your 2 workbooks. They are wonderful and I see that you have a book of Mormon one now. I'm super excited for that. I would prefer to download it vs buying it bound. It works better for me. Do you offer the book of Mormon study guide like that? Please let me know. Thanks so much for your sharing and hard work.