Monday, August 17, 2009

Unsolicited Advice: My Favorite!

I have enormous respect for anyone who embarks on this parenting thing, particularly if those someones seem to be churning out well-adjusted and happy little persons. My respect increases exponentially depending on how many children they have, or on the difficulties presented with said children. My own lot is probably pretty average, mother-hood wise. "Just" three, fairly well-behaved and moldable kidlets. A lifestyle that, while frugal, is certainly not bare bones. The parts of mothering that seem harder to me is the sheer physicality of my little men, the feelings of loneliness at being the only woman in my house, while simultaneously never getting to just be ALONE. My friends are mostly virtual instead of literal, an apparent inability to decisively put my career life behind me, living far away from my mother and space. Always space. (Insert your own prayer of gratitude here if you have a laundry room.)

Do these not seem like trials to you? That's okay. They are my things to deal with. And as none of them are really things that I can change (except maybe making time to be a little bit friendlier), I guess what I am learning now is patience and cheerful endurance. Scratch that--what I'm supposed to be learning is patience and cheerful endurance.

After getting rid of a lot of my baby clothes a few weeks ago, we rearranged parts of our house and decided that a yard sale was in order. Once I started getting rid of stuff, I just couldn't quit. Out went the crib, mattress changing table and bedding. The double jogging stroller? Gone. The garage sale didn't yield all the desired results so the Goodwill got approximately 57 pounds of boy shoes and clothing size 18 months and smaller. Once I dig out the breast pump it will go on Craig's List too.

And yet, I don't exactly feel like I'm making an announcement. It felt good to clean house. I don't regret sending all of that stuff out into the world to help ease the passage for other little ones and their parents, but I don't necessarily think it means I'm done with children. Plantboy and finally had that really good talk that we have needed to have and just kept putting off. The jury is still out about more children, or at least some things we are keeping just between us, but let's just say we are in a good place right now. A very good place.

Which is why my experience yesterday is especially frustrating.

I walked into the library with Jedi Knight. He will be eight in just a couple of months and he is really starting to look like a big boy. And my youngest, just a babe in arms when we moved here is definitely into the little boy phase. A sister working in the library, whom I've tried with very little success to befriend the last couple of years said, "Your boys are getting so big!"

I smiled and rubbed JK's hair with more energy than I felt; it had been a very long morning. She then exclaimed, "Time to have another!"

I made some kind of strangled, non-committal sound through my clenched and smiling teeth, hoping that no other well-meaning soul standing around us would jump on her bandwagon. She pressed, "Now, none of that! It's just time to not think about whether or not it makes sense and jump in!"

More strangled gurgling, a quick grab of the scriptures I'd come to get, and I was out the door. Here it is, 24 hours later and I'm wondering what I should have said. Or at least what I wanted to say.

"Thank you! For two years I've had this on my mind, and THAT is my answer!!!"

"I must have missed in the last conference talk where the number of children you bear is between you, your spouse, the Lord, and the ward librarian!"

"You are exactly right: faith DOES mean that we are exempt from looking at anything logically."

"I'm already completely neurotic, I'm sure that throwing a baby into the mix will calm me right down."

"What a great idea! When the baby has to sleep in MY bed because there would be no where else for him and my husband divorces me over it, then I'll just come and move in with you. After all, your unmarried daughters and their children seem to really enjoy having you babysit for them five days a week."

Breathing. Just keep breathing.

Maybe this was on my mind when the young women in our ward had (another) lesson on dating this week. Our teacher, thankfully, found a great, recent talk on the subject and focused her remarks on becoming friends.* As I was the only leader in the room who was actually married in the temple or raised with LDS dating standards, the advisor asked me to make some remarks at the end. I told them that I thought it was sometimes confusing to be a young LDS woman. The historical and LDS novels the girls read and love mostly follow the same pattern--girls fall in love at 16 or 17 and are married by 18 or 19 and the book ends right there. Our young women get a romanticized vision of the future in which they meet their RM at BYU by Christmas of their freshman year; a May wedding is followed nine months later by the first in a string of perfect children. There is no thinking about what happens for the sixty or seventy years following the blessed event.

I told the girls that I thought it was so easy to get preoccupied by dating and finding "the one" that we forget to find ourselves. I told them that if they wanted a man who was unselfish, generous, kind and charitable, they would do nothing to prevent the young men they knew from going on missions. I told them that the ultimatum so many girls use on their boyfriends--I won't marry you unless you go on a mission thing--is completely ridiculous, because once they had let their relationship get to that point they were already far too inappropriately serious. I told them that learning to stand on their own was the key to any future happiness whether they were single or married. I told them that I hoped every one of them would someday know the joy of a temple marriage to a righteous companion, but that they needed to remember that their worth was not wrapped up in whether or not they were married, and certainly not dependent on their dating status.

Talk about your unsolicited advice. Please, add your own to the mix--either what YOU would have said to the sister, you know, in your head or what you want to say to my young women as they approach dating. Or not dating.

* I really enjoyed Sister Tanner's talk, but in sharing the experience about her daughter, she seemed to discourage mission and graduate school. While in young Miss Tanner's case, this was obviously the right choice, I get tired of a mission being painted in juxtaposition to marriage. I would love to hear one of these talks about a young woman who decided NOT to marry the guy and went on a mission instead, only to realize that he would have been a disastrous choice, and only her mission could have shown her that. (Do you remember that hokey scene in God's army where that sister is talking to the greenie elder on the beach? Besides the fact that they are breaking about 10 mission rules, that is my favorite scene in a very fine film. She tells him about how the guy "waiting for her" had gotten married a few months before, but that it was okay, because sacrificing him was worth it to know the truth of the Gospel the way he knew it. Exactly.) Marriage and mission are not mutually exclusive. And if a woman doesn't get married, then she will have mission (among other wonderful) experiences to help enrich her life. There is a sister in the RS general presidency right now who is a convert and an RM from South America. Her "atypical" life experience is such a valuable example for women of all ages.


Jenny said...

Oooohhh... I could go on...
But let me tell you that the best advice (I ever heard) a parent could give to their YW would be to RUN! Far away. Experience life. Grow up a little. Discover your true self. I didn't enter mommy-hood until I was 27, and I did NOT feel old. As a matter of fact, in retrospect, I could have waited a few more years, and probably done a better job with my first baby. I will give my three daughters the same advice. When a guy starts getting close, RUN!
(SERIOUSLY. Not even joking.)

As for that lady? Any number of your responses would have been great; I always felt that same frustration when I was offered that gratuitous unsolicited advice... pregnant with my sixth child, and suddenly everyone feels entitled to know exactly how many more children I'm planning on having? I really COULD go on...

Sherry said...

I'm not really sure what to say to the YW.

When I read the story about the lady in the library, my reaction to her suggestion was initially, "Over the line, but oodles of people do not see a line when it comes to suggesting that other people have more kids. Especially older people." However, the part where you made a non-committal sound and she pressed further kind of ticked me off. Why are some people utterly oblivious to social cues?

FoxyJ said...

She sounds like someone with little tact. I had a friend who had trouble with getting pregnant and started saying shocking things to people when they asked her about having kids. Like "we're actually saving up for a boat instead". I don't know if I'm that bold :)

And this is why I'm terrified of ever getting called to YW. I was horribly geeky and socially awkward throughout my teenage years. I still can't imagine how so many people manage to have a serious relationship and get married by 18 or 19. It probably also has something to do with the fact that my high school only had about 3 LDS boys my age in it and none of them were on the ball about asking girls out either. Anyways, I think with my kids and if I'm ever teaching youth I would mostly encourage them to work on their own spirituality and discovering their own path. That's probably idealistic and unrealistic, but everyone's life is so different. I married at 23, almost a year after coming home from my mission, and I certainly didn't feel 'old' at all. Most women I know who have served missions did eventually marry; you're right--it's not usually either/or. And it's not like many girls will be faced with the immediate choice of marriage or mission. I guess that's why I shy away from stories like that and prefer general counsel and work on spirituality. But I guess some practical advice wouldn't hurt too. Hopefully I won't mess up my kids too badly...

Nerd Goddess said...

There was a wonderful sister in my ward growing up who talked to us in YW about her own decision when it came to her mission and marriage. She was engaged, but ended up breaking off the marriage last minute in order to go on a mission. Her Bishop even advised her to go on a mission, saying that he NEVER gave that advice, but that he felt strongly that was supposed to do. It turns out in the events that followed that her fiance WOULD have been really awful for her, and even though it was some time after her mission that she got married, she found an incredible husband, and the two are now happily married with a couple of sweet kids. It's also interesting, because her husband is sixteen years older than her, and I don't think either of them could have dated the other until she was older.

And I can't believe how many people have come up to me (I've been married about 8 months now) and said "I hate to dig into your personal life, but when are you guys going to have a kid?" If you hate it so much than WHY are you asking? Sorry you had to deal with one of those people, too.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Mercifully, I've been spared any ill-considered comments about childbearing or my long stay in singles-ville.

As for missions vs. marriage, I wasn't exactly engaged to my long-time crush when I entered the MTC, but we were very close and who knows what would have happened if I'd stayed home? He married someone else about half-way through my mission, and years later I know just enough about his life to be grateful that it wasn't me (of course, it also helps that the man I ultimately married is a great guy :).

Thing is, when I think about my mission's impact on my life, the thoughts that come to mind have little to do with who I married and when. My mission is one of the cornerstones of my personal development - a time of immense growth spiritually, personally, socially, and on and on. I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I'm always thrilled when I hear that another sister has chosen to serve. I know that if she serves faithfully she, her future family, and the people she serves on her mission and beyond it will be so richly blessed.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

P.S. STM, thanks for always giving me so much to think about. I always look forward to you posts.


Genjunky said...

Well, you know our experiences with kids and can imagine how many times I've had people say things like that. Even now - 9 mos pregnant - there is that wonder if we are having another, especially after they ask if this one is a boy or girl (BOY - of course). I understand and sympathize with all you have said in the realm of babies, boys, alone time, and nosy people. I too got rid of all Jar's stuff only to get pregnant about a month later - look out! What to say? Hmmm. Even now I struggle with that. I guess you could be honest "Plantboy, the Lord and I are working on that"?

As for the YW - be the kind of girl, develop the talents, skills, attributes you are looking for, move out- go to school, prepare for a mission, Marriage can always fit in - in the meantime you need something else in your life to fill it up and serve the Lord. I like what you said...I could have turned in my papers the week J came home from his mission. He had previously encouraged me to go - I have the tape still! But he proposed a week after he returned home too. Turned out good though - Dad was diagnosed with ALS that fall and we had opportunities with him and each other and Jar that we wouldn't have had if I had gone.

emandtrev said...

I think I like the "It's a decision for me, my spouse, the Lord, AND the ward librarian" response best. I'm sorry for the awkward situation...

As for the YW, I think/hope I would have said something very similar to what you did. The thing I hope to teach my daughters, and that I hope they learn from their YW leaders as well, is to realize their divine worth and strive to develop their own individuality. I really believe yw will be that much the better for it once they get married and begin life as their own family unit. Not to say that I have it all figured out, but I do believe I've had some wonderful experiences (education, living out on my own for a bit, living AWAY from home) that have strengthened who I am as an individual, and as a wife and mother. This coming from someone who after eight years of marriage thinks, "Am I doing this right?" Probably not too uncommon, though...?

mstanger said...

Even more important than letting them know about potential forks in the road is teaching them how to choose between them. How to receive personal revelation is probably the most important lesson we can teach our youth. Without it, they are stuck with trite formulas like those spewed by the librarian (there probably is no appropriate response to her rather unfortunate remarks). The more life experience I gather, the more I realize just how individualized our life paths are intended by Heavenly Father to be (and the less likely I am to criticize others for deviations from what I perceive as the norm). When we try to follow simplified preconceived notions about how life should progress, we can neglect the opportunity to seek the whisperings of the spirit that may lead us outside the standard operating procedures, but also to joy and Heavenly Father's actual intentions for our lives.

As an aside, I think this is one of the major reasons the Laban story is thrown in right at the beginning of the Book of Mormon--to show us just how radical a departure from the norm we may need to make if we are listening. I'm not suggesting that many of us will get directions to chop heads off, but we may get directions to postpone marriage for a mission, or something along those lines. Personal revelation received by the two of us working together on the subject lead me to send my wife-to-be across the ocean with a black name tag when many questioned why we didn't just face the music and get hitched. In retrospect, it was clearly the will of the Lord, and right for our future in so many ways.

mstanger said...

One difficulty that can arise here that I think is worth sharing, maybe even with your young women: A few years ago I attended a priesthood training session with a member of the presidency of the 70 who had as one of his assignments the responsibility to do the initial pass through the requests for cancellation of sealings, and to determine which ones merited further review by the First Presidency, vs. those that could be dealt with summarily. He shared some insights gained from this assignment. Among other things, he expressed concern that our young people were making marriage decisions much too quickly, based on an improper understanding of personal revelation. Many young men and women return home from their missions having been blessed, by virtue of their special callings, to have the spirit with them in a greater measure than will be the case for the remainder of their lives. The spirit accompanies the teaching of missionaries in such strong measure, but it also generally deals in the missionary context with simple binary questions: Was Joseph Smith a prophet?; Is the Book of Mormon true?; Should I be baptized.

Upon returning home, these same missionaries are faced with questions that are anything but binary: What career path should I take?; Who should I marry?; etc. Such decisions merit and require a deeper level of seeking than binary ones.

Having grown used to being able to "command the spirit" as missionaries, many make the mistake of thinking that the first cute young thing they encounter whose presence is accompanied by any kind of positive, semi-spiritual emotion must be "the one", and they're off to the temple before they can even really study it out in their minds. Similar problems can attach with respect to a young girl who has never been taught and/or experienced the process of revelation.

In reality, the process of personal revelation is time- consuming, difficult, often requires serious fasting, etc., but is spelled out with enough specificity in the scriptures that the process should not be completely foreign or indiscernible. The brother addressing us felt that if more young people would actually seek personal revelation on this question, he would not be getting so many requests for cancellation of sealings crossing his desk.

And now that I've typed all that, it occurs to me that you could have just told the librarian what you told us: That you and your husband have talked about the subject, and you're in a good place. Inherent/implied in that statement are two ideas: (1) this is a decision outside your stewardship, librarian; and (2) we're spending time pondering this/seeking the Lord's will. This strikes me as both a gentle rebuke and a teaching moment.

tamathy said...

I can really relate to the being lonely, but never alone part of mothering. That does seem to get easier as kids become more independent. That's the part I hadn't expected when I had kids. I'd taken care of so many siblings I thought I knew what to expect forgetting that when I'd cared for siblings I'd had younger sisters there to joke, work, and commiserate with. Our culture and lifestyle doesn't make it easy for us to share the work of mothering.

As for the librarian- that stuff never ends. My Dad went to work the day after my mom had their 19th baby and when he told his co-workers -one of the guys asked if my mom was pregnant yet. That guy had probably been saving that joke for a year- since the last baby was born. You can take comfort in thinking that if your kids weren't so darn cute people probably wouldn't be encouraging you to have any more.

I was surprised (and a little angry)to hear from my younger sister that when she was preparing for her mission how many LDS friends including returned missionaries tried to talk her out of going. I can understand a little bit of "We'll miss you" or even "I was hoping to date you", but she had people telling her it would ruin her life and that she might not marry if she went. I was really disappointed to hear that RMs were saying this stuff. I told her not only should she go if that's the answer she was getting to her prayers, but that she should also pray to find a whole new set of friends and stay far away from any RM that talked that way.

From hearing her experience it sounds like we not only need to teach the youth how to find answers for themselves, but how to respect the answers others receive. And maybe we should make that required learning for ward librarians as well.

Melanie said...

I feel so passionately about this subject, and I'm so glad that you frequently and eloquently articulate views that I whole-heartedly agree with. I hope that someday, when I have YW-aged daughters, you can be their YW president. I also hope, with so many returned missionary women in this generation of young adults, that the next generation of YW will get a more balanced view of "the future."

I've been single for more years than I ever hoped or planned, and while I do wish I could put a time frame on this state, I wouldn't give up a moment of all that I've had the opportunity to learn and experience these five years since returning from the mission field.

PS: The NY Times is running a discussion about teacher education and credentials, the exact issue you referenced on your comment to my latest blog post:

TheDooleys4 said...

Oh how I love reading your posts Nan!!!! I could relate to the this one sooooo much! I have come to the point where I actually enjoy it when people bring up the whole "When are you having more kids?" question. Is it bad that I relish watching them squirm as I smile and say "Actually, I can't have any more Children, thanks."
As for the young women in your ward....They are lucky to have a leader who is not afraid to tell them there is more to life than "living happily ever after" at 18. I turned down 2 proposals before my mission. It was hard but I'm so glad I did. I needed my Mission to help me grow to be a good wife and Mother. I also broke off an engagement after my mission. That was really hard but I knew in my heart it wasn't right. 6 months later Keith came into my life and I knew it was right....The young women need to know there is more to marriage than marrying the first RM that looks their way. It's about waiting for the right one at the right time....Amen Sistah! Amen!

Brooke said...

I have experienced similar things as far as people giving me their advice about the number of children I should have, but currently find myself in an entirely different boat. With 4 children, the tables have turned. We are a traveling circus, particularly when we leave the state, of course. I am more self-conscious of it than I wish to be. The decisions we make in our marriages in regards to children are our own, and are not easy. What could be more deeply personal?
The most interesting thing I have experienced is not people telling me I should be having more children; rather, the vibe I get is one of surprise. People ask aloud, wonderingly, "Are you going to keep trying for a girl????" Like seriously, lady, you need to stop the madness! Enough is enough! They can't believe that I would actually have this many children unless it was because I was so desperate to get a daughter.

A couple of years ago in a world-wide leadership training conference, Sister Beck talked about the growing trend of people inside the church thinking negatively about large families. She encouraged us to be supportive of each other REGARDLESS of marital status, having multitudes of offspring, or having no children at all. I was touched by her words, and I reflect on them often.

We all have challenges, and I pray that I will not ever open my mouth and become someone's new challenge, or fuel the fear or opposition they are feeling in their lives. I like to try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt; I really do believe we are all just doing our best here, after all. I am sure I have said my share of dumb things.

By the way, Nan, I LOVED all your responses to Miss Librarian. You could have used any one of them. :)

As far as the mission thing goes... Every situation is different. I did not serve a mission, and it wasn't because I was engaged. I just chose not to. I wish now that I had gone, of course, but I am also glad that I finished school and was able to teach school for a few years before I was married and had children. I don't think at all that it is mission or marriage. What I do know is that young women are encouraged repeatedly to get an education. President Hinckley especially taught this to the youth. I was always so grateful in the years that I worked in ward and stake YW for his words of counsel.

I don't know if this has made any sense! But there you have it. That will be 2 cents, please. ;)

wildrose said...

I agree with the other comments, STM. PERSONAL revalation is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as members of the church, and as it is personal to our needs, experiences, talents, and challanges, we need to be careful not to export our personal revalation to a general audience. Whether we as sisters get the answer to get married at 20, go on a mission at 21, get a masters degree, have 2 children or 20, we need to be very cautious about how we look at others choices. I've gotten my own answers to the mission question, as well as the # of children question, and though there have been consequences to my choices I know that they are what the Lord wanted for me.
Given that, the only advice I would give to the young women would be to develop their relationship with Heavenly Father and learn to listen to the Spirit; and then not to make ANY major life decision without serious study and prayer and consultations with HF, parents, and others who you trust. Then follow the Spirit. As for the librarian, shake it off like water off a duck. When you know that your choice is right, others unsolicited advice is just a funny story to tell on your blog!

Sunnie said...

advice and life in general are funny. i don't really feel like i am at liberty to give a whole lot of it, at least not without a warning. everyone's life is different, meaning that what is right for one is in no way right for another. i can only give advice based on the things i have experienced or witnessed, and that advice maybe will only apply to me. so maybe i let my baby cry it out during the night, while other's find that harsh. or maybe i got married at 20 and it was so the right thing for me, while someone else didn't marry until 30. or maybe i have 50 kids and it's right for me, but someone else learns the same thing from having just one. so i am with you- advice needs to be given and taken with a grain of salt so to speak. and as far as another kid- wow 4 has been crazy so far. but we are still in the postpartum survival stage so wish me luck!

Kimberly said...

What a great discussion going on here. So much to think about. I think our babies are about the same age, so it is something that I have been pondering for a few years too.

So it was so funny when I loaded all my kids in the car yesterday and my 7 year old told me how great it was that we had so many kids(5). Then he said that our next car was going to have to be a limo or a bus...because I was still going to have two more babies. Ha Ha! I am sure that wasn't my answer either.