Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding Balance, Part 3: Patience and Contentment

Today, I'll finish up the discussion on Finding Balance by addressing two final elements to a balanced life: patience and contentment. (See part one and part two of this discussion.)

* Be Patient. We started our discussion last week by writing down all the things we are doing, want to be doing, or should be doing with our lives. I do this exercise every so often as I try to find the right balance in my own life. It can be discouraging to look at a huge list and realize all the things you're not doing or can't do because of the many other good things that fill your time.

That's why it's important to be patient. Wilford Woodruff counseled, “Do not be discouraged because you cannot learn all at once; learn one thing at a time, learn it well, and treasure it up, then learn another truth and treasure that up, and in a few years you will have a great store of useful knowledge which will not only be a great blessing to yourselves and your children, but to your fellow men” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 269).

One of the reasons New Year's Resolutions often fail is that too many of us try to change everything all at once. We try to exercise, stop criticizing, wake up early, learn a new hobby, and get out of debt all at the same time. After a few weeks, our brains are tired and we start to give up.

Instead of changing everything all at once, try focusing on a few things at a time. Perhaps you want to spend three months working on being more consistent with housework. After that, you could spend a few months focusing on learning how to use your camera better or being a better cook, and so on.

We also need to keep in mind that progress is not a continuous climb. Often, we take two steps forward and one step back. We try to incorporate many new habits and then just a few tend to stick. We do really well one day and have trouble the next. This a normal part of life, and one of the reasons patience is so important.

* Tiny Bites here and there add up.
Last January, I’d had my new camera for two months and I still didn’t know how to use it. I was overwhelmed by all the buttons and dials and had no clue what an F-stop was. I was discouraged that I wasn't making any progress, but I didn't have much time to devote to figuring it all out. I decided that while I couldn't learn everything as fast as I wanted, I could do a little bit at a time. I set aside an hour a week to do a photo shoot, and put books on hold at the library and read when I had spare time. I did about one shoot a week until Katie was born, and then averaged one or two a month for the rest of the year. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough -- I know I'm not the most amazing photographer (yet), but I'm improving, I know my camera pretty well, and I'm able to capture some lovely images. And I haven't neglected my more important responsibilities to pursue this goal.

(my friend Natalie's little one -- we took a few photos after the mother's group discussion)

In our instant-gratification world, it's hard to be patient with our progress sometimes. It's easy to feel that we'll never have enough time to do it all -- and we won't! But we can fit in more than we realize, if we're willing to be patient. My friend Courtney pointed out that she fits a lot into her life -- from baking bread to raising four little kids -- but most of the things she's doing now she added a little at a time over the course of years. She said that she's amazed at how much more she's able to do now than even three years ago.

* Don’t compare. One of the keys to finding contentment with our lives and staying in balance is to understand that our situations are different from those around us. In this age of Facebook and blogs, it's easy to see all the good things other people are doing with their lives. But usually? It's only the good things you are seeing. As my sister-in-law Diane put it, "It's like the never-ending Christmas letter!" Most people blog or Facebook their triumphs, not their despair and discouragement. If we can recognize that, we can cheer on others without worrying about the ways our own lives seem to fall short.

The key word is "seem." Everyone else fits more into their lives, we think. They go on more vacations, spend more time doing wonderful activities with their kids, make cool birthday cakes, sew matching clothes, make their own chocolates, throw amazing parties, raise cuter kids, help in more causes, decorate their house better, have cooler friends, a cleaner house, better-looking hair, more amazing talents, and so on.

What we don't realize is that we make assumptions based on a tiny slice of someone's life. My friend Lindsay pointed out that she does make matching outfits for her girls -- about once a year, for pictures -- and that she does make cute birthday cakes -- three times a year. It doesn't consume her whole life. And yet, with things like that, we make automatic assumptions. "She's always doing this or that," we think, "I'm not good enough."

We're also much harder on ourselves than we are on others. We fail to recognize the things we do that are amazing and wonderful. We almost always compare to people who are better at a skill than we are. I discount my photography skills, for instance, because I follow some amazing photography blogs and I see stunning work that outshines my own. And yet, at the same time, if I were to have seen someone last year at the level I'm at now, I would have been impressed.

We also have different talents and abilities. Tiffany is one of my friends who has an amazing cooking talent. She's lived in Sweden, in Israel, and in New York and she's embraced the foods of each place. She creates wonderful meals and enjoys doing it. By contrast, I'm just an okay cook. It would be easy to think, "If I just had more time, I'd be better at this too," but it's not true. If I had more time, I probably wouldn't spend much of it on improving my cooking ability. I'd spend it on something I enjoy more.

We can't develop every hobby. We can't scrapbook, run, paint, craft, cook, blog, read, write, sew, create, plan, organize, and so on, or we'd be neglecting the more important responsibilities in our lives. Sometimes, we have to realize, "that's not for me," or even "that's not for me at this stage in my life." I think a few focused hobbies are easier to keep in balance than trying to do a little of everything.

We're also at different stages of life with different responsibilities. The balance in my life with eight kids and a busy husband will look different than the balance in someone else's life. I'm tempted sometimes to think I must have the least amount of time for extras, and while that's true in some cases, in others, it's not. I have friends who deal with chronic illness, for example, and their balance has to include diminished energy. I know of others who deal with handicapped children or heavy Church responsibilities that keep them much busier than eight kids would.

Comparing is such a insidious habit. Sometimes when we start comparing, it moves on to criticism. We might feel jealous and start to tell ourselves, "Well, she's probably neglecting her kids in order to do that," or something similar.

I'm trying to teach my children that they are not competing with each other. I love that Lillian plays the violin, Joey takes electronics apart, Michael is a comic, Allison is adventurous, Sarah is artistic, Eliza does complex puzzles, Harmony loves books, and Katie is goofy. I wouldn't expect or want my kids all to be the same, nor would I put one of them down because they do things differently than another.

Can't we be happy for other people's talents and achievements without worrying about whether our own are good enough? I love this quote from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin:
Let me cite a hypothetical example of a dear sister in any ward, the one who has perfect children who never cause a disturbance in church. She is the one working on her 20th generation in her family history, keeps an immaculate home, has memorized the book of Mark, and makes wool sweaters for the orphaned children in Romania. No disrespect, of course, intended for any of these worthy goals. Now, when you get tempted to throw your hands in the air and give up because of this dear sister, please remember you’re not competing with her any more than I’m competing with the members of the Quorum of the Twelve in winning a 50-yard dash.

* Be Grateful. When I focus on my blessings and what I'm able to fit into my full and busy life, I feel content. When I start adding up what I'm not doing or what I wish I could be doing, that's when frustration and discouragement set in.

Finding balance in life is a challenge in this modern, fast-paced world, but it is possible.

Now that I've completed the three parts to the discussion, what do you have to add? How do you find balance? How do you keep from comparing yourself to others or being impatient? What have you had to cut out of your life? What have you kept in and why?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finding Balance, Part 2: Time Management

Last Friday, I posted part one of our Mother's Group discussion on Finding Balance. Today, I'll continue the topic with part two, Time Management. Because there is so much on this topic, I'll be posting part three later in the week.

As part of this, I'd love to hear your ideas, so I'll be including some questions at the end of each section. Feel free to answer one, all, or none in the comments.

* There needs to be a balance between being recognizing your limits and being diligent. I pointed out that there are two parts to this scripture: "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order."

On the one hand, we all need to learn to say no, even to wonderful and good things (okay, usually to wonderful and good things), so that we have time for more important things. We can't do everything all at once, and it is foolish to try.

On the other hand, it's important to be diligent -- to try to be better than we were the day before, to constantly strive to learn and improve.

Only you can discern in your life between the things that need to be done even though they require sacrifice, and the things that need to be put aside. It's tough sometimes, but I think it's meant to be. By making these tough choices, we show our character and priorities.

What have you done to recognize the balance here? What things have you had to say no to and what have you said yes to?

* You can't be 100% during every shift. Julie Beck suggested in a Women's Conference address last year that young mothers are often called to work all three shifts:
In order to prioritize time wisely, I learned something from my father-in-law years ago. He was a steel-worker and spent his life working three different shifts. He either worked the day shift, the afternoon shift, or the night shift. As a young mother I realized one time that I was working all three shifts, and that’s why I was so tired. We can’t do all things all at once, and we have to be careful and safeguard our shifts.

As I have talked to young mothers and mothers with children at home—those with teenagers and young adults especially—they tell me that their most important shift to be at the top of their game, to be the strongest lioness at the gate is the “swing shift.” That’s the afternoon shift. That’s when everyone comes home hungry, tired, needy, and less lovable. It is when you are hungry, tired, needy, and less loveable. It is also the time of day when people are more teachable, when they are most grateful. When we realize and prioritize our time properly, we don’t expect to use all of our strength on the other two shifts so that the afternoon shift can be safeguarded and can be a time of strength and power. We plan for times when the meals are there together, when we can create that home environment and when that family can gather, and you are the strengthening power and force in that family. Remember that influence and power come when we prioritize correctly. If you spend time elsewhere, you don’t have it to give. For other women it might be another time of the day. Some of us have to be on call during the day shift. There are many who need help during the day. Service is needed during the day, but look at and evaluate your life. Ask “Where do I need to prioritize my time?” and “When do I have to be at the top of my game?” I have learned that a good woman with the help of the Lord can usually work two to two and a half shifts. However, no one can work all three shifts. You have to prioritize where you are going to spend your energy.
I work three shifts and I have for many years because of my little ones (none of my babies sleep through the night until about 10 months old). My most important shift is between 3 and 8, when all my kids are home. I've had to make some choices to prioritize this time and not allow it to be taken over by exhaustion or unimportant events. One thing I do is that I (almost) never schedule anything between 12 and 3 in the afternoon. That is the time I have my kids do quiet activities or take naps. When possible, I try to sleep then and when impossible, I do other restful things, like reading or blogging. I don't grocery shop, run errands, or do housework during this time. I need the quiet and rest so I can work that "afternoon swing shift."

What shifts are you working in your life? Which one is the most important and what are you doing to make sure you are at the top of your game during that time?

* Along with that idea, you need to create some boundaries to protect your time. It's okay to schedule things around your circumstances. For instance, I have learned that in order for me to get through my in-box, respond to emails, and prepare for my week, I need to leave Monday mornings completely free. I don't schedule doctor's or orthodontist appointments for that time, and when Eliza's dance class was moved from Wednesdays to Mondays, we dropped it from our schedule.

* Leave some margins in your life. This is an idea that has been discussed a few places recently because of a new book called Margin.

I haven't read the book yet, but I really resonate with the idea that we need to leave some time uncommitted.

We need empty space in our lives, some uncommitted time for two reasons. The first is that we need time to think and ponder and receive inspiration and answers to our prayers. If we are too busy to experience the calm of God's Spirit, then we miss out on an essential part of our mortal lives.

The second is that there are always unexpected things in life. If we've filled every moment, then these unexpected events send us into overload. As mothers, we know how often even the mundane unexpected things can overwhelm us -- a child who is sick, a car or appliance that needs repair, a few too many appointments in a week, a neighbor in need. If we have some time uncommitted, then we have some space to help our neighbor, spend a day rocking the child with the ear infection, schedule that car repair, or do the other urgent things that come up.

Are the margins in your life wide enough? Do you have enough space to breathe? What do you do to keep from commitments overloading you?

* Learn to prepare in advance. You can do a lot in your life, but don't leave things to the last minute. Preparing in advance saves time. For example, when I prepare for my turn to teach preschool a week in advance, then I know what supplies I'm lacking. I can easily pick up a couple of books while I'm at the library that week and I can add some craft supply to my list for grocery shopping. In contrast, if I wait until the night before to prepare (and yes, I do that sometimes), then I have to scramble around and either throw in a trip to the store or library or just make do with what I have at home.

Two weeks ago, I had a very busy week. I taught a class on Organizing Your Life's Story for a Relief Society activity, I taught preschool, and I was going to lead our Mother's Group discussion (but had to push it back a week because my kids got sick). In the midst of the busy week, I was asked to speak in Sacrament meeting (we Mormons take turns teaching and leading in our Church; there are no paid clergy) on Sunday. I didn't hesitate to say yes, even with everything else on my plate. Why? Because I'd already prepared for everything that week. I prepped most of the Relief Society presentation a month in advance, I had my notes outlined for the Mother's Group a week ahead of time, and I prepped for preschool the day before. I had extra time that week, even though it was full.

Some things come up once in a while or as extras. Other things we do over and over again. Some organization and preparation saves time here too. A few examples:
* My husband and I meet every Sunday night to discuss our kids, parenting, short and long-term plans, and other items. I prepared an agenda for us, printed it up multiple copies in a binder, and now we are much better at getting through all of our discussion items.

* Eliza started a preschool twice a week in January. Every couple of days, she is supposed to bring a picture to illustrate the new letter they are working on. I put the
days and what she was supposed to bring on my calendar, but even so, I kept forgetting and felt bad about letting her down. When I got February's calendar, I sat down with Eliza and we picked out a picture for J, K, and L right then. I put it in a little folder in her backpack, and now I don't have to worry about it the entire month.

* Our family cleans the house every Saturday for Family Work Day. Rather than spend time every Saturday writing out what needs to be done, I made a master list last fall, printed a bunch of copies, and now we pull that out to work from each week.

* When I was the Primary chorister, in charge of teaching about 8 new songs to kids ages 3 to 12 in our ward, I prepared a plan for the whole year in February. I had a schedule of what songs we'd sing for opening, closing, and which songs I'd focus on during teaching. I also prepared a binder with materials for several different games we could play to learn the songs, and I tried to find artwork to illustrate the words for each. It took a lot of my time for a couple of weeks, but you know what? The rest of the year was pretty easy. I never had to scramble to decide what we were singing. My responsibility only took me a few minutes of prep time each week from then on.
What do you do to prepare for things in advance? What ways could you organize and prepare for the regular things in your life?

* Having routines and organization doesn't mean giving up spontaneity, it means allowing more time for it. If you have a regular time to run errands and stay on top of things, for example, you save a lot of time in constantly having to run to the store to get milk or eggs or a science fair poster. If your housework is scheduled and organized, you're not feeling guilty about neglecting it when you're playing with your kids or rushing out to a fun last-minute activity.

* Watch for activities that fill multiple functions. Like a good soup or a great stir-fry, some activities fill more than one need in our lives. My friend Amy is our ward's Primary President (in charge of helping kids ages 18 months to 11), and says that most of her time is spent either with that responsibility or with her family. However, a lot of the things she does for Primary also fill other needs. She fills her social needs as she meets with her presidency. Preparing for a sharing time works as her scripture study some days. She also tries to do housework and other activities with her kids. They help her sort laundry, so that task becomes not just "housework" but also "nurturing kids."

In my life, I have many things that fit this category. I'm taking an occasional cooking class with my daughter Lillian, filling my need to spend time with her and also my need to improve my cooking skills. Photography fills my needs in many ways -- I get a creative outlet, a chance to serve others, and time with my son Joey, who likes to go along on my shoots.

Perhaps with some creativity, some of the needs you are lacking in your life could be met at the same time. Maybe you could find an exercise partner and get physical activity and social stimulation at the same time. Perhaps you and your husband could take a class together, improving your marriage and your mind at the same time.

What are some things in your life that fill several purposes at once?

I hope you enjoyed some of these ideas and find them useful. I'll finish up with part three, patience and contentment, soon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Finding Balance, Part 1: Priorities

Our Mother's Group discussion this month was on Finding Balance in all of Life's Responsibilities. I led the discussion, and I will share a few of the things we talked about in three posts, Part 1: Priorities, Part 2: Time Management, and Part 3: Patience and Contentment.

The Myth of the Balanced Life

There is a strong myth circulating in the world today on the subject of balance. The idea is this: You can do it all, as long as you have balance!
The truth is this: there will never be enough time to do everything you want. Finding balance is more about prioritizing and managing your time well than it is about fitting it all in.
Finding balance in life is in many ways like finding balance in your diet. Life is like an enormous buffet with endless choices, offering you thousands of ways to fill your time.
Trying to do it all is like trying to eat everything in this picture in one meal:
Rather than finding balance by trying to do it all, we need to be wise about what we put on our plates and how we prioritize. Good sense and good choices are required! You can't survive for long on just desserts, and you can’t fit everything on your plate, no matter how tempting all the offerings are.
Julie Beck, Relief Society General President, put it this way:

“A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.”Julie B. Beck, April 2010

Each of us is limited in time, talents, and resources. In order to make the most important things happen, we have to say no to other worthy and wonderful activities.

In a Women's Conference Address, Julie Beck emphasized three different categories of things that fill our time: essential things, necessary things, and nice-to-do things. Comparing this to finding balance in our diet, I suggest the following divisions:

1. Essentials: These are like fruits and vegetables. It's easy to leave them out of our diets, but without them, we are missing essential nutrients. Most essential things -- prayer, scripture study, family home evening, etc -- don't take a large amount of time and yet they are so important to put first in our lives. The First Presidency in my Church has said, “We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform”

2. Necessaries: These fit into our lives like the main course and significant side dishes. These are the things we have to do because it's part of our job description, like laundry and cooking and keeping a clean home, paying bills, taking care of kids, and so on.

3. Nice to Have: This is the all-important dessert category. This might include hobbies or lunch with friends or other activities that are fun and enjoyable. I pointed out today that in some ways, the analogy might break down here if you are a strict nutritionist who believes dessert has no place in your diet. But since I'm not, I'm suggesting that dessert is a wonderful part of a balanced diet. We need to have creative outlets and enjoyable social experiences in order to feed ourselves as well as our families.

Some of the other discussion items:

* I took a nutrition class in college and part of it focused on children's nutrition. One point I remember was that in looking at a child's nutrition, it's more important to look at the balance in their diet over a week or a month rather than a day or a meal. Children go on food jags and might eat just grapes for an entire day, but as long as the next day they drink milk and another day they eat sandwiches, it all averages out. Our own balance will be found in the same way -- one day our kids might need us a lot, another day we might spend most of our time on a project or a hobby, and another day our messy house might call us to spend more time on housework. What might look out of balance in a day will often average out over the course of time.

* One of the problems with worldly philosophies today is that the solutions they offer to the problems in our lives seems to always be, "Take more time for yourself!" Pamper yourself, get away, go to a spa, relax, do things for yourself, etc. In other words, "What you need is more dessert!" While this may be true in some cases, often what we are lacking in our lives isn't more fun times. If we are lacking essential nutrients that only fruits and vegetables can provide, then more dessert won't do anything but make us feel stuffed and empty at the same time.

My friend Rachel L. pointed out that it's like eating cheesecake -- one slice is wonderful, a whole cake just makes you feel rotten.

* It's important to leave some empty space on our plates, both because things come up that we don't anticipate and because we need time that is not committed to anything. If we've scheduled ourselves so much that there's no room for the unexpected -- a neighbor in need, a child who's sick, or an unexpected opportunity -- then we are stretching ourselves too thin and will miss out on important things.

We also need quiet times in our lives because it leaves time for revelation, for time to think and ponder over things we are worried about and receive answers.

* Some things have to be done even if you hate to do them. Schedule them in or there will always be something else that “comes up” and they won’t happen. For me, I have to tackle housework and my kitchen cleaning early in the day so I can be free to work on other priorities later on. One woman pointed out that there's a book called Eat That Frog, which comes from a line from Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” If you knew you had to eat a live frog today, wouldn't it be best to do it first and get it out of the way? If you didn't, you'd spend the day dreading it and it would spoil the good parts of your life.
We had a great discussion and I learned much from some amazing mothers this morning. I'll post more about the other half of the discussion early next week.

In the meantime, what have you made a priority in your life? What are your thoughts on finding balance?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One in a Million (Wordless Wednesday)

Sarah's picture is now on the main page of!
(Edited to add: It looks like the home page was changed again -- Ah! the fleetingness of fame -- but you can see her photo on the archive page)

I've submitted a lot of photos over the past few months for the Church to use
(if you're a photographer, you can submit yours too.)

I love that they chose a more casual photo of Sarah to use to direct members to a new feature: slideshows and videos introducing a few of the one million Primary children all over the world, "One in a million."

You may also remember that a photo of Allison and Sarah together are being used on this page with the fitting caption, "God knows us individually and loves us more than we can comprehend."

Sarah's thrilled that her photo was being used, and insisted on having her hair put into two ponytails on Sunday and Monday, "Because I look so cute with two ponytails." I hope the fame won't go to her head. =)

She let me take her picture yesterday -- here are a few of my favorites.

Twenty minutes after we went back inside, she lost that front tooth. We went back outside to get another photo of her new smile.
She's certainly one in a million!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Daily Bread (Favorites Friday)

When I listened to this talk last month, it was just what I needed. I've returned to its principles again and again, shared it via email and at Book Club, and now I hope you enjoy it as well.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread (to read it)
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread (to listen to it)

In it, Elder Christofferson shares some thoughts about the Lord’s prayer, in particular the words “give us this day our daily bread” – and compared it to the manna the Lord provided in the wilderness.

While it's good to plan and prepare for the future, he points out that we live in the present. It is intended for life to be a daily struggle at times, because we need to learn to pray daily for what we need that day. Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we are looking too much into the future when all we need to do is have the faith to pray for strength for that day’s challenges. I liked this part of his message:
In the 1950s my mother survived radical cancer surgery, but difficult as that was, the surgery was followed with dozens of painful radiation treatments in what would now be considered rather primitive medical conditions. She recalls that her mother taught her something during that time that has helped her ever since: “I was so sick and weak, and I said to her one day, ‘Oh, Mother, I can’t stand having 16 more of those treatments.’ She said, ‘Can you go today?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, honey, that’s all you have to do today.’ It has helped me many times when I remember to take one day or one thing at a time.”

And this part:

Thinking of our daily bread keeps us aware of the details of our lives, of the significance of the small things that occupy our days. Experience teaches that in a marriage, for example, a steady stream of simple kindnesses, help, and attention do much more to keep love alive and nurture the relationship than an occasional grand or expensive gesture.

And this part:

Consistent effort in seemingly small, daily steps is a key principle in achieving any great work, including progress in the pathway of discipleship.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Q&A Thursday: Another baby already?

Today's question comes from a dear friend who has her hands full with three young children. She recently found out she's expecting again and sent this question for my blog.

What advice do you have for expectant mothers (and fathers) that found they were expecting before they were ready to expect again?
It's tough raising children, and sometimes when we feel we're stretched as far as we can go, some new challenge enters our life, such as an unexpected pregnancy. Here are a few suggestions:

* Go to the Lord to understand His will. This is important anytime our life goes in a direction we didn't plan, and such twists and turns happen to all of us. (I think planning your life is overrated, anyway, at least if you expect it to always follow the plan!)

Focusing on how your plans went awry keeps you from finding a way to enjoy the new plan. God can help you understand what blessings will come from this new direction in your life and can help this challenge shape you into a better person.

I love this quote by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace.”

As you work to make room in your heart and your life for this new child, you will need the Lord's help to make the necessary adjustments in your priorities and expectations. He will be there for you -- He always has been for me.

Some of my children have come sooner than I would have chosen, but through prayer and priesthood blessings, I've come to feel and understand that God had a plan for each of them and I've rejoiced at the blessings I've seen from having my kids come when they have.

* Keep this challenge in perspective. There are worse things that could have happened to you -- such as the struggle of infertility! Many people deal with unexpected twists in their lives that don't end up with such a happy outcome. At the end of this pregnancy, you will be enjoying and loving a precious son or daughter of God, and the relationship you build with that child will outweigh all the sacrifices and struggles you'll experience over the next few years.

* Realize that while having kids close in age is hard, it's usually only difficult for the first few years (Unless, of course, you're like me and you keep doing it!). Those first years your children depend on you for everything, and having a bunch of them close in age can stretch every limit of your patience, your capacity, and even your courage.

But a funny thing happens to kids -- they grow up! They start to use the bathroom on their own. They start to dress themselves and entertain themselves. They learn not to bite and kick and scream and throw tantrums. They learn to wait for what they want and take turns. They learn to get along and go to sleep without a two-hour battle. At some point, they even get old enough to contribute to the household and make the burden lighter for their mother!

There are a lot of advantages in the middle years to having kids close in age. Your kids will always have a playmate. You'll be able to sign your kids up for activities that they can both do at the same time. They can play on the same sports team or take the same classes. They'll be able to relate to each other more as peers than as older and younger siblings, and the friendships that form are wonderful to watch. My kids play together on the playground. They share some of the same friends.

During those years when you're sleep-deprived and the days seem to go on forever, hang in there. Things will get better!

* Pray to know and love the child you are carrying. For me, this has been the key to avoiding resentment and frustration at the sacrifices required of me to take care of my children. I hate the first three months of pregnancy. I'm horribly sick and depressed and I struggle to get anything done. During those tough times, I cling tightly to the reassurance that my children are God's first. I believe that we all lived as spirit sons and daughters of God before we are born into this world, and that we knew and loved each other there. To welcome a child into our family, to me, means to become re-acquainted with someone I once knew and loved. I pray often to understand who my children are and have felt hints of their personalities long before they are born. If I didn't have that, I don't know how I'd get through pregnancy.

This is another reason that I love the opportunity to watch as my child is given a name and a blessing. God has a plan for each of us. He loves each of my children and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. Knowing and keeping that eternal perspective when the days are hard brings me peace that what I'm working for is worthwhile and that God will bless my meager efforts.

* Remember that children are a blessing. It is a significant and wonderful thing to be entrusted with one of God's precious children.

* Realize that YOU CAN DO THIS! You are stronger than you think! You have talents and abilities that you're not even using to their full capacity. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do this. This experience may stretch you, but you will not break. With God's help, you can meet the needs of all of your children and your other responsibilities. You may have tough days -- all right, you WILL have tough days -- but you will be able to handle them.

Keep in mind that for ages and ages of the world, women have been having children, and many of those families had children close in age. It's harder in some ways now because so few women have children close in age. You'll likely feel alone in the task of figuring out how to take care of all your little ones as well as your home, your marriage and yourself. I have found, however, that it is often when I feel the most alone that I am growing the most. The winds of loneliness bring me to my knees to plead for answers to my prayers, and I arise stronger than I was before.

I loved what Mary Hall said at our mother's group meeting a few months ago. When she was raising her kids, she didn't have a computer or the internet to turn to when she needed answers. She had to go directly to the Lord, so each Sunday she would sit down and consider the needs of each of her children and then ask for God's help and God's answers.

* Don't apologize for having kids close in age, and don't refer to the child as an "accident" or a "mistake." If you must refer to the child's unexpected arrival, call it an "unexpected blessing" or "a happy surprise." Especially don't get in the habit of apologizing for your child's existence when they get old enough to understand what you're saying. Life's hard enough for kids without having to bear the burden of being reminded constantly that their parents didn't really want them at first. I know a grown man who explains to others that "I was my parent's accident." While he's got a good attitude about it, I'd hate for any of my children to think they are here by accident.

And one final thought:
* Don't worry so much about what having another child might "take away" from the children you already have. Think instead of what you are giving them: a friend, a sibling, someone to help them and teach them and be for them what you can never be.

Perhaps it's as if you are invited on a cruise. Before you go, you're told, "You can have some friends come along, if you like, but it's a small boat and there's only one captain and one tour guide and you'll have to share." Wouldn't you rather have that boat full of your friends even if it meant a little less individual attention and maybe some cramped quarters? Wouldn't the benefits of spending time with people you love outweigh the challenges?

I believe that my children knew each other before they came to our family and that they love each other. I've seen them welcome each new child with grace and maturity and even reverence for the purity of the new child who joins our family. I think our family is blessed to be full of wonderful children who are close in age.

What are your thoughts or ideas on this subject? What suggestions would you have for my friend? Have any of you experienced the benefits or challenges of having a sibling or children close in age?


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