Photo Credit: Michael Delaney, picasa.google.com
Two years ago, I had an experience that made such an impression on me that I couldn’t rest until I wrote it in my journal. It was one of those times when something I already knew in my mind was deeply felt in my heart.
I was folding laundry in my bedroom, and watching my four year-old daughter and my two year-old son play outside on the swing set. It was a beautiful spring day; sunny and just the right temperature. After I finished the laundry, I went into the kitchen. The door to the back yard was wide open, and the kids were at the table peeling a tangerine they had picked from our tree. I went to shut the back door, and just then I heard a loud 'thunk' against the family room window.
Startled, I looked over to see a small bird flying around our family room! It flew at the window again and again, OUCH! I quickly opened the back door, and told the kids to come stand by me and be really quiet. I was feeling so sorry for the bird's confusion and pain! After several tries, the bird finally figured out that flying through the window wasn't going to work, and it flew up to the plant shelf to rest on a bouquet of silk flowers.
I was racking my brain, trying to figure out the easiest way to get the bird to fly out the open door to freedom. My son thought it was fantastic to have a bird in the house, and he started screaming in delight. That made the bird start flying around the room again, a toddler's scream is obviously a terrifying sound to a bird. I started to get worried that the bird was going to fly down the hall towards the bedrooms, and we would really have a hard time getting him outside again. So I told my daughter to stand by the hallway with a broom held straight up in the air. Her job was to wave the broom and yell if the bird flew too close to the hall. She said, "Okay Mom!" in her most serious voice (such an adorable, determined helper).
I decided that I needed to make the open back door the only obvious exit, so I put the blinds down over the windows, and covered them with blankets to make them even darker. I put my son on a chair by the table, so he could help discourage the bird from flying into the kitchen. Then I got another broom, and tried to gently shoo the bird towards the back door. But the bird wasn't getting the picture! It flew from the plant shelf to the ceiling fan, to the top of the cabinets, to the curtain rod, to the dining table light, to the silk tree, to the pictures on the wall. Over and over again, for half an hour!
As much as my children were enjoying the spectacle, I was getting really frustrated! I called my husband in desperation. He works a couple miles from home, and said he would be right there, since it was almost lunch time anyway. So I sat down by the kids, to try and enjoy the moment, since there was nothing else I could do to help the bird. We watched the bird fly around. I took some pictures so we could show the big kids, and tell them about our exciting bird experience (this happened right before we decided to homeschool, so I had three kids in public school at the time). My two year-old was still SO excited, this was a fantastic bit of fun for him. He even started saying "brr, brr," which was the first time I had heard him say bird, so cute!
Then someone from church called, so I talked to her for a couple minutes. As I hung up, I noticed that the bird was sitting on the top of the open back door. Just then, Aaron came home, and I opened the garage to meet him. When I turned around, the bird was gone. We looked all around the room, and couldn't find the bird anywhere. It must have FINALLY flown out the open door while I wasn't looking. Figures! I felt badly that my husband had left work to help me, but he just laughed and teased me that I was just trying to get him home early for lunch. (At least I had pictures to back up my story!)
After the urgency of getting the bird out of the house was gone, I was struck with how much this experience illustrated my role as a mother to my children. As a parent, it is my job to teach my children what they must do to return to live with Heavenly Father. I teach them how to choose the right, pointing the way to Christ. Just as I made the back door the obvious way of escape for the bird, parents strive to make the way of salvation clear for their children, so that they will "know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26)
But even though I had made the way of escape and salvation very clear for the bird, I could not force it to fly out the door. I knew the bird needed to go outside in order to survive, and that is what the bird wanted too, but it resisted my every effort to force it in the right direction. My efforts were interpreted as attacks, and the bird reacted defensively. Using all its energy to get away from me, it must not have been able to concentrate on how to get out the door. I’ve noticed that children often act the same way when they feel pressured or forced. Even though deep down they really want to do what is right, when pushed into a corner they get caught up in defending themselves and their point of view. Interestingly, as soon as I stopped trying to make the bird do what I knew was best, the bird found its way outside to freedom.
I love my children! I want them to know the joy that comes from living the gospel and following Christ. I also don't like to see my children unhappy or in pain. I wish I could shield them from every hurt and frustration, but that is not the way to let them learn. Sometimes they have to learn from their mistakes. I cannot force them to do what is right every minute of their lives. I can teach them the consequences of their choices, and warn them of spiritual dangers, but the choice is ultimately theirs to make. They need to have the internal motivation to choose the right because they know for themselves that it will make them happy.
My job is to be a good example, provide a loving environment for growth, diligently teach them Christ's gospel, and help them recognize the Spirit. My ultimate goal is for each of them to have their own tender relationship with the Savior and to truly know that they are a precious child of their Heavenly Father. Then, as they turn to Him, they will find strength to make choices that will reflect their great love for Him.
It reminds me of something Joseph Smith said about the early Saints, "I teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves." (Quoted by John Taylor, in Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339)
That sure seems hard sometimes! But I know it IS possible if I honestly do the best I can to teach them what's right, constantly ask for the Lord's help, and stay close to the Spirit. And along the way, I can find joy in the journey and cherish the opportunity that I have to be a mother.
I know there will be times when I may get frustrated with my children and think, "Why won't you just do what you are supposed to do?" But hopefully I will remember the lesson of the little bird, and have patience while my children learn to spread their wings and choose to fly into the light.
Marcina and her husband, Aaron, have five children with another due in November. This is her third year of homeschooling and she is grateful for the opportunity to teach her children at home. It continues to be both a challenge and a delight! In her spare moments she enjoys family history, gardening, reading, singing, listening to beautiful music, and learning new things. Sewing and photography are on the list of skills she wants to develop next.