Friday Fundamentals: Hope and Social Justice

I just finished reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, PhD. She describes what is going on in individuals and society at large when we experience shame. When I try to talk about what I have learned from this book, I have had to start out describing what shame really is. I told one person about shame, and their response was that they wish people were more ashamed these days – ashamed of their immoral choices. That is different. What they really wish is that people would feel more guilt about their choices, but because people already feel so ashamed of who they are, their behaviors are justified, sort of. Dr. Brown describes shame as an attack on our identity or inherent sense of worth, and fear of disconnection. Shame is “I AM bad”, while guilt is “I DID something bad that doesn’t align with my values.” Guilt compels people to change and grow.  I am totally paraphrasing any of the information I got from this book, just so you know. If you want direct quotes, read the book. It is awesome.  (By the way, this is a super long post, but I hope you’ll bear with me).

When people experience shame, our “flight or fight”, or natural response is one of three reactions: to move toward it (to please or appease), move away from it (hide, become detached or depressed), or move against it (become aggressive, shame or blame others). You know we see examples of this EVERYWHERE. That is the point of Brene Brown’s message. Shame is a plague on our society. Because of shame, we are isolating ourselves, propagating disconnection. People are afraid of being vulnerable because we believe we live in a world where there are two types of people: kill or be killed.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

ONE example of shame that resonates with me the most is how all women experience shame around motherhood. All women do. If you have no babies, people start asking when you are going to start, or remind you that you won’t be able to have babies forever. If you have a baby, you’d better be married, that baby had better be flawless, and you had better be perfect. Then people ask when you’re having another. When you have them, you feel pressure about everything: too many kids, too few, you’re too young, you’re too old, they are spaced too close, they are spaced too far apart, you should co-sleep, you should let them cry, your kid should be reading before they can sit up, they are too thin, they are too fat, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, you’re too permissive, you’re too aggressive, and ultimately you are wasting your college degree and an insult to the female sex. If you can’t have children, you are burdened with shame, and you will never understand what it is really like to be a mom. If you have ever had an abortion, you are in a world of shame (not advocating anything here, I just want to make a point). Everyone can find a reason to say you are a BAD mom. Shame. Most of the time, people who are pointing the finger the loudest are the ones who feel the most ashamed of where they are in this spectrum. I saw a meme recently that said something like, there is no way to be a perfect mom, but there are a million ways to be a good one. That’s good stuff right there.  Check out Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto on her website.

“The real questions for parents should be: “Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?” If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

I took a personality psychology class during my undergraduate studies, and we discussed the plague of personifying characteristics as inherent flaws rather than simple choices. Think of that last time someone cut you off. Did you think, “boy, that was rude. Didn’t they see me here? Maybe they did not learn how to drive properly” Or did you think, “what a jerk!” and go the rest of your trip driving offensively because the road is full of jerks, essentially becoming one yourself.  In shame culture, we attribute our choices to who we are, rather than simply our process of learning and growth that is naturally fraught with mistakes.

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

If we consider Erik Erikson’s stages of psychological development, we go through a phase where we either experience autonomy, or shame and doubt.  If you never experience true autonomy (self-efficacy), you get stuck in that phase.

We all have something to gripe about. All of it, very real. Sexism, racism, class-ism, ageism, sexuality, level of education or the type of work you do, religiosity vs. atheism, political views, parenthood, single vs. married, fat vs. skinny, the list goes on and on! We all fall into some category that we identify with, and we can find someone on the “opposite” side claiming their plight is worse, or more credible. Everyone is fighting over who is the bigger victim rather than owning our story.

Brene Brown says that to conquer shame we have to own our story so that we can be the ones to write its ending. In my mind, this means applying the atonement of Jesus Christ, His grace, to repent and make your life new. It means being agents who take accountability for life and choices, having the power to act for yourself, rather than be acted upon. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains this concept: “As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14)” ( “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality“)

Dr. Brown says the antidote, or the supernatural response to shame is empathy and connection. Find someone who will commiserate with you and console one another with soothing responses of identification and compassion. I believe the most important connections we can have that create the deepest resilience are our connection with God, and our family and/or ancestors. In the context of what I am saying, a deeper remedy to the problems of our society is hope. What is hope? Hope is a topic Dr. Brown touches of briefly in her book. She says hope is “grit” or “a function of struggle.” The ability to endure discomfort because you have developed strong character. Hope is a learned trait. It is cultivating our capacity to persevere. It takes practice to learn how to endure discomfort, failure, stress, tolerance, delayed gratification, rejection, and fear. People who have hope know who they are, they have self-efficacy, and are resilient to those things that cause pain or discomfort because they can endure it knowing there will be a bright side to it all, or at least an end. Someone who has hope doesn’t let tough things change who they are.  They can enter into a vulnerable situation with hope that they can endure it.

” Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4, The Book of Mormon, emphasis added).

If people had hope in a better world, they would not be insecure when they hear insults, but would let it slide because they can endure a little discomfort. When you have hope, you can act on faith to produce that better world. Faith is an action word that compels us to do something supernatural. Rather than focus on the negative, look for the bright spots.  Rather than fighting the things you disagree with, promote the things you believe in and care about.  If you hope to grow a garden, you act in faith to plant a seed and to water it and nourish it (See Alma 32, The Book of Mormon). If you give up faith that the seed will grow, you will stop nourishing it. You will also lose hope that you will ever have a garden.  You might wonder why you’re experiencing a trial, and perhaps it may simply be that you need a greater measure of hope.

“Sister Burton told Latter-day Saint women that as they move along life’s path, the Lord gives them burdens to carry that they might yoke themselves to Him. ‘Yoking ourselves to Him not only helps us develop the spiritual muscle needed to get us through our current trials but also blesses us with His enabling power, which helps us face the future trials that surely await us.'” (General Auxiliary Presidents Speak to Women About Atonement).

I believe that through hope we have the power to see the world differently, to look for the bright spots, to have hope in a better world! Then, have faith that we can do something about it. We don’t have to all agree with each other, but we can let things slide without it breaking down our character. We can show expressions of love to others who may be ignorant of our plight. We can also seek out those who will understand and have empathy rather than withdraw and become bitter.

“Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:23-24, The Book of Mormon).

“And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
“Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
“And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
“If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:40-48, The Book of Mormon).

 

 

Friday Fitness: Change What You Think You Know About Kids’ Health

Bear in mind as you read that I go back and forth between our health behaviors as parents, and kids’ health practices because I feel they are synonymous.  Our children mirror our behaviors and attitudes, and how we treat our children is often a reflection of how to feel about ourselves.

1.  Fitness is a conscious choice.

Not really a new idea for adults, but I recently read an article that said we need to stop telling children to exercise because “exercise” is a buzz word that makes it sound like a chore.  We need to soften our approach and call it “activity” because it should be a part of our daily…activity.  I get the importance of the small steps, and trading out bad habits for good ones.  But, does candy-coating exercise really lead to a life of fitness and vitality?  And, are “activities” really getting our kids off the couch and away from their screens?  Even if they are, are they enough to sustain a lifelong commitment to fitness?  We all understand that to be truly fit and to maintain our health takes work – even hard work.  It IS a chore, and a choice we have to make with great effort sometimes.  So, let’s teach our kids the value of a good workout, which include stress-relief and self-confidence, that they might put down their remotes/phones/keyboards, and start doing something every day that makes them sweat.  That is how to be fit, and that is what we should expect from ourselves and our kids. Our bodies are a gift, and it is our stewardship to care for them.
I recently had this conversation with an accomplished pianist – how success in life takes work.  He told me that people hear him play and lament how they wish they could just sit down and play beautifully like that.  He said, “me too!”  This accomplishment didn’t just happen overnight.  It took work, practice, time, patience, and consistency.  There is value in hard work, and accomplishing difficult tasks.  Self-efficacy, physiological balance, and self-confidence are big rewards for finishing a job well done (Annesi, 2010).  Check out this link for ideas on how to set goals to achieve fitness.

2.  Food is not what makes us fat.

Where do our kids hear that eating will make them fat?  Oh, right…EVERYWHERE!  Just watch any TV show directed at attracting a teen/tween audience (Lawrie, 2006).  The fat kid is always the one eating or thinking about food!  This food-to-fat association is what leads to too-restrictive eating even in very young children (Evans, 2013).  While is it true that more calories consumed than expended causes weight gain, it is not the only culprit.  All of us know someone who can eat whatever they want and never seem to gain weight.

a) The quality of the calorie makes a difference.  For example, simple carbohydrates turn into sugar which can turn in to fat if we don’t expend it.  Meanwhile, complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, bind with cholesterol, and lend to the health of our digestive tract.  One gram of either equals four calories.

b) Imbalances in the body cause weight gain.  For example, hyperthyroidism, and other hormone imbalances, sleep deprivation, candida (supposedly), water retention, etc.  There are many reasons why our bodies gain weight and retain fat, including stress (especially when we tend to eat more when stressed).

c) Dieting (believe it or not).  This is another form of imbalance.  When you diet/deprive yourself, your body thinks there is a famine and you are starving yourself.  SO when you give up, or try to get back to normal eating habits, you gain all the weight back – plus some more.  Your body is shoring up for the next drought.  This is where the term “yo-yo dieting” comes from.

d) Heredity.  Our genes can sure make our lives more difficult if we are aiming to lose weight.  We all know someone who has to work very hard, and watch everything they eat or they will gain weight no matter what.  It is our lot in life.

e) Inactivity.  Eat perfectly but it will catch up to you if you don’t exercise.

Young children that excessively restrict their diets are likely to have an eating disorder as they grow up (Goodrick, 1999).  Kids do not need to hear that eating will make them fat.  Their bodies are ever changing and growing.  They need plenty of nourishment and a balanced diet to grow well.  When we try to dictate everything our kids eat, they stress about pleasing us, or rebel against us.  They lose their eating self-efficacy.  Junk food (what I like to call “fun food”) is not the enemy when eaten in moderation.  Some occasional emotional eating is normal.  The problem is that we indulge ourselves without thought, without limit, and usually when we are distracted.  Do allow some indulgence within reason, while being cognitively aware of what you are eating.  Not only so you can enjoy it, but so you also know when it is time to stop.  Change one bad habit and you’ll be better off.  Teach children about healthier options, balancing their portions, and moderating their own consumption of fun foods.  We need to teach our kids how to make smarter choices without implying they will get fat, and empower them to know the difference between healthful choices, and foods that need to be eaten in moderation.  There are other issues that come from eating poorly than just weight gain: fatigue, illness due to malnourishment, dental cavities, indigestion, constipation, hormone imbalance, insatiability and more eating because we are unsatisfied, and crave more, to name a few.  Give them these reasons, not, “stop eating that, you’ll get fat!”  This will only make children feel self-conscious, feeling preoccupied by their appearance, rather than the healthfulness of their food (more on this later).  We should be empowering kids, and ourselves with self-efficacy – meaning the power within ourselves to determine our own behavior (AbuSabha, 1997).

“The core determinants of [effective health practices] include knowledge of health risks and benefits of different health practices, perceived self-efficacy that one can exercise control over one’s health habits, outcome expectations about the expected costs and benefits for different health habits, the health goals people set for themselves and the concrete plans and strategies for realizing them, and the perceived facilitators and social and structural impediments to the changes they seek…Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties” (Bandura, A., 2004).

Note: the goal is internal health and vitality (fitness), not necessarily weight loss.  Sometimes, when weight loss is the primary goal, those “desired effects” do not manifest for a long time, so we give up.  Kids might not understand why they need to eat well or exercise, but it needs to be their choice.  Lovingly instructing them, and then being patient with them, will empower them to make their own choices which will facilitate “effective health practices.”

But remember…

3.  Getting fat is not the worst-case scenario.

In our culture, there is a prevailing lie that fatness equals laziness, no self-discipline, low intelligence, ugliness (Urquhart, 2011).  Thinness is just the opposite.  Imagine what we put ourselves through when we gain weight, even as a natural process of aging.  We subconsciously tell ourselves we are not worthy of love, not even from ourselves.  So, we put ourselves through torture to fit into some ideal that, in reality, doesn’t exist.  The average BMI is 24 while the ideal is 18 (Urquhart, 2011).  This is virtually unattainable without going to unhealthy extremes.  Yes, obesity is linked to chronic illness, and leads to lower life satisfaction for many.  But is it the worst thing our children could endure?  The National Institute of Mental Health has an extensive list of symptoms of eating disorders that sound a lot more severe and immediate than getting a little fat.
I’m not saying we should just let our kids (or ourselves) get fat.  But, they do not need the pressure of worrying themselves about whether they will gain or lose anyone’s approval by how they look.  “Dietary restraint mediates the relationship between thin-ideal internalization and disordered eating attitudes, even in the absence of body dissatisfaction , due to the wish to attain a socially desirable figure” (Evans, 2013).  This pressure may backfire and lead to weight gain in itself.  Too-restrictive dieting leads to eating disorders, also in part because we stop being able to listen to our bodies (Johnson, 2005).  We stop knowing when we are hungry AND when we are full, which leads to binge eating.  “Although disordered eating is usually associated with underweight in popular media, it is more common in overweight individuals.  Overweight females report a greater fear of binging, preoccupation with weight, and use of unhealthy weight control behaviors than do non-overweight females (Urquhart, 2011).  Diets are destructive.  We need to relearn how to listen to our bodies and stop stressing too much about appearance.  Health works its way from the inside out.

The food relationship from Ellyn Satter‘s book “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” is, we choose what and when to eat, and children choose if, and how much.  The idea is to avoid a power struggle, and possibly to provide options – two kinds of vegetables at dinner so they can choose.  Allow kids at least three exposures to food before they can officially rule it out.  I love that there is no longer a food guide pyramid.  It was harder to understand what portions are realistic.  The plate is a better guide.  We can easily divide our plates in half, fill one side with fruits and/or vegetables, and the other half with whole grains and lean meats.  Wegmans calls it “half-plate healthy“.

I realize that there is a lot (A LOT) about our kids that is out of our control.  We cannot make our kids’ choices and we can’t control their environment or how they think.  There are some factors that need to be considered and balanced, like our parenting styles, and our kids’ dispositions.

However, we can set a good example for our kids.   We start by having a healthy attitude about our own bodies, and about food.  We show our kids how to eat a balanced diet and having an active lifestyle by doing it ourselves.  We support good behaviors with positive reinforcement.  We also teach them by our own words and actions how to value their bodies by not engaging in fat talk (about ourselves or anyone else), but loving our bodies no matter how they look.  Our children will echo our words and attitudes for better or for worse. (P.S. that fat talk article is awesome!)

“The marvel of our physical bodies is often overlooked. Who has not encountered feelings of low self-esteem because of physique or appearance? Many people wish their bodies could be more to their liking. Some with naturally straight hair want it curly. Others with curly hair want it straight. Occasionally some ladies, believing that ‘gentlemen prefer blonds,’ become ‘decided blonds.’
“Your body, whatever its natural gifts, is a magnificent creation of God.  It is a tabernacle of flesh—a temple for your spirit.  A study of your body attests to its divine design…How should these truths influence our personal behavior? We should gratefully acknowledge God as our Creator” (Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, We are Children of God, Conference Address, October 1998).

Here’s a great illustration of healthy habits. I love the Berenstain Bears. My only critique of this story is the inherent assumption that junk food = lazy.  Otherwise, I love it.

(Images courtesy of kidshealth.org)

Sources:
-AbuSabha R., & Achterberg, C. (1997). Review of self-efficacy and locus of control for nutrition- and health-related behavior. Journal Of The American Dietetic Association, 97(10), 1122-1132.
-Annesi, J., & Gorjala, S. (2010). Relations of self-regulation and self-efficacy for exercise and eating and BMI change: A field investigation. Biopsychosocial Medicine, 410. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-4-10
-Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Education & Behavior: The Official Publication Of The Society For Public Health Education, 31(2), 143-164.
-Evans, E., Tovée, M., Boothroyd, L., & Drewett, R. (2013). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes in 7- to 11-year-old girls: Testing a sociocultural model. Body Image, 10(1), 8-15. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.10.001
-Goodrick, G., Pendleton, V., Kimball, K., Carlos Poston, W., Reeves, R., & Foreyt, J. (1999). Binge eating severity, self-concept, dieting self-efficacy and social support during treatment of binge eating disorder. The International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 26(3), 295-300.
-Johnson, F., & Wardle, J. (2005). Dietary restraint, body dissatisfaction, and psychological distress: a prospective analysis. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 114(1), 119-125.
-Lawrie, Z., Sullivan, E., Davies, P., & Hill, R. (2006). Media influence on the body image of children and adolescents. Eating Disorders, 14(5), 355-364.
-Urquhart, C., & Mihalynuk, T. (2011). Disordered eating in women: implications for the obesity pandemic. Canadian Journal Of Dietetic Practice And Research: A Publication Of Dietitians Of Canada = Revue Canadienne De La Pratique Et De La Recherche En Diététique: Une Publication Des Diététistes Du Canada, 72(1), e115-e125.
And so many more…Due to copyrights, I cannot share these articles over mass media, but I do believe I may be able to share them with individuals if you are interested in seeing them in print.

Monday Motherhood: Socialization

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Whenever I bring up that I will be homeschooling my preschoolers who are approaching kindergarten age, the response is often well-meaning concern over how my kids will be socialized.  I know my daughter is very social, and I understand what she loves to do right now.  This may come as a shock to many of you, but I don’t care about socialization.  I have no intention of stressing over socialization at all.  It’s the least of my worries.  It’s funny to me that people really worry anymore whether homeschool kids get enough social interaction.  There are enough resources now for homeschooled kids that it is overwhelming!  There are opportunities for groups, activities, and classes to pack our schedules.  I have no doubt my children will push us to use many of these resources, and I intend to use them.  If you still have a misguided worry that homeschool turns out “weirdos”, consider that public school has its share of “freaks” as well.

What kind of socialization are we really even talking about?  The kind of socialization kids get in public school often leads to peer dependence.  “Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner and his Cornell teams found that children who spend more elective time with their peers than with their parents until the fifth or sixth grades…will become peer dependent.  Such knuckling under to peer values incurs four losses crucial to sound mental health and positive sociability.  These losses…are self-worth, optimism, respect for parents, and trust in peers” (Moore, p49).  Children will adopt the values of the most influential people around them.  I would rather those people be their parents and siblings.  Children who spend a lot of time with their peers depend on peer approval, even though they are insecure about their peer connections.  “Does anyone who knows children believe that the yellow school bus takes children down the road to constructive, positive sense of society?” (Moore, p50).  If my kids seem strange to you, maybe it is not so much that they are weird as it is that they are just different because they will not base their worth on whether or not you like them.

I am not worried about whether my kids will get the kind of socialization they would get in public schools because I don’t intend to give them mere self-esteem, which comes from peer approval, and too much praise.  I intend to teach my children to gain self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-control, self-respect, self-worth, self-sufficiency, and a healthy self-concept.  This will come through exposure to true society, work, service, culture, classes, real life situations, sports, art, and music from a wholesome and eternal perspective.  Family is the foundation for these characteristics.  “There is absolutely no evidence to support the prevailing assumption by parents and educators that the average school is more of a positive socializing agency than a good home…And there is powerful evidence that we are schooling our youngsters today to be young narcissists” (Moore, p50).  I am homeschooling my children because I want our family to mean something.  I want our family to matter to them.  That bond that we create will give them the resilience they need to reach their full potential.

“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

And more:

“The home … is the workshop where human characters are built and the manner in which they are formed depends upon the relationship existing between parents and the children. The home cannot be what it should be unless these relationships are of the proper character. Whether they are so or not depends, it is true, upon both parents and children, but much more upon parents. They must do their best.
“If I had to suggest one thing which I think we as parents are most lacking, it would be a sympathetic understanding of our children. Live with the children; follow their paths. … Know everything that claims the interest of the children, be a good sport with them.
“We have been trying to impress upon parents the need of paying more attention to their children, having a little more of the spirit of the gospel in their homes, a little more unity and a little more faith; a little more responsibility religiously, spiritually on the part of the fathers; also, of the mothers; more of the teaching of the gospel in the home.
“To parents in the Church we say: Love each other with all your hearts. Keep the moral law and live the gospel. Bring up your children in light and truth; teach them the saving truths of the gospel; and make your home a heaven on earth, a place where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell and where righteousness may be enthroned in the heart of each member” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith,Chapter 4: Strengthening and Preserving the Family).

There is a lot of pressure to just give in and let my kids go to public school.  There is a misguided assumption that parents are not capable of teaching their own children.  My first stand to resist peer pressure will be to not buckle under the pressure, but to remain firm in my belief that I am doing what I believe is best for my family.  Socialization will come naturally.  Learning will happen too.  Rarely do you hear people ask, “What about their education?”  There are innumerable resources for kids who want to learn, and parents who support them.  The most important resource I can offer my children right now is love.

(Moore, Dr. Raymond & Dorothy, “The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook”)
Image courtesy of lds.org

Monday Motherhood: Homeschool – A Beginning

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I don’t claim to have any answers about homeschooling or parenting.  I just know that if I don’t start somewhere, then I’ll never get anywhere.  That is what I have learned about grace.  You do what you can with what you have without expecting perfection, and then you keep modifying the results until you get to where you want to be.  Maybe we will never “arrive” at where we want to be, but we will never even come close if we never begin.

If there is anything I have learned from studying about the different homeschool methods, it is how to be a better mother.  If I never hold a single day of “homeschool” in my life, I will at least have learned how to be a better mom to my kids, to manage our time better, to be more patient with them, and to respond more tenderly to their needs and their questions.  They are a real treasure that I hope to cherish whatever we end up doing with their education.

I have been enjoying reading about the “Moore Method” in “The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook” by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.  Very encouraging.  I also gleaned insight from the LDS-NHA (http://www.lds-nha.org/homeschooling-philosophies/) to determine what kind of homeschool I want to run here.  I am trying to skim through books about the Montessori Method, and the Thomas Jefferson Education, and other books recommended for understanding the different methods.

On one hand, I really appreciate the Classical approach because I am convinced that making standard works a part of our education and character really is an eternal principle.  The Lord said in Doctrine and Covenants 88: 118 “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”  The first thing God did when restoring His church was instruct Joseph Smith to translate The Book of Mormon.  And, within that book, the first thing the Lord needed Lehi to do was retrieve the Brass Plates so that the Nephites would not “[suffer] in ignorance” (Mosiah 1:3).  So, to that extent, I know it is important that my children read the standard works of our church and our nation, at the very least.

I guess that puts me in the “eclectic” category because, while I like classical education, I don’t want it to be the only thing we do.  I am leaning more toward the “Unit studies” method because I really like the idea of exploring topics thoroughly, understanding the whys and the hows, and exploring other subjects within that topic.  The Moores explain this method pretty well.  It pretty-much encapsulates what it is to be a teaching parent at all times.  It promotes natural teaching as part of the process of raising a child, and I love that.  But unlike “Unschooling” I like the idea of directing the conversation while fueling their desire to learn.

I also love the Moore Method’s idea of promoting “study, work, and service” (http://www.moorehomeschooling.com/article/68/about-moore-home-schooling/moore-formula).  I believe those are all crucial to raising balanced leaders.

I was excited when I read the schedule the Moores suggested in their book because it was almost the exact same schedule I was already trying to establish in my home!  In my mind, if I can establish this foundation, everything else will fall into place.  Remember, it may not be what works for you, and it might not always be what works for me, but it is what I have to work with at this time in the process of my learning.

6:00 am Mommy shower and study the scriptures
7:00 am Breakfast, and chores*
9:00 am “School”, beginning with morning devotional (which for my tiny kids, means play together, some phonics and basic math, music time, and motor activities)
12:00 pm lunch and quiet time
2:00 pm exercise, errands, service, projects, work, cook/prepare meals (this leaves room for extra chores, visiting friends, field trips, serving our neighborhood, and generating other ideas).
5:30 pm dinner, and family time
7:00 pm Kids’ baths, bedtime routine, and night devotional
7:30 pm Kids in bed.  Mommy finish up chores
8:00 pm Mommy free time, read, play, exercise, etc.
10:00 pm Mommy bedtime

Here is how I maintain my home: the kids and I always work together.  The rule is that if someone is still working, then everyone is still working because we’re a family and we work together.

*Morning chores: Empty the dishwasher, pick up main level, sweep/vacuum, switch laundry, do weekly chore.**

Throughout the day: put dishes into the dishwasher, pick up toys.

**Weekly chores:
Monday – collect garbage and recycling
Tuesday – Clean up bedrooms
Wednesday – Bathrooms
Thursday – Collect garbage
Friday – Catch up on laundry
Saturday – Landscaping

Evening: Clean up kitchen, switch the laundry, fold.  When you do this stuff every day, it starts to become a quick 15 minute fix (See http://www.flylady.net/d/br/2012/05/11/15-minutes-worth-of-messy/).

This varies a lot.  Maybe if life were perfect we would always keep this schedule, but it is ideal. I don’t beat myself up if it doesn’t work one day.  I just try again the next!  The point is to find what works for you and give it a try!

My goal at this point is to just keep this schedule, which includes being WITH my kids for that three hour “school” time block in the morning.  Like I said, if there is anything I learn from all of this, it is just how to be a better mom because I cannot recall any time in my kids’ lives that I have actually sat down and played with them for even that long.  While I was pregnant, I was too tired and awkward to get down and play with them.  I realized how much I relied on TV to get me through the day, or how often I would leave them to play and dink around on the computer/smart phone!  Now we watch very little TV.  It rarely even factors into our schedule except when the kids are up before I shower.

Anyway, this is a work in progress.  I think it will become easier as time goes by.  My daughter is really catching on to it and will occasionally tell ME what is next on the schedule.  She is pretty awesome.

Wednesday Wellness: Body Image and the “In Between” Stage

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“It looks like dough,” my sweet daughter observed about my belly fat while we snuggled in my bed this morning.  I don’t blame her.  It really does look like dough, especially when I’m kneading it in my hands like dough.  It isn’t the first time a child has paid me such a compliment.  I was once enlightened by my then six year old niece who looked up at me and said from her vantage point while pointing up at my chest in a figure eight motion, “aunt Jodi, you have big breasts.”  I’m sure it was easy to confuse them with mountains from her perspective (thank you, Shakira for that image.).

I was contemplating the weeks of training it will take to lose my dough belly, not really ready to dive in head first.  I feel like it is taking me longer to heal from this pregnancy, and exercising has left me a lot more sore than I remember getting after a workout.  It wouldn’t be so bad if my clothes actually fit, but buying a wardrobe for this stage would be like accepting it.

I have never been thin.  I probably will never be thin.  I honestly didn’t even know what it meant to exercise until I was almost 25.  Not even when I watched myself pack on fifty pounds on my mission.  I thought dieting would be the solution.  I know now that dieting is only half the solution, and 90% the problem if you’re not doing it right.  I have lost faith in diets, especially after studying their effects on self-efficacy and body image, never mind that they don’t work.  Never diet.  Ever.

This post is not about dieting.  It’s not even about exercising.  I plan to lose the weight, just like I did after my last pregnancy, with discipline and perseverance.  It feels good to sweat, and I can’t begin to describe the vigor of having a strong body, with energy and power to do things without straining myself!  That is why I do it.  I know I will never be thin, but being in shape just feels so right.

My body is a temple.  That is what we ought to know.  That is why we should fight for our health and cleanliness!  My body is a temple.  So why do I tell myself how much I hate it?  Why?

Even with all its flaws, my body is a temple.  It is perfect.  I am blessed to have this body with working limbs to lift by children, eyes that see (even if not perfectly), ears that hear (even after years of playing the drums and going to rock concerts), a nose that smells, and a mouth that tastes and chews amazing food (so excited about Thanksgiving tomorrow).

In this past General Conference, October 2013, Elder Nelson gave a stellar talk about how our choices shape our eternity.  He said this:

“My professional years as a medical doctor gave me a profound respect for the human body. Created by God as a gift to you, it is absolutely amazing! Think of your eyes that see, ears that hear, and fingers that feel all the wondrous things around you. Your brain lets you learn, think, and reason. Your heart pumps tirelessly day and night, almost without your awareness.

“Your body protects itself. Pain comes as a warning that something is wrong and needs attention. Infectious illnesses strike from time to time, and when they do, antibodies are formed that increase your resistance to subsequent infection.

“Your body repairs itself. Cuts and bruises heal. Broken bones can become strong once again. I have cited but a tiny sample of the many amazing God-given qualities of your body” (Decisions for Eternity).

I am determined never to hint to my children that I have poor body image.  I want them to never associate their value, their worthiness, their purpose for love, with their appearance.  When I compliment them on their appearance, I tell them they look clean and smart, or strong and healthy!  I want them to value those traits above any message the world may send about how they should look.  They are perfect!  They have a blank slate.  I will never tell them they have to earn my love (period) by how they look.  Not directly, nor indirectly by how I treat them, how I treat myself, what I say about food, or other people who are overweight.  I tell them treats, and even fast food, are “fun foods” to eat in moderation, and that too much candy will rot their teeth and feed the germs that make them sick.  I try to teach them that nutritious foods help make their bodies healthy and strong, but so do exercise and sleep! I am constantly hugging them and telling them I love them, and I’m trying to hold my tongue when I get impatient with them.

I ought to do the same for myself.

Elder Nelson continues:

“With your body being such a vital part of God’s eternal plan, it is little wonder that the Apostle Paul described it as a “temple of God.” Each time you look in the mirror, see your body as your temple. That truth—refreshed gratefully each day—can positively influence your decisions about how you will care for your body and how you will use it. And those decisions will determine your destiny. How could this be? Because your body is the temple for your spirit. And how you use your body affects your spirit. Some of the decisions that will determine your eternal destiny include:

•    How will you choose to care for and use your body?

•    What spiritual attributes will you choose to develop?”

With our bodies being so crucial to God’s eternal plan, it is also little wonder that the adversary wants so badly to diminish its value!  Don’t listen to that voice.  The Spirit of the Lord will never tell you you are ugly or fat, though He may entice you to want to change in positive ways.  The Spirit will never belittle you for how you look, or make you feel insecure because you had an encounter with someone who made you feel self-conscious about your appearance (p.s. no one can make you feel anything).  Allow the Spirit to guide how you should feel about yourself, your talents and skills, and all that you contribute because of who you are.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself.

Monday Memoir: “The Breath of Life, Even Eternal Life”

In the beginning, I was forced down from the top of a very high mountain.  A man at the bottom convinced me I needed to go back up the mountain, that it was crucial to my well-being.  I started back.  I crossed over a bridge that would lead to my mountain.  In my mind’s eye, I could see the man watching over the progress of my journey from elevated ground.  I found the trail that led up the mountain and made my way up about half way.  There I met someone who tried to talk me out of going further up the mountain and wanted to convince me that he had the prize right there in his hand.  It was a giant, delicious muffin (I had been working for Sam’s Club previous to this time).  I thought he was right.  What an amazing prize.  Then, the man appeared and showed me the true value of this imaginary prize.  In his hand, it looked tiny and bland, and I realized that this was only a counterfeit and nowhere near the glory of the real prize.  I continued up the trail and then had to climb a rope ladder.  Only, the ladder was like a tunnel, and it was lined with giant books that I had to climb over.  It was challenging and it took a lot of work getting through.  Once I was finally through, I had reached the top of the mountain.  There I observed the Savior’s tomb.  I went inside.  On the stone bed where He would have laid were photographs of the Man, but he was not there.  While I combed through the pictures, I knew why He was not there.  I began to weep at the realization of what He had done for me.  Then I was beckoned out of the tomb by a woman who I knew for her Christlike characteristics that I admired.  She shined, she was fun and faithful, and kind.  She was what I thought I wanted to be, and I knew she had served her mission in Hawaii.  She led me out onto a tier in the back of a large church.  The lower level was full of people wearing colorful clothes.  When we walked out, the whole congregation turned and looked back at us as we each testified of what we had witnessed in the tomb.

When I woke from this dream, I knew instantly that I had had a vision.  I knew that through my life’s challenges I would gain the character and the testimony of Christ that would prepare me to serve a mission, and allow me to grow in the light of Christ throughout my life.

Then, I got my mission call – to Hawaii.  I knew that was where the Lord needed me to be.  As soon as I walked off the plane and could feel the humidity (a stark contrast from the dry air in Provo), saw the palm trees and the beautiful sky, I knew I was going to love my mission.  I wanted to be a good missionary with all my heart.  I knew my goal was to learn to know my Savior and have a personal relationship with Him as my Brother and my Redeemer by serving the people of Hawaii.

I arrived after dark on Christmas Eve and drove up Temple View Drive while the temple was lit in all its beauty.  I knew I was going to love my mission.

I really did love my mission.  I loved the sisters and senior couples, the people, and that beautiful place.  I have many fond memories, met amazing people, and watched people grow in the gospel and be baptized.  I loved my daily study, and testifying of the gospel to anyone who would listen as I gave tours at the Visitors’ Center.  I even met someone when I returned home whose journey to finding the gospel began on a tour I conducted from the Polynesian Cultural Center!  I look back on my mission with great fondness and many great memories.

That being said, I want you to know that my mission was also the most challenging experience of my life.  As I am now coming out of some years of depression, I am able to come to terms with the reality that I suffered from depression on my mission, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.  My anxiety was overwhelming!  I was constantly bombarded with negative, doubtful thoughts about myself, my worth and my abilities. I was crushed by these feelings, and beat myself up most days with the fear of all my failure.  I was inauthenic, self-conscious, awkward.

Nevertheless, I worked hard.  My mission has been the only time in my life I have been able to wake up on time, early in the morning, consistently, with hardly an alarm (I am not a morning person).  I pushed myself to do things that were intensely challenging for me, especially when coupled with my severe self-doubt.  There were many, many times when I was able to overcome my fears and even did it cheerfully, and gained wonderful, memorable experiences!

Still, when my mission was drawing to a close I was overcome with angst that I was not the missionary I could have been, and I longed to return to the beginning and start it all over again.  I still wish I could go back knowing all that I know now.

However, my mission president gave me a blessing before my departure that I knew was inspired.  He told me that my mission literally saved my life.  Whether that was in a temporal or a spiritual sense is all the same.  I knew that by serving my mission I had served the Lord with all my “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), and I did all I could with what I had at that time, in spite of all my weaknesses.  And because of that service, I would be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven because of how my service had, and would influence my  choices throughout my life.

The moment I arrived home and was released, the dark spirit that plagued me on my mission was gone.  My confidence soared.  I was immediately called to serve as the temple committee co-chair in my singles ward, teaching temple prep classes, and becoming an ordinance worker.  Soon, I was called to serve as a chair on the “transition committee” serving new-comers to our ward and making sure they were not lost in the mix.  With confidence, I was sincerely extroverted and was even described as having an “electric personality.”  I loved my life.  I escorted my dear friend through the temple for her own endowment – the one who went on my tour of the Hawaii visitors’ center!  I went to school.  I worked in the temple.  I went on dates, determined to learn whether the guys in my ward were marriage material (because I couldn’t honestly say so without getting to know it for myself – see Elder Oaks’ talk summarized in the Ensign, June 2006, Dating Vs. Hanging Out).  Each of the guys I went on dates with had incredible talents: writers, musicians, dancers, even a mathematician.  But soon, my husband returned from his mission and we started dating before he had been home one month.  The Lord knew we were meant to be, and he is better for me than anyone I would have chosen for myself.  Everything that has happened since my mission has been incredibly rewarding!  The decisions I have made have been inspired, and influenced by my experiences there.

Now as I reflect on my mission, and I see all the good that came out of it – my dear friends whom I served with, memories of teaching amazing people that I grew to love, my personal gospel study, that obedience brings blessings, all the things I learned about the church organization and all that the church does to strengthen families, and yes, even the challenges I faced – have indeed been the source of my salvation.  I have learned more about grace, repentance and forgiveness, and countless principles of the gospel than I could have ever learned by not serving.  I learned deep lessons of obedience, charity, sacrifice, work, service, and priesthood.  This is why I urge anyone (who is able) to serve a mission.  And my advice for anyone who serves is the same as the advice President Hinckley received from his father when he despaired on his mission: “forget yourself and go to work” (Ensign, May 1995, Sweet Is the Work: Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church).  The Lord needs whatever it is you have to offer.  Your unique qualities will touch lives.  Let your light shine in whatever capacity you have, and just love the people you are with.

“Aloha” in Hawaiian means hello, and goodbye, but it also means love.  My mission gave me another new perspective of that beautiful word.  We had a mission motto that went something like this:

 We are called to serve in the Hawaii, Honolulu mission, the “Aloha” mission.  The atonement of Jesus Christ is our message, love of God and others is our motivation, and obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength.  By sharing the gospel with others, we give them the “ha” – the breath of life, even eternal life.  Aloha!!

My journey to the top of this mountain may be over, but I see many peaks in my future I have yet to conquer.  But from now on, I am armed with a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement, and all of the appendages of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have been given the gift of “alo-ha”.

If you are preparing to serve a mission, my suggestion is that you make the temple your goal.  Go to the temple often, and do the things that will keep you worthy of that goal.  Don’t give in to the counterfeits that may try to keep you from reaching that mountain summit.  Study the gospel.  Know the scriptures in and out if you can.  Serve whenever you can in any capacity.  And, learn life skills like cooking and cleaning, money management, and proper diet so you aren’t distracted by those things while you serve.  Learn the true meaning of charity, faith, and obedience.  Then, be authentic, and lose yourself in the work (Mark 8:35).

Here are just a few of the special moments on my mission:

MTCVC muu muusBanyon TreeAll Hawaii Sisters ConferenceHukilau CafeHawaii, Tonga, Tahiti PCCVC SistersJessica baptismPCC TramDebra baptismMaui baptismDavid baptismLast day

Sunday Simplicity: Social Media and the First Commandment

I hope you can all forgive me for this post. I don’t want to sound self-righteous by any means. I am interested in your feedback on this topic, and I’d like to know how you view this topic that I have been interested in lately.

Even if you haven’t been following my blog posts, you might notice by looking at the dates of my posts that I haven’t been writing very faithfully. It has a little to do with the loss of interest, but it has more to do with finding myself becoming preoccupied with my posts, and whether I was attracting followers, etc. I realize that writing a blog, and social media have many purposes which include staying in touch with friends and relatives, and even developing talents such as writing. Yet, I think we have all probably noticed another trend around social media that is not subtle at all. Social media is very addictive. I just did a quick google search about it, and it was full of articles from Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, even scholarly articles about social media addiction! So, it is for real.

Can we all agree that an unhealthy obsession with social media leads to narcissism and vanity? We all appreciate getting “likes” and comments, followers, and “friends,” etc. It can become very addictive and consuming. So my question is, at what point does it become too much where it replaces our devotion to our Heavenly Father? Don’t we all agree that it feels good when we are validated for our posts? When does it get to the point that it is replacing or taking priority over our daily communion with the Lord? Who or what is our idol in this situation? Is it social media, or is it ourselves? The first commandment we are given is “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30). Might we be breaking this first commandment if we are using social media excessively? And by excessively, I mean, have I devoted as much time in study and prayer and service as I have online…?

Our addiction is so contradicting. We use it to feed our vanity and puff ourselves up, and yet we sit here at our computers and beat ourselves up for not being Pin-terest-ically perfect! We compare ourselves with the “Joneses”, or become preoccupied when we don’t get enough “likes” or comments, meanwhile our sense of self-worth and divinity is being squandered while we give this worldly standard of “perfection” too much weight. We look to social media to be our social outlet, seeking validation for our behaviors and thoughts, searching for some approval.

I am not suggesting a social media fast. There is a lot of good that comes from social media as I said before, not the least of which is missionary work and the work of connecting with our families and loved ones. Every good thing has an evil counterpart/counterfeit. So, how do we find balance?

The goal of this existence is to put off the natural man, and “[yield] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19).

I’ll close this post with a quote from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from his amazing talk called “Things as They Really Are” given back in 2010:

“I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls…I plead with you to beware of the sense-dulling and spiritually destructive influence of cyberspace technologies that are used to produce high fidelity and that promote degrading and evil purposes…Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.”