Monday, October 19, 2015

How could you possibly understand what it's like to be a parent or a primary leader?

This is a tough one, guys. And unfortunately, in some ways, it keeps getting tougher. But there are a few things I’ve realized that have helped me come to terms with my situation, my callings, and Heavenly Father’s plan for me.

When I first started writing Tiny Talks, I was twenty-four years old, and I felt like a total fraud. I didn’t have any children. I wasn’t married. The closest I’d come to a primary calling was being the nursery leader one summer when I was home from college. Other than that, I hadn’t been in a family ward in years. That meant all of my experiences were coming from my personal memories of actually being in primary and growing up as the oldest of seven kids.

Who was I to tell parents what to do when I wasn’t a parent myself? Who was I to give advice to primary leaders when I’d never been one? All I could really do was write, and back then I wasn’t even sure I could do that. (Sometimes I’m still not sure, honestly.)

Well, in the six years since that time, the essentials have not changed. I am still single, still haven’t spent much time in a family ward, still not a parent. And the only additional primary calling I’ve had is working  with the girls in activity days for less than a year. I hope that my writing has improved with practice, but as far as being a subject matter expert—I am not.

I did spend a couple of years working with young kids as a nanny. That helped my perspective, I think. But nannying doesn’t even come close to parenting. Nannies get the fun stuff: trips to the park, playtime, reading. Parents get stuff like college tuition, crying babies in the middle of the night, and grocery shopping. Frankly, it all sounds a bit terrifying.

Of course I still hope I’ll actually become a parent someday. And if not, I’ll have my niece and nephew and probably more nieces and nephews eventually. More than likely I’ll have kids I teach in primary whenever I wind up in a family ward again. That’s one of the great things about our church—you don’t have to be a parent to be involved with children on a regular basis.

But all of that doesn’t always quell the hypocritical feeling I get when I write something like, “You can make family night fun! It’s easy!” Because honestly, who am I to judge what is or isn’t easy? I’ve never been that sleep-deprived mom at the end of a long Monday whose kids have been acting completely crazy and for whom the thought of family night makes her want to throw things at the wall. I’ve never really been there, so who am I to say? I’ve never taught a primary class for longer than two Sundays in a row, and even then I was only substituting. I don’t know what it’s like to prepare a sharing time lesson or work with the same obstinate, off-the-wall, and somehow still endearing kids week after week after week.

The only things I really have to go on when I’m writing are my own limited experiences and the insane amount of respect I have for those who have been magnifying these callings, and I’m including parenting as a calling here, for years and years without really complaining. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy talk on Mother’s Day, I don’t know how you do it, but I love you for it. You are all amazing examples to me.

That’s what I mean about how it keeps getting tougher. As the years pass, so many more of my friends are called to be parents or they add another year of experience to their parenting or teaching resumes. Meanwhile, I’m over here in a singles ward having a blast and learning a ton but not really doing any of the things I talk about in my books.

On the other hand, I’ve also realized a few things—things that have made it easier for me to write without feeling like a fraud.

Over the years I’ve realized that I’ve been called to do things too. Heavenly Father has placed me in my specific situation for a reason. I don’t know why He hasn’t called me to be a parent yet. But I do know that there are things he wants me to do now, and one of those things is writing the books I write, even if I feel so inadequate for the all reasons I’ve been talking about and lots of other reasons as well.

Writing the Tiny Talks series; 1, 2, 3 with Nephi and Me!; and Time to Share has been a total privilege and blessing not just because of the opportunity to be published, but even more so because of what happens while I’m writing. I know that there are ideas and stories in these books that didn’t come from me. People talk about being inspired in their writing, and I know now what that means—in the truest sense of the words. My writing has taught me things I couldn’t have learned in any other way.

Another thing I’ve realized is what it means to believe that families are eternal.

It means that I believe my personal family is without ending AND without beginning (see Moses 6:67 and D&C 84:17). And if my family is without beginning, it means that it exists now in some form, as the potential for what could be. I’m not sure how it all works—and some of this is a little too sacred for me to share online—but I can say that I feel closer to my family when I’m in the temple, both the family members I already have and the ones I hope to have someday.

Since this realization I’ve tried with more (and sometimes less) success to be the kind of wife and mother now that I hope to really be one day. Even if these blessings never come to me in this life, I want to be ready to make the covenants I plan to make and take on all the responsibilities God will give me, according to His timing and His perfect plan for me.

This is a really important topic to me because I’m not the only one I know who hasn’t been called to be a parent yet. Some of the most patient, generous, intelligent, selfless people I know—the kind of people who would be amazing parents—are still waiting for that calling. And some of them will never be given that opportunity in this life.

Further, with the way our world is trending, I believe it will become more and more important for the increasing number of older single people like me to stand up for and defend marriage, parenthood, and family relationships. We can’t leave it all up to the people who have families. They’re pretty busy already, what with the whole raising-children thing. And just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t believe in those things. I will admit that it can be hard to be pro-family when you don’t have your own family yet, but I feel like this is another one of my personal callings. I want to do everything I can to support families. It’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed nannying and it’s one of the reasons I keep writing.

But regardless of all that, I don’t really believe that my single, childless life makes me any more or less of an integral part of this church than any other member of it. I might not have the personal experience to write about sharing time or Primary, but I know someone who does. He knows exactly what it’s like to be that exhausted mom at the end of a long Monday. He knows what it’s like to plan another sharing time lesson, knowing that the kids you’ll be teaching will be noisy and that their answers to your questions might be so off topic you’ll have to struggle not to laugh out loud in front of them. He knows how it is to worry about college tuition or a baby with a fever or a new driver or if what you’re doing is really making a difference. He knows about all of it because He’s been there.

In a way I will never understand, He’s been through all of those things.

As Sister Carole M. Stephens put it so beautifully last April, “You may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was ‘acquainted with grief’ who experienced all and understands all.”

I echo her thoughts, and while I still feel inadequate, I know that the source of those negative thoughts is the adversary. Satan is the one who tries to convince me not to write because he doesn’t want any of us to share our talents or to magnify our personal callings.

In contrast, as I do my best to come closer to the Savior, all He does is encourage me. He inspires me with the words I need to write. He will teach me what it’s like to experience the trials and blessings of parenthood, even if I have to wait my whole life for that calling. He will give me the empathy and charity I need to reach out and help those around me in ways that only I can. He will keep me feeling humble, even as He continues to give me more responsibilities, callings, and opportunities. And I know He’ll do the same for you, no matter what your circumstances may be.

In the meantime, please tell me if I get something wrong. I’m very aware that my readers are the experts when it comes to my books. I hope you’ll forgive me for any errors I make and that you’ll let me know if an idea I write about just wouldn’t work in reality. Since I’m not a parent or teacher yet, I sincerely need your help to write authentically about parenting and teaching.

Most of all I hope that no one will be offended or think I’m trying to label myself as an expert about anything, but especially about teaching kids the gospel. I’m not an expert. I’m just doing my best to fulfill my calling as a writer, even if I don’t understand why it’s been given to me.

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