What if I walked out to my back yard in February, and planted a kernel of corn? Then, the same afternoon, went to check on it, and the kernel had not turned into corn on the cob yet? Would I be disappointed? Certainly not. Each time I passed by the little spot where I planted the piece of grain, I would become excited and look forward to each stage of development in the life of the corn plant.
Why then, as parents, do we come home with a kernel of wisdom and expect the full fruit to happen that very day? The answer is simple enough. We care a lot, we have invested a lot, and we are often desperate for a change. We have all felt this desperation in one form or another. This desperation comes from our circumstances and from our love.
When You Want Freedom, You Get Change.
My main goals as a parenting teacher are to help people become free from that desperation, to feel the freedom which comes from understanding good communication, and possessing certain skills to make all of it possible. This learning process is different for everyone. Some people are closer to the goal they are shooting for than other people might be. Some people have suffered some traumatic experiences which others couldn’t even imagine, so their learning curve is different. Taking all of this into account, I try, with all my energy, to help families implement good principles which will lead to each family member learning self-government.
What I am about to say will be contrary to advertising, and even the very way we live. No program, even the Teaching Self-Government program, is going to fix all your problems the first day, the first week, or even the first month. It just won’t. The harder the behaviors you are working with, the longer it could take. I worked with some children for two weeks before they completely understood the principles of self-government. Others, I worked with for well over a year. Some youth need a few skills and a change in parenting tone and they are good to go. Others are so used to fighting against every new change that they will, out of habit, keep going back to fighting against you even if your tone is angelic and your structure is consistent. These children come around, it just takes more time. I have seen it happen. Trust me on this. I have lived for years with difficult foster youth and seen the many stages of transformation.
What Do You Do When You Are Discouraged?
Some of you are discouraged. You have children who have strayed from your teachings, and who cause your heart pain everyday. Please know that it is never too late to improve a relationship or heal wounds from the past. Keep working at it. Keep loving, talking, looking deeper, looking ahead, understanding, speaking deliberately, praising, describing what went wrong and what could have gone better, and focusing on putting yourself in a calm place when life turns upside down. Keep at it. Keep at it.
Doing nothing will not work. Going backward will also not work. We must keep going toward our vision. Now, I know sometimes the chances of getting to our vision seem remote, but if you don’t keep looking forward with hope and determination, you won’t even get close to your vision.
Parenting is not a spectator sport. When we get off the sidelines and practice what we want for our families daily, we slowly get closer to our ideal. When things are going wrong, don’t just watch and worry. Start describing, understanding, and putting your heart in the right place to problem solve with love.
The best way I know of getting off the sidelines and from watching the team fail, is to make the Teachings Self-Government principles part of “normal” life. Talk about them often. Put up signs to remind yourself to focus. Teach yourself what to say, and practice when it isn’t crunch-time, so that you are prepared when chaos hits.
I practiced the statements, “Just now you…….” and, “What you should have done was…..” so many times the first year I started doing foster care, that I lost count. My husband and I would practice each night before bed. It felt funny at first, but soon was just another thing we did to find strength; like reading scriptures, or practicing an instrument.
Other statements I have memorized to keep myself calm are:
“It seems to me that you might be out of instructional control.”
“I can tell you want to tell me something. I would love to hear what you have to say. But, you need to choose to be calm before we can talk.”
Also, I needed to memorize and practice saying the “Rule of Three,” which is my system for handling out of control behaviors, over and over again, so that I was prepared for the hardest parenting moments.
I receive so many emails telling me how grateful people are for the Teaching Self-Government principles and skills. It is so fun to hear of initial success stories and total transformations.
Almost as soon as people start having effective meetings and learning the four basic skills, they find some success. This is the sign of a good seed. The Self-Government seed has been planted and is beginning to germinate and grow in the hearts of the family, but it hasn’t taken root yet.
For a seed to take root, you need to nourish it and always be aware that it is there. Keep weeds out of the family, which are things that distract the family from their vision. I discuss these things in detail in chapter 3 of Parenting A House United. Visions are essential for a family to reach a goal together. You must see where you are going together. Then you have a reason to care about problem solving at home in the first place.
Give the seed light and nutrients, which are truth, praise, and skills. Make sure the ground is good. This means to have a firm structure in the home which supports the growing seed and keeps it from danger.
After you recognize the seed as good and nourish it, it will take root. After it takes root, you tend it and train it up properly. Point it toward the light, which is goodness and wholesomeness.
Training up a seed takes patience, and consistency. Once you put the seed in the ground, you would never run back to the yard an pluck it up because it wasn’t growing fast enough. You would wait it out and nourish it. You would check the soil for stones and weeds. You would check the temperature of the growing conditions. This temperature is like the climate, or tone, of your home. To sum up, you would keep nurturing, and wait for the natural change which is bound to happen as you subscribe to good, true principles. You would trust the process.
We must do the same with parenting. Once we start working on the environment for our family happiness, we cannot become impatient. We need to consistently nourish the family and have trust, or patience, that the process will help teach what it is supposed to. Accept that the learning will take time and will be hard sometimes.
Be confident in your good principles and practice using the new skills.
People want quick fixes. Parenting isn’t a sprint toward a quick fix. It is a journey paved with learning, self-government, and deliberate love and action. There could still be more to learn about self-government and parenting. We are working on making all of that ready for people to have. Our ten step implementation program is almost done. But, even with more understanding a person still needs to remember to trust in the process and be free from anxiety to make things work.
I talk to so many families who say, “I have read the book three times and am almost ready to start doing it. I just want to make sure I have it down perfectly before I teach it to my family.”
To this I say, “You will learn self-government as you teach it. You will mess up sometimes, but you will know when you mess up. That is the first step to change. You don’t need to be perfect at first, you just need to be honest with your family about what you are doing and allow yourself to have re-dos when things don’t go just right.”
It is true that some families start the Teaching Self-Government program and find almost instant success. This can and does happen, but cannot be expected. Each parent needs to overcome different obstacles; and so does each child. Some parent or child behaviors may be very deeply rooted and will take time to overcome.
My Advice For Success
One piece of advice I have for families on the fast track, and the step by step track, is keep a record. Write down what your family is trying to work on that week. Post it on the fridge. Then put a tally mark next to the skill, each time someone does that thing right. Possibly even have a reward for good progress towards the goal. Each day mark your progress, and then each week talk about what you saw and how your family did. A deliberate record will keep the family focused and show your progress. It will make everyone feel good even though you haven’t reached the ideal family vision yet. It only takes one piece of paper and some observation to make a mood switch in your home and in your heart. That one piece of paper can help you as you wait for the seed to grow and bear fruit.
Nicholeen’s Book Parenting A House United
Some of the ideas in this article were adapted from the April 2009 General Conference talk given by Dieter F. Uchdorf called, The Way of the Disciple.