I recently took a two-week leave of absence from the real world and drove down to St. George to stay with my parents while my husband was in Tokyo and Beijing finishing his international field of study.
I was terrified to stay by myself for so long. I hate being alone. The days seem so much longer when it’s just me and the boys, so I decided to have someone help take care of my kids — and me — while Daddy was away.
And who better than Grandma and Grandpa?
The first week, my older sister and her four kids came down, and it was a blast. The cousins played every day. We all went out to eat, on hikes, to the pool, shopping — it was such a needed escape. I was grateful for the distraction of family and fun in the sun.
The second week was a bit different. It was still wonderful and peaceful, but I could tell my kids were starting to get a little rowdy and antsy to be back in their own beds with their own toys (and be able to jump on the couches without getting a scolding from Grandpa). But it seems the more one of us would say, “Boston, don’t do that,” or “Beckham, I asked you to come here!” the more they would ignore us. I wanted to show my parents how good of a job I was doing at parenting, how well-behaved and well-mannered my boys were. Instead, they were throwing pillows at each other and giving me spankings.
Late one night as I lay in our little room with my three snoring sons, I remembered the book we were supposed to be reading for this month’s book club, “10 Habits of Happy Mothers” by Meg Meeker. I had read her “Boys Should Be Boys” book and loved it, so I was eager to dive in.
The very first chapter had me hooked. This wasn’t some same-old “how to be a better mother” book, filled with ideas and activities and things I should be doing or trying to be better at. Rather, it was a positive, encouraging message of you can do this, you were BORN to do this, and here’s HOW you can do it and be HAPPY.
As I read, one sentence in particular jumped out at me: “Every mother is born to fill a higher calling. Every mother is gifted uniquely and she is to use those gifts to make her world better. A mother uses those gifts in parenting.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about how and if I’m using my talents appropriately. Should I be doing more? Less? How can I be “Carmen” and “Mom” at the same time? Am I the same person?
“We are beings — mother beings," Meeker writes. "We are human beings but we focus so constantly on the doing of life that we forget how to be. Our deeper purpose in life flows from a sense that our presence is important to another person.”
I always thought that those gifts were for the “world” and that when I started having kids, I would have to give those gifts up. But when I think that I was given my gifts and talents to use in my own home, with my own children, it takes off so much pressure to try and “be” someone. I can just be me, for the people I love and who love me.
Meeker goes on to say how much we mean to our children. Our attitude, moods, thoughts, feelings, words — our very character is being watched, imitated, absorbed and analyzed by our children. They become who they watch us be.
A few nights into our stay, we sat out on the lawn to eat cold cereal and watch the bats come out, a favorite bedtime ritual in St. George. I was trying to have the boys finish eating before running off and playing, but they couldn’t sit still. Up and down they went, off the blanket, on the blanket, around the corner, back again, until finally I said, “Boys! Please finish eating before you play!”
But, of course, they were too excited to listen and took off again. So I got up, marched around the corner and found them in the backyard running around and laughing. I grabbed both of their arms and pulled them close to me. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Why won’t you listen to me? Why? Why won’t you obey?” They both sat there staring at me in silence until my 5-year-old looked up at me and quietly said, “We just wanted to catch the bugs.”
I took a deep breath. Then I gave him a hug. That small little moment taught me a great deal about my son. He wasn’t trying to be naughty or to disobey, although he probably could work on listening. He just saw some bugs flying around and thought it would be fun to try and catch some — the end. His innocent, simple thinking was a reminder to me of how I needed to relax. I’m busy hurrying them along, trying to get from one activity to the next while they’re busy simply enjoying life. Climbing rocks. Talking to their bears. Playing cars. Catching bugs.
Meeker’s book has been such a positive, reassuring read, a humbling reminder of how important I am as a mother to my children.
“If you are upset with your son, he wants to make up (he may not show it, but he does) because you are the center of his small world," she writes. "He needs you to like him again. You. No one else. Because once you are happy with him, he can go about his business and life will feel good again. That is the power that you have, and that power comes from the fact that in this one child’s life — your child’s life — who you are matters as much as life itself. You are loved.”
When I think of myself the way my children think of me, my confidence and self-worth skyrocket. It suddenly doesn’t matter who else hears me sing or watches me perform or listens to me speak. They — my children — matter. They need me.
And oh, how I need them!
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.