1 of 3
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Carmen Herbert felt inspired to pair up her older boys with their younger siblings as "brother buddies." Here, they are reading together.

My heart has been hurting.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a conscious effort to redouble my efforts as a mother, setting personal goals such a waking up before my kids, spending one-on-one time with each of them during the day, providing more opportunities to feel the Spirit by creating fun and memorable family home evenings and continuing our nightly family scripture reading and prayer.

I came across a beautiful book about becoming closer to Jesus Christ daily that focuses on one trait a day to draw nearer to my Savior. I have been incorporating those suggestions into my morning routine. I have been attending the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all my church meetings, getting my visiting teaching done and generally following all the guidelines for a happy life and home.

I’ve even been sticking to my goal of daily exercise and healthy eating so I can have a clear mind and strong body to keep four boys with a death wish alive every day. (And these four boys are regularly climbing up pantry shelves, running out in the road chasing runaway balls, getting unbuckled in the car and playing musical car seats, etc.)

But I have felt that all my efforts still haven’t been enough to dispel the cloud of sadness January inevitably brings. And I’ve been confused and frustrated.

A quote has been recurring in my mind, one from "The Inconvenient Messiah" by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that says, “If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people that ever lived.”

Before the month began, I anticipated these feelings since they generally come along about this time of year, and I printed out a PDF from LDS singer/songwriter Hilary Weeks’ website titled “Joy in January,” where she suggests one thing to do each day to bring joy into your life. I also purchased a clicker to count my happy thoughts. The idea is to click whenever a happy thought comes into your mind, thus keeping your spirits up by focusing on the positive.

Well, something must be seriously wrong with me, because instead of feeling happy every time I clicked, I felt bugged. And silly. And frustrated that I couldn’t think of more happy things at the end of the day when my clicker read 37 compared with Hilary’s 300-plus.

So instead, I decided to try something new. I decided I was going to click every time I felt the Spirit was speaking to me. I clicked when I thought I should put down my phone and play dragons with my 2-year-old son. I clicked when I had a thought to visit a friend and bring her a meal. I clicked when I felt a calming feeling come over me when one of my kids pushed my buttons instead of freaking out and yelling.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Hilary Weeks' idea for using a clicker to count happy thoughts evolved into using the device to count times when Carmen Herbert felt the Spirit was speaking to her.

Later that morning I looked at my clicker. It displayed the number 17. Seventeen times I felt the Holy Ghost speaking to me. A feeling of gratitude came into my heart. I felt that, despite feeling lonely and sad and a little lost as to my purpose in life right now, that I wasn’t alone. My Heavenly Father was in the tiny details of my life, gently guiding me through the power of the Spirit, if I chose to listen and then act.

Later, I was doing the dishes after praying to know how to help my boys get along better. My older two have a serious habit of leaving out the younger two, resulting in hurt feelings and lots of fighting. A thought came to mind about service. How can I get them to serve one another?

Brother buddies.

The thought came with such clarity I ran into my room and began to write down the inspiration as it came: Give the older boys a little buddy to take care of during the day. The older buddies will help the younger ones with snacks and reading; they’ll play with them, help brush their teeth and say prayers with them at night.

The older brother buddy will be “in charge” of them for a day. The older ones will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride for taking care of their little brothers, and the little ones will get special, individual attention from their older brothers.

I was so excited to introduce the idea at dinner but also worried it might not go over very well. What if the older ones rolled their eyes and complained about having a little tag-along all day? But the thought made such an impression on me that I knew it was an answer to prayer and I needed to trust the idea.

And, oh, has it changed our family dynamic!

The idea was a huge success. The two little teams call each other “buddy” all day long. My older boys have helped their little brothers, played with them, prayed with them and even slept with them at night!

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Carmen Herbert felt inspired to pair up her older boys with their younger siblings as "brother buddies." Here, they are saying prayers.

I overheard my 2-year-old call out to his older brother Boston, his buddy for the day, “Hey, buddy! Can you help me go potty?” I laughed to myself, expecting him to say, “Um, no, go ask Mom!” Instead, he said, “Yeah! I can help you do anything you want!” I kept texting my husband pictures of the buddies at work during the day, amazed that for the first time in a long time they were all getting along.

These little glimmers of sunshine have helped keep hope alive in my heart when the gloominess starts to take over again.

1 comment on this story

Of course, we’ve had setbacks. Just recently we made a horrible first impression on a new piano teacher as we walked in with one kid crying, one kid making himself at home opening closets and getting out toys, one kid running all over the house and only one patiently sitting on the piano bench being obedient and calm (bless those firstborns) as the younger brothers tried to get the older two to come destroy this stranger’s house with them instead of have a boring music lesson. I walked out in tears wondering again what else I could do.

Yes, it seems the harder I try, the harder it gets. There has to be a lesson in there somewhere. I must be learning something during these long, hard days that test my endurance. Because my clicker is telling me the Spirit is still there, helping me along, one quiet thought at a time.