Monday, February 22, 2010


The more I live my life as a mother of four children, the more I realize how clever kids really are these days. There have been plenty of occasions when I have thought I had gotten the best of one of my children, only to find he/she ended up getting the best of me instead. I try to remember being that clever when I was young, but I just don't think I was. Apparently, I need to take "clever lessons" from my kids. At least I'm developing a healthy sense of humor; in fact, I'm learning that few things are greater than laughing right out loud when my kids have out-smarted me. It makes for a great memory.

For example, a couple mornings ago I was perched at the kitchen table, my head dropped over the scriptures as I read while my children busily finished eating their breakfast and got their school bags ready to go. I kept inadvertently lifting my head and glancing around to ensure my children were still in the room and listening (There's been more than one occasion when I've gotten a little too caught up in reading and looked up only to realize my children had disappeared and I was reading to myself--not that I don't need all the scripture reading I can get, but reading to no one but myself seems to mute the point of "family scripture study"). More than once I found myself shushing them and reminding them to be quiet and listen while I read. It seemed pretty obvious they were getting nothing out of our reading that morning, and I was feeling a little bit irritated by their basic apathy and lack of focus.

Now, I admit reading scriptures is probably not at the top of my children's "fun" list, and I also acknowledge that some days, the reading is even more laborious and difficult to understand than others, but that aside, it was still something we committed to do and had been doing for a long time. I found myself thinking they should be more interested than they were (I mean, they could have at least pretended to be listening, couldn't they? ), especially since I made a sincere effort to make the words we read come alive for us by pausing to try to explain what was happening and by occasionally inserting my own thoughts and feelings on our subject matter.

I finally finished the section, which happened to end like this: "Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready. Even so. Amen." Then, thinking to make a point to the kids that they needed to be better listeners, I decided to quiz my eight-year-old son about what we had just read, sure he would have no answer, driving my point right home.

"What was your favorite part of what I just read?" I asked, as if I was naive enough to think he'd actually been listening. I flashed him my famous "I caught you again" grin, and waited for him to falter so I could begin my lecture, but just as I opened my mouth, he surprised me with a confident answer . . .

"The 'amen!'"

I burst into laughter at his all-too-clever response. "At least you're honest," I chuckled, realizing how true his answer had really been. I'm sure the "amen" probably was his favorite part since that meant the section was over!

I sent my kids out the door to school without the lecture, grateful my son had lightened the moment, even if his answer only proved he hadn't been listening to what I read (I'm pretty sure the only word he remembered from the reading was the last word I had said--"amen"). Laughing together was a much better way to end our morning than my harping would have been, and I found myself smiling and chuckling inside throughout the entire day whenever I thought of his quick answer.

So, although my kids will probably always find ways to get the best of me, I can at least honestly say . . . I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


My parents recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary. Calling to wish my dad a "Happy Anniversary," I said, "Thanks for staying married, Dad." It was a simple statement, but I meant it with a depth and sincerity he probably didn't realize.

Chuckling, he responded, "Well, you're welcome."

"Seriously," I said. "I know it wasn't always easy." Growing up as the middle of five children (who seemed to have a knack for finding trouble), I remember moments of realizing marriage and parenthood were roles that were probably not all that easy. I saw the stress and tension my parents faced at times, and I remember wondering if they ever thought about not staying together. In a world where divorce touches so many lives, I can't help but wonder how close it came to hitting my own home, and I can't help but feel extreme gratitude that my parents had a good marriage and it was never something I had to deal with.

It must be a natural thing for kids to think about because, right out of the blue last night, my son made a comment that blew me away. In an effort to have a private conversation about a surprise vacation, we shooed the kids out of the bedroom and asked them to give us a minute to talk. My eight-year-old son said, "Why do you need us to leave?"

"Because we need to talk about something that's just between us," I answered.

"Are you getting a divorce?" he asked.

I couldn't believe he would even think such a thing! "No!" I said. "Why in the world would you think that? Do we act like we might get a divorce?" I laughed as I asked the question, finding it funny that my son would even mention that word, especially since my husband and I were sitting on our bed, snuggled up against the headboard smiling and laughing, his arms around me.

"I don't know," he said. And although a slight grin appeared as he spoke, his answer disturbed me. How could he not know that his dad and I had never even thought of the word divorce, that we had a solid, good marriage, that we loved and adored each other, and that we were committed to each other for forever? My mind began racing back through the previous weeks and months, trying to pinpoint anything that might have led to my son's concerns, but nothing came to mind. Although life is full of ups and downs, one constant source of happiness and peace is our marriage (I'm fortunate enough to be married to a truly wonderful man), and I thought for sure my children felt and knew that. I began retracing our daily lives, reviewing all the things Dan and and I do for each other, or the ways in which we have shown our love for each other through service or kind words or hugs or kisses, and I was left to wonder if my children were paying attention, or if these times were enough. Feeling a little sick inside, I realized how important it is to me for my children to feel completely secure about our marriage and their family situation.

When I finally got over my panic, I came to the conclusion that perhaps divorce has become such a common occurrence, it's something most children think about (at least on some level) at one time or another. I know I did as a child, even though my parents were committed to each other and stayed together. Life is not easy, especially family life. Families today are under more stress and pressure than ever before; they are dealing with social, spiritual, physical and political issues never before faced, and as a result, some marriages and families are falling victim to it all, often resulting in broken marriages. I can't help but think it's a silent fear that crosses most children's minds as they begin to grow up and sense the stress their parents are under.

So, keeping this in mind, I've decided to 1-thank my parents more often for staying together, and 2-reassure my own children more often by the way I serve, talk to, and act around my husband. I know many good people and wonderful families who have struggled with this difficult issue, and my heart goes out to them.

So, tonight I think I'll hug my husband even tighter . . . and thank him again for putting up with such an imperfect mother and wife. And from now on, when I feel the urge to wrap my arms around him and tell him how much I love and appreciate him, I'll make sure the kids are watching.:)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Mother, the Nag

They say the first step in overcoming a bad habit is admitting you have a problem. So here goes.

My name is Lori Conger, and I am a nag.

There. I said it. I completely admit it, and just like most bad habits people are addicted to, I hate it! I have a dream of one day becoming completely nag-free, but as for now, without even realizing it, I nag constantly!

And, like all addictions people have, my biggest fear is passing this annoying trait on to my children. I mean, do they stand a chance of being a normal parent some day, one that is patient and wise? I doubt it, and at this point, all I can think is, My poor grandchildren!!

It's not that I don't try to encourage my children without nagging; it's just that I seem to like immediate results, and experience has shown me that nagging helps produce them. As soon as I tell my children I'm going to stop nagging, the urge to do so becomes even stronger.

Last week I sat my children down one by one, showed each of them a list of responsibilities I had printed out for them, and discussed my expectations. I then looked each child in the eyes and said, "Now, I'm not going to nag you about these things (I'm sure my children were thinking, yeah, right!). These are responsibilities I expect you to do without being asked. And when you have successfully accomplished each responsibility for ten days, you earn a treat. It's completely up to you whether you earn your treat or not. It's your choice." Then I sent them on their way, sure my little talk would produce happy, self-driven children who would accomplish their obligations without prompting or nagging.

Ha! I have to laugh at my naivety sometimes. Not 24 hours had gone by until I was nearly bursting at the seams wanting, to "remind" my eight-year-old son that all the time he was wasting was really time he should have been spending checking off his list of responsibilities. I had to nearly bite my tongue completely off in an effort to keep my mouth shut.

Finally, I broke down. "Okay," I said to my son, "I know I said I wouldn't nag, but I just have to say that you're going to be so sad when your sister gets rewarded and you don't, so you might want to check out your list."

Ugh! That's exactly what I didn't want to do. Why can't I be patient and just let time teach a lesson? It's obvious I have a serious nagging problem. So this week, I decided to dedicate this post to my children, and in an effort to sympathize with them, I wrote this poem. Here's to all children with mothers who are addicted to nagging.

My Mother, the Nag

My mother is a nag, you know.
She just can't help herself.
From, "Have you cleaned up all your stuff?"
To "Put that on the shelf."

She reminds me of my homework
As soon as I hit the door.
Before I hang my backpack up
She tells me three times more.

"Practice your piano.
Make your bed and do your chores.
And while you're at it, please, please try
To find your bedroom floor."

I roll my eyes and plug my ears
As I begin to moan.
Just then I hear a ringing sound,
And Mom shouts, "Get the phone!"

Trying to distract her,
I ask if I can play.
She loads my arms with laundry
And says, "Go--put away!"

"Take a shower. Brush your teeth,
And don't forget to floss."
Sometimes I wish my mother
Wasn't such a constant boss!

I know she doesn't mean to;
In fact, she says she wants to quit,
So I told her I'd remind her,
But that hasn't helped a bit.

It seems she just can't help it
No matter how she tries,
And ignoring all her promptings
Hasn't proven to be wise.

So, if your mother happens
To be something of a nag,
All I can say is, "Sorry
That your life is such a drag."

And as for me, I have to say,
Although it isn't fair
I've decided to tell God about it
In fervent, pleading prayer.

Dad always says if I have faith
My wishes can come true,
Though how God's gonna change Mother
I haven't got a clue!

And though I don't feel lucky,
I just have to say
My biggest fear is growing up
To be a nag someday!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Stronger Half of My Influence

Ever wonder if your children are really catching on to what you are trying to teach them? I mean, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly they learn to imitate my negative behaviors and attitudes, or those of others, but when it comes to passing on positive influences, it often seems they aren't paying attention. It's like they have a radar for internalizing all the "bad stuff" thrown at them in a day, and that radar seems to pass over the important, character-building lessons to be learned.

Case in point. I will never forget the time when my now 10-year-old was only two. I had been a bit stressed out, trying to deal with a move and prepare for a new baby that was coming soon. Instead of handling her whining and fits with patience and composure, I had begun to say, "Hallee, get a grip!" (I'm pretty sure you won't find that technique in any parenting manuals).

One day, when I was particularly stressed about something, I found myself pacing around our apartment, mumbling under my breath, accomplishing nothing productive. My young child peeked her head around the corner, and said (in exactly the same tone of voice I had often used), "Mom, get a grip!"

Now, I'll admit it was actually a pretty effective way of getting my attention and reminding me to pull myself together, but it's not exactly the type of parenting behavior I hoped to pass on.

Then there's the time I was having a bad day when something happened that I decided was "the last straw." Forgetting about self-constraint, I immediately screamed, "Aaaaahhhh!!!," stomped to my bedroom, slammed the door, and told everyone who tried to find out what my problem was to, "Go away!" (If there is one thing I've perfected in adulthood, it's definitely fit-throwing). My whole march to the bedroom, I kept hearing that little voice inside my head telling me to model a better way to deal with frustration and anger, but at that moment, I was tired of the little voice in my head, so I ignored it and went about throwing my tantrum.

It wasn't until a few days later I wished I had listened to that voice of wisdom. My son got frustrated, threw his homework on the floor, stomped to his bedroom, slammed the door, and told everyone to leave him alone. When he finally settled down enough to talk about his feelings, I began my sermon on how to deal with feelings of frustration and anger in more appropriate ways. That's when he looked at me and said, "But Mom, that's what you did when you were mad the other day." Somehow my speech suddenly seemed a bit ineffective and hypocritical. He was right. I had set a poor example, and he had picked right up on it. When I thought about it later, I wondered why he hadn't picked up on all the other times I had been stressed or frustrated and had handled myself with some degree of composure. It's like his radar hadn't been turned on all those other times, but as soon as I lost my edge, he was right there to copy my poor behavior.

I mean, seriously!! I can't do it right ALL THE TIME, but I was hoping if I could get things right more than half the time, the stronger half would win. That makes sense, doesn't' it? Apparently not.

The holidays this year found us less than perfectly happy. I was so excited to spend all day every day with my children, but by the end of the first week, I was counting the days until school started. My children fought like cats and dogs. Determined to remain patient and calm, I came up with inventive strategies for distracting them and trying to help them get along. Nothing seemed to work. The weeks turned into a month. Our family nights were focused on kindness, family love, thinking of others more than ourselves, and every other topic my husband and I felt we all lacked. No change. To say the least, I was beginning to be discouraged.

Then, just the other day, while picking up in my girls' room, I found a little sticky note with my oldest daughter's handwriting. It only held a few words, but those words made my entire day. On this sticky note, she had written her goals for the upcoming year, and by golly, a few of them even included some way to love her family more.

I sat down on the bed, and with tears in my eyes, took a deep breath. I found myself thinking, See? They are paying attention. They are picking up on some of the positive ways you are trying to influence them. It's not all in vain. Being a strong believer in goal-setting, I often write my goals and stick them somewhere I will see often, and apparently, my daughter has caught on to this practice. It's such a simple thing, but it reminded me to never fool myself into thinking my influence (good or bad) isn't making a difference. Sometimes our imprint as parents may be so subtle it takes a while for our children to internalize it and apply it in their lives, but the truth is, that without even realizing it themselves, our children are soaking it all up, and I believe that one day, when they need it most, it will all come back to them.

So, although I've decided to try minimizing my tantrums to when my children aren't around (which, by the way, is never, since I have young children at home), I'm also hoping to remind myself regularly that my children are learning some of my good habits as well. And maybe if I'm lucky, that stronger half of my influence will eventually win. Atleast I hope so.