ON THOUGHTS AND ADVERSITY
In 1 Nephi 17:1, Nephi described the adversity he and his family went through as they traveled in the wilderness after their exodus: "And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness."
Yet his prevailing thoughts were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Immediately following these words, Nephi exclaims:
"And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
(1Nephi 17:2-3.) It is amazing that Nephi was so positive under these conditions, while Laman and Lemuel murmured in dissatisfaction and misery. This scriptural passage fits the promise given by President Monson that, "The Lord shapes the back to bear the burden placed upon it." As a single parent, you may have felt the miracle of receiving unnatural strength to bear the burdens of parenthood alone. You may have been given miracles that allow you to feed your children better than you thought you could while being both mother and father in some ways. Your ”wilderness" is no less real than the one Lehi's family wandered in.
The truth is, most of you mid-singles are survivors. You have figured out how to survive trials and trauma. Your bigger problem, in many cases, is figuring out how to thrive and be happy. And make no mistake, they are entirely different skill sets.
Your brain is wired for survival. It stays on alert for danger. It does not distinguish between physical and emotional peril. In fact, it desperately wants acceptance and belonging. In primitive times, being rejected by your tribe would probably mean starvation and vulnerability to predators and the elements. Your brain knows this and intuitively responds with fear when you are rejected by someone you may have offered love (or to possibly create love). This survival instinct is very powerful, and it has a tendency to override our happiness. It often keeps us survivors stuck in anxiety. Happiness depends, in no small degree, on being able to switch off that survival instinct in situations that do not truly require it. If you are like me, you may have found that all of your prior success in life was based on fear. I think I got through law school and motivated myself to study by fearing failure. That is one example. There are thousands. If you try to find a deeper and more healthy source of motivation, it can feel like giving up your security blanket. You may cling to your anxiety and pain even harder for awhile.
Nephi demonstrated this skill when he focused on the blessings of the Lord, and showed faith in Him to take care of his family in the wilderness. The result was that he could relax into his situation, celebrate the blessings of the Lord, and create inner peace that his older brothers could not. Nephi demonstrates this positive quality again in the same chapter, stating, "notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.” (1Nephi 17:6.) He "exceedingly rejoiced" notwithstanding great afflictions.
We often hear people say things like, " I am not a pessimist. I am a realist." They will then go on to paint a very gloomy picture of life or their circumstances -- not even realizing that most of it is interpretation rather than fact, and it's just a story they are telling themselves.
What kind of stories do mid-singles tell themselves?
"There are no good men out there."
"Women are all drama queens and crazy."
"Dating is hard and it's not worth the struggle."
"No one finds me attractive."
"I am past my prime and not beautiful / handsome anymore."
"Men are only after one thing."
"All women want is a guy with money."
"Being a single parent is hard because you're totally on your own."
"I have no time to take care of myself, because my whole life is about other people."
We could go on, but this is enough to illustrate the point. Are these Nephi kinds of words, or Laman and Lemuel kinds of words? Do these beliefs lead to happiness or to misery?
Let's try on some different beliefs:
"God has a loving plan for me, and everything I've suffered is taking me to a better place."
"My losses have prepared me for a better love."
"I have many friends in my life, and there are plenty of other people who are willing to be my friends and lend mutual love and support."
"There are many good single men in the church."
"There is an abundance of amazing women in the church."
"Most people want to love and be loved, aside from material things."
"Sex is a beautiful and holy part of married life, and I eagerly await the arrival of this gift."
"I owe it to myself and my children to take good care of myself, and to show love and compassion to myself as a child of God."
Which of these thoughts is more elevating? Which is more calculated to lead to happiness and peace? Do you feel more peace when you believe that you are on your own in a cruel world, or when you believe that a loving God has a plan for you, and you are surrounded by friends who love and support you? You might even ask yourself which of these sets of beliefs is more in harmony with how the gospel sees us as children of God with the potential to become like Him. Nephi understood that gratitude for God's blessings, and seeing them as abundant, created more joy and light.
As mid-singles, many of you have learned to survive. You have already won that medal. You have learned to survive by feeling anxious and fearful, and trying to solve everything that is wrong. Now, move into the light and learn better how to be happy and thrive by shifting your thoughts from fear and lack to abundance, joy, and love.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON STEP-PARENTING AND SINGLE PARENTING
We just celebrated Mother's Day and I know it is a bittersweet holiday for many in our community. For some of my mid single friends, the years when they could become mothers by bearing children have already passed them by. For others, they face the task of parenting alone. Still others face the task of parenting someone else's children, for whom another "mother" will always have that singular honor. Some have more than one of these factors going on. For some men in this community, the experience with their own mothers or former wives has not lived up to the hype that is so often associated with the holiday.
Owning and managing our own emotions and expectations about Mother's Day is important. Regardless of her failings, your mother gave you something important. Obviously, she gave you life. Additionally, there are other things to learn. Tony Robbins has often said that he appreciates his abusive mother and that he would not have become the man he is without having her to contend with, and without the desperation of the circumstances he grew up with. We can look with envy at the mothers some other people had and wish it could have been the same in our own lives. But consider that God knew what He was doing when he assigned you to the mother he did. If you did not have the warmth and love you craved, learn from that and create it for yourself, your children, your grandchildren, or your nieces and nephews.
Deseret Book President Sheri Dew has not yet married and never had children of her own. She is 67 years old and beyond the years when becoming a mother is a realistic possibility in this life. She has become a favorite aunt to her nieces and nephews, having them for overnight slumber parties and taking them on trips with her. While I'm sure it has been a painful thing to go through life without a companion and missing out on becoming a mother, she has had a major role in the lives of her nieces and nephews.
For those who find themselves single parenting, whether through death or divorce, remember that joy remains available. It's not only about the bills. It's also about the memories. My grown sons remember our many road trips to cheap vacation destinations like national parks. They remember video parties, making tacos on Friday night, and bedtime. For many single moms, I know it is similar. Even if resources are tight, you can find ways to create a sense of family. Rituals, traditions, and moments working together can help.
For step parents, it is important to relax into the role. I am aware of some stepparent situations in very traditional families where Dad brings home a new wife and effectively says, "This is your new mother and you will call her 'mom'." Not a wise move. The kids need time to adjust. Once in awhile my step-kids slip and call me "dad" and it always makes me smile. But I know they have a dad and I choose to honor that.
At first, most of the discipline should be done by the natural parent, allowing the stepparent to behave more like a friend at first. (There are always exceptions where a step-parent needs to step in, such as when the natural parent isn't present or if the misbehavior is directed at the parent. I step in to correct if my step kids are speaking rudely to their mother.)
I take each of my step-sons on a one-on-one "outing" every few months where I buy him dinner or do an activity he wants to do. (One of them really likes the Lego store.) It is also a chance to talk with them about some of the deeper things. It isn't an interview. I want it to be a lot more informal than that. You don't get the real information in an interview. But when I am out one-on-one with one of the kids, they naturally open up to me a lot more than they would in the family setting or if I pulled one of them aside to talk in their room. I used to do outings with my biological children when they were growing up too. They look forward to it and I think it helps to create a separate bond with each of them. I think step kids need to know that you care about them individually and not just their parent. Step parents run into trouble when they try to make a marriage with the parent and sort of ignore the kids.
If you don't have kids of your own but you marry someone with kids, it may be tempting to be over eager about your chance to be a parent. I know I have a meaningful role in the lives of my step kids. But I wasn't there until they were ages 7 and 11. So I've had to earn it. My youngest stepchild had a hard time at first because he felt replaced by me in the life of his mother. I know there were times when he kind of resented me. Patience and persistence pays off. He has definitely come around and he loves me now. But you need to expect those adjustments to take time and be patient with it. Trying to force a relationship generally has the opposite effect to the one you intend. If you are a step-mom who's only chance to be a mother is with your step kids, a little patience will pay big dividends.
When you have two sets of kids that were partially raised in different households with different rules and customs, it takes a while to integrate those systems and it is complicated. Both parents will tend to prefer the way they did things before. Kids will have certain expectations based on past history. It takes a certain amount of flexibility on the part of everyone involved to make it work. I don't think it is inherently bad for kids. Eventually, they are going to marry and merge their life with someone who grew up in a different system. If they learn to adjust and be flexible as children, that will be good for them even if it makes them a little uncomfortable. And chances are good it will make them a lot uncomfortable. Your own kids will expect you to side with them in disputes with their step brothers or sisters, and you may be naturally inclined to do just that. Being even handed may tug at your heartstrings a little bit. Trying to understand and navigate these complicated emotions will be a growing experience for all of you.
In a larger sense, every family has its issues. Sometimes the idea that things got really complicated because we have a blended family is just a story we are telling ourselves. All families are complicated and have their issues. A blended family requires us to be more intentional about how we do things. It requires us to be flexible and communicate more clearly with our spouses, children, and stepchildren. It requires an intentional effort to create family rituals and customs that provide an identity to our family as a cohesive unit where everyone feels included. But it is worth it!
Remember, however you became a mother, the real important principles are the same. Whether you are a mother, stepmother, or favorite auntie, the underlying principle is love. Love takes time but it is the thing in life that gives meaning to all the rest.
This is Cathy in Southern Utah as a mid-single. For many years, she was a single mother to two young boys. Can being a single parent feel heavy? Does it require superhero strength and stamina? It absolutely does at times. It can feel as daunting as holding up this gigantic rock.
Fortunately, we have a loving Father in Heaven and a Savior to rely on when faced with seemingly impossible tasks. We can ask God to consecrate our best efforts and accomplish far more with heavenly help than we can on our own. Sometimes we really need that divine support.
As challenging as it may be sometimes, divorce and single parenting can actually have a positive ripple effect, based on what we learn and how we grow from our personalized mortal experiences. The hard stuff is part of becoming who we are meant to be, while blessing those around us with the wisdom and skills we have acquired in the process.
For all the single moms and dads out there, doing your best to raise good children largely on your own, you have real strength only alluded to in this photo. We know, because we've been there. Keep up the good work – you are amazing. Your best efforts, combined with heaven's assistance, make you a superhero in our book!