Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
During social studies in junior high, my middle daughter’s class discussed politics, issues, and the upcoming election. That afternoon, as I drove carpool to dance team practice, she asked my opinion about several issues, and we spent the next fifteen minutes hashing out opinions and viewpoints.
I found out later that after getting out of the car, she told her friend, “Sorry. That was probably pretty nerdy, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” her friend replied. “But that’s okay. In family we usually talk about stuff like . . . oh, farts.”
When my daughter reported the conversation, I apologized for leading the nerd talk. She admitted that she liked that our family talked about stuff.
Truth be told, I do too.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family that talked a lot, and not about farts. My dad was a professor and my mother a voracious reader, so we had plenty of conversation fodder. I’m sure the family dinners from my childhood have influenced my parenting. And no, we almost never talk about “air bubbles” (my parents’ term for farts).
I’m in a stage of parenting that is fun and exciting. I’m past the diapers, past the midnight feedings, past baby proofing the house. At times I miss being able to snuggle with my babies (today my son towers over me and, with his low voice, calls me his “little mommy”—wah!). But this is a time when some of the labor-intensive parts of motherhood start paying off. And that includes “nerd talk,” which, I’ve learned has an important purpose—and payoff—of its own.
I believe that our conversations, as part of “wholesome recreational activities,” prepare them for adulthood—which is frighteningly close. (We’re talking a matter of months with my son.) Sooner than I thought possible during my days of sleep-deprived new motherhood, they’ll be on their own, making decisions and choices I have no control over. I consider our talks part of preparing my children how to think, how to love, and how to make good choices.
One of my favorite discussions happened around the dinner table, when my son, then around twelve or thirteen, asked why I didn’t allow him to play a particular video game with a T rating, especially because, “You let me play another game that’s rated T.”
He couldn’t have planned a better segue into the topic of choosing media wisely, of not taking ratings as reliable data, of doing your research and making your own choices. I explained the difference between the T-rated games I did let him play (ones with so-called “fantasy violence” where it was good guys like superheroes saving the day—I see that as Stripling Warrior material) and those I refused to let him play (with graphic violence, including realistic-looking guns, blood, or other content).
The family discussed—really discussed—ratings for television and movies and what kinds of things our family approved or and didn’t approve of . . . and why. And it wasn’t just a lecture from Mom. Part of me cheered inside, knowing that this talk was significant; they were thinking and analyzing and wondering on their own.
Since that day, I’ve found myself suddenly in the middle of important conversations during otherwise lighthearted moments with my kids: baking cookies, doing chores, playing Uno, letting the girls braid my hair, and so on. Those moments are when they open up their hearts. They ask questions. They want to share their feelings—their hopes and dreams and hurts and joys and doubts. That’s also when they’re the most open to feeling the spirit, which comes after, I believe, feeling a parent’s genuine love. Such testimony-building moments can’t be forced or planned. They show up when the opportunity to play and work together has been cultivated.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is why we’re counseled to work and have wholesome recreational activities as a family. I love that the proclamation includes the activities part—without it, it would be too easy to forget to spend those precious moments with my kids, and as a result, they wouldn’t feel as close to me or willing to share.
I believe that other parts of that sentence—faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, and compassion—are made possible by the bonding moments when the family is having fun together.
Even if the activity turns into nerd talk. Or even “air bubble” talk. Or nothing but lots of giggling and laughter. As I look ahead to when my son begins college, I don’t regret a single day I took time to hang out with him playing Clue, reading a book, watching a great movie, or playing a video game, even if I didn’t finish my to-do list. The list will always be there; he won’t.
And when he leaves the nest, I’ll treasure the times we shared, from the era of midnight feedings all the way to my morning hugs I get now before he walks out the door, when he has to lean down to reach me and says, “Love you, Mom.”
Don't forget to visit We Talk of Christ, Diapers and Divinity, and Middle-aged Mormon Man to read more posts about the Family Proclamation!