Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can I Help?

Naomi has reached an age where she will no longer lay quietly on her back while I change her diaper.  She squeals and writhes and does her best to flip over and crawl away.  It is almost impossible to change her, unless...I give her a wet wipe.  As soon as I hand her a wet wipe of her very own, she redirects her energy toward using it to wipe her own little bum.  When she first began making it clear that she wanted to hold her own wet wipe, I had to be sure to give her a fresh clean one (she'd try to grab the used one from my hand) because it would go straight into her mouth.  The next step was that she would try to wipe herself with it and then put it in her mouth.  But now she will just do her best to wipe, and then let me throw the dirty wipe away with my wipe when we're done.

Tonight as we were going through this ritual, and I was marveling, again, at how quickly she transforms from fighting me to helping me when I give her that wipe, I remembered a talk by Kenneth Johnson, "We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust."  In it, Johnson tells two stories.  First, as a boy of five, he loved to watch his dad working in the shop in their back yard, building furniture for the family:  

He invited me to help him by passing a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other tool. I was convinced that my help was necessary and that without me he would not be able to complete his task...As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him.

In the second story, Johnson is now the father of a five-year-old son.  One day he had prepared their front door for a new coat of paint.  Just as he was about to start painting, Kevin asked if he could help:

I hesitated before responding, considering what effect this would have on the fulfillment of my dream, or alternatively how he would feel if I declined his offer. It was almost as if I heard someone else say, "That would be a great help. Thank you."

Providing him with an old shirt of mine that covered him completely, almost touching the floor and with sleeves rolled back several times, we went to work on the door that secured the main entrance to our home. He was applying paint to the bottom panel as I worked on the top section. I noticed that because of his age and physical stature, he wasn’t able to spread the paint evenly and that beads of paint were resulting. Each time he bent down to recharge his brush, I would hastily smooth out the paint on the bottom panel, returning to my assigned area so that he would not realize what I was doing. After a while I decided that more important than a first-class paint job was the opportunity to work with my son. On reflection I realized how well he was doing. Thereafter, every time I approached the door and saw the distinctive style of decoration, I was reminded of what is really important in our lives.

Johnson compares both of these experiences to our relationship with God.  God invites us to help him in his work, not because he needs the help, but because of the relationship it allows us to develop with him. 

Now I'm thinking about the work I do around the house, and the role my children play in that work.  The easiest way for me to "get something done" is to stick the kids in front of a movie.  Then they are so quiet, and I can concentrate and work quickly and lose myself in the task.  Alternately, I can leave them playing, try to get some work done, and be constantly interrupted by them, the frequency of the interruptions having a direct correlation to the urgency with which my task needs to be finished.  But this talk suggests a way that I rarely, if ever, employ, in which I ask the children to help me with the task I am trying to accomplish.  Then, instead of having the completion of the task as my main goal, the goal becomes getting to know my children better, spending time with them, teaching them, loving them.

I really like the idea of this.  It is so hard to do in daily life!  For one thing, it requires that you have a much smaller list of things to get done, because working with children can be slow.  It requires changing your expectations--the door doesn't look as nice when you are done painting it if you let your five-year-old "help" you.  I can think of so many times when I've been hurrying to make dinner and a child comes into the kitchen and says he wants to help, what can he do to help?  And I say, essentially,  "go away, that would help me the most."  Ouch. 

Now, to be fair, Johnson was not taking his five-year-old to work with him at the office every day and letting him help there.  The help was invited for weekend projects when he was home from work.  As a stay-at-home type, I do not have an office to go to where I can "get my work done" without the children.  But what if I think of the work as being the children, not the meals or laundry or cleaning or errands?  Now that changes things.  If my work at home is raising children, not housework, then involving them in housework is getting my most important work done. 

What do you think?


Brooke said...

Amen and amen! I love this, Andrea! It makes me think of how many times I have to count to 10 when Tad helps me make cookies. He is in heaven and I am dying the whole time telling myself how important this but really just wanting to take the cookie away and do it for him!

Jonathan and Marissa said...

I don't know if you know I've been blog stalking you for the last few months, but I love what you wrote today. I completely agree with your thoughts, and you opened my understanding to the idea of making your kids your work, not the housework, etc your work. I guess I always thought that in theory, but the idea of doing it in practice seems really hard, especially since I am very particular and it is a struggle for me to have Jonathan help me with housework!! Thanks for your thoughts! Good luck with the implementation!

Suzanne said...

Want a wonderful insight! I often think about the balance between being a "house wife" with the implied job description of keeping up the house and "stay-at-home Mom" with Mom being the key word. Too often, I go directly to the housekeeper part of the job, but I KNOW the state of the house isn't what's important in my job. It is all about the relationship with the kids. Whether things are tidy is just more quantifiable, so for me, it can feel more rewarding. Only short term though. Those hugs and cuddles are sure a great salary come the end of the day.

HW said...

Yes, yes, yes! I loved this. And you're right, it is MUCH harder to have children help you. But what a great reminder, that our children and their growth are what should actually be our work and our glory.

LL said...

I think you've nailed it here. I've been trying to do more of this, and the kids love it. They love to put away the dishes, wash the kitchen cabinets, put away laundry. I'm still working on changing my standards for how things turn out, but I do find that, when I make the effort to include them, I appreciate and enjoy them (the kids) more than usual.

Go you! Keep us posted on how it goes so that we can say encouraging things and cheer you on. :-)

Christina said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, it's a good reminder for all of us to make our children the focus of our mothering, not the housework and other things. It's hard, though, like you said because I can get things done 10x faster if I just do it myself and I am guilty of putting the kids in front of the TV so I can work in peace. Glad to know I'm not the only one who does this but I'm going to strive to do better from now on! Thanks!

Brian, Laura, Felix & Ezra said...

What a great post--Elder Johnson's stories brought tears to my eyes. Those principles are so true.
I agree that these principles are a challenge to implement in our own lives, when the we feel like we just need to get the housework done with. Sometimes I say no when Felix asks to help with something, and I tell him, "I'm going to make muffins/fold laundry/wash the floor etc. later--do you want to help with that?" (He's at an age now where he'll always say yes.) And then I'll just explain that I really want to make dinner (or whatever I'm doing) quickly so I need to work alone, and then we can work together later on that other thing.
Well, that didn't make much sense, and I should go back and edit that, but I'm not going to, so oh well.
Love your blog Andrea, and I miss you and your darling family!