Raising My Children Alone

“Raising My Children Alone,” Ensign, July 1980, 40

Raising My Children Alone

The decision to move had seemed right. As a matter of fact I felt I knew it was right because of the way doors had been opening for me. Yet suddenly everything seemed so overwhelming.

Here I was, a recently divorced single parent in a new community, with a new job. The children (my son five, and my two daughters eight and ten) had no new friends, and I had to be away from home for more than nine hours a day.

The challenges before me were tough ones: How can I raise my children when I’m not home? How can I teach them values, responsibility, and the gospel—when the short time I am at home is taken up by the the necessary tasks of preparing meals, housekeeping, shopping, mending, car maintenance, and so forth? These pressures alone created frustrations that resulted in angry words, loss of patience, and anything but the spirit of peace and love that I wanted to provide for my children.

In their short lives the children already had experienced many changes—several moves, new friends, different teachers, and new church leaders. Of course, the most significant change was the divorce. I realized I was the only constant influence they had in their lives.

But since I had to be away from home so much, I was afraid I would not be a constant influence. I worried about what would happen to them.

Then I realized that there was someone who could always be with them, someone they could always depend on: God. I decided to help them develop a constant, undeviating reliance on him. Then I could feel better about being gone during the day.

I recalled a neighbor who frequently referred to the Savior. It impressed me so much that I decided to try it with my children. Sometimes when telling them I loved them, I would ask, “Who else loves you?” They included everyone in the family, and the Savior. We spent time talking about how nice it would be to live with him, and about living worthy enough to be able to return to him. Occasionally, when one of the children misbehaved I would ask, “Are you walking toward Jesus or away from him?” Sometimes I would say, “Would Jesus feel comfortable in our home?” or “Could Jesus come to visit today?” I found that when I asked them questions, they evaluated what they were doing.

In addition to talking about the Savior, we found it helpful to use pictures to remind ourselves of him. A friend had given us a white plaque of the Savior which I hung in our living room. It served as a reminder that we should be worthy to have his presence in our home.

Even though we talked about him often, I wasn’t sure my children were learning what I was hoping to teach. Then one evening something revealing happened with my five-year-old son. Both my girls were at another home, just learning how to babysit—and having some problems. They called to ask me to come help them. I told my son I would be right back. He slowly began walking out of the room, trying not to cry. Then he stopped, and, though his eyes had filled with tears, he smiled and said, “That’s okay. I can pray; I’m not alone.” A lump swelled in my throat as I embraced my son. He knew and trusted in his Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. What more could I ask?

Although the attitude in our home was improving, we still had occasional problems with disagreements and bickering. At work I would sometimes receive a phone call from a crying child. Feelings had been hurt, someone was being selfish, or unkind words had been spoken. Of course, my children came first, even though my job was important, but many times I felt torn inside, wondering, should I go home to settle their problems? If I go home will they expect me to leave work whenever there is a problem? How can I be sure my going home will teach them to get along with others, to develop confidence in themselves, and to trust in the Lord?

It was difficult to hide my concern, but I found that if I could remain calm it was easier to help them resolve their differences. Sometimes I simply asked them to remember our “Visitor,” to think about what the Lord would have them do. They understood that the Lord’s influence could not be in our home when contention was present. Although that alone didn’t solve their problems, it helped them become more cooperative.

Not every conflict ended so peacefully, however. I began searching for ways to provide additional help in the home. I tried several methods. Using something I learned in a psychology course, I set up a reward system to encourage better behavior. I called home several times throughout the day, and each child who had been cooperative between phone calls received a nickle for his missionary bank. I had problems keeping enough nickles on hand, so I made “good behavior” coupons redeemable for five cents. I abandoned this reward system, though, when it became apparent that they were learning worldly values at the expense of eternal values. Back to the drawing board.

It became obvious that I needed to come up with something that helped them prepare for each new day. I remembered steps I learned in a teacher development course: (1) preassess—determine the needs, (2) plan—decide how to address those needs, (3) execute—carry out the plan, and (4) postassess—evaluate.

We began applying these steps in our family. Just before family prayer in the evening, we discussed the events of the day. Wanting the discussion to be a positive experience rather than a tattletale session, I began by asking, “What was the most fun thing that happened today?” As each child responded, we relived with him the joy he had experienced. The next question was, “What would you change about today?” or “What didn’t you like about today?” Then we discussed the bad experiences and their effect on everyone in the family. The last question was, “If the same thing happened again tomorrow, what would you do differently?” By discussing their experiences they found alternative ways to handle problems. For the first time they realized that they had some control over their day.

Our discussion then turned to the upcoming day. What events needed preparation? What assignments needed to be made? What goals would help make it a good day? The next morning, after family prayer, we briefly reviewed our goals. Just before going to work, I met with each child and made a commitment to make it a good day.

Ideally I needed to spend individual time with each child every day, but my circumstances made that nearly impossible. We discussed this and came up with a few ideas. One was a treasure hunt game my nine-year-old daughter came up with. A note in the door, under a pillow, on top of the piano, or behind a plant would reveal a small hidden treasure—a piece of candy, gum, or occasionally an original poem. Such small things helped remind us how much we loved each other—and made us feel close even when we weren’t all there together.

Periodically one of the children was featured during family home evening. One evening we surprised my son with a candlelight-and-crystal dinner featuring his favorite food—hamburgers and milk!

Through trial and error we became more unified. The methods utilizing the most gospel principles worked the best. I searched for ways to use the scriptures more often. Unfortunately, I was not the scripturalist I wanted to be. My use of the parables and other stories from the scriptures were limited, and I found myself relying heavily on “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Once out of frustration I said, “What do you think Jesus would want you to do?” Then I realized that was a way to approach all of life’s problems, a question that could apply to all situations.

We didn’t have all the answers, but we explored, learned, and grew together. Though our situation was not ideal, the Lord was blessing, sustaining, guiding, and inspiring me in my efforts to raise my children.

I remember one evening when my twelve-year-old daughter approached me with some concerns that were real to her. She was just beginning junior high and was very concerned about feeling equal to her friends. Usually she was supportive, helpful, and unselfish; but this night she felt cheated. It wasn’t fair that she had to do without things her friends took for granted—a dad and all the wonderful things her friends’ dads did with and for them. I had no answer.

Whispering a silent prayer, I listened as she told me about her feelings. I felt hurt and guilty for not being able to give her the things her friends had. Her requests were reasonable, but they were impossible for me to meet. There was a pause; then I expressed similar feelings to her. I, too, wanted the things her friends’ mothers had—a home, a husband, an opportunity to not have to work. A pause, then a new thought. “You know, I can think of someone else who could have said life wasn’t fair. He couldn’t live an ordinary life with his family and loved ones. He didn’t hurt anyone, but only strived to build up the Lord’s kingdom. He was jailed and martyred.” Another pause, and then, “I can think of another who was perfect, without sin. I guess I don’t think it was fair that he was rejected, that few recognized his mission and divinity.” Our resentment turned to humility and gratitude.

How often my children have blessed my life, for in explaining life to them I have found answers to my own questions.

Accepting challenges helps us grow individually. Now our family has a new challenge—and a great blessing. We have been sealed to a worthy priesthood bearer, bringing into our family a husband, a father, and, just recently, a new baby boy. Together we have new obstacles to overcome. But we are equipped to meet them together.

Illustrated by Scott Greer