“Climbing Our Own Mountains: A Husband’s Role in His Wife’s Personal Development,” Ensign, Apr. 1981, 26
It was there when I returned home from work. I opened the envelope and began to read. As I did so, I felt Leslie looking over my shoulder. She is usually occupied with other things when I open my mail. But not this time. I read on.
It was an invitation from the Ensign to prepare an article on “How I as a husband can appropriately nurture my wife’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.”
This must have been mailed to me by mistake! Surely they weren’t serious. Leslie’s arms had now encircled my waist. I didn’t dare look up. I couldn’t. Why, in this my moment of inadequacy, had she chosen to appear? There was no escape. Her chin was resting on my shoulder.
I turned my head. Her eyes twinkled as they met mine.
“Well,” she smiled, “how do you suppose you’ll handle this?” I could have died.
For years we have read accounts of outstanding marriages, and we have both wished that someday we could be like those almost-perfect couples and their near-celestial families. It seemed somehow unfair that they had reached those levels and we hadn’t.
After the initial shock, we sat down together to see what we could come up with.
At least, we agreed, I’m not guilty of some terrible neglect or insensitivity to my wife. We really do have a wonderful relationship. She’s my closest friend and eternal sweetheart. We’ve set and are diligently working toward some goals—both long-range (like “Let’s return back to the presence of our Heavenly Father—together and with all of the children”) and short-range (like “Let’s get through this month—and increase our happiness while we’re at it”). Leslie is one of the most talented people I know. She is extremely creative and has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a desire to magnify her talents. I encourage her all I can in these areas.
And at least, we also agreed, I’m not guilty of neglecting our children. We have been blessed with nine—all very active, involved, and hungry. Ranging in age from eighteen years to eighteen months, they are our center of attention, for they constitute the beginning of our own kingdom. Of course they require a lot of time. One day several years ago when we had only eight children, Leslie said: to me, “Do you realize that I just trimmed 160 toenails and fingernails?” And that doesn’t begin to tell of all their needs.
With such a large family and many pressing time demands, how can we find time for our own needs? How can I as a husband appropriately nurture my wife’s social, emotional, and intellectual development? I’ve found that even with a very busy schedule, there are ways I can assist my wife in her personal development.
Perhaps these would be best described from Leslie’s perspective.
I must admit to chuckling a bit as Jerry agonized over this assignment. I’ve struggled with feelings of frustration and even resentment over the years at my inability to get away from home for classes and other outside involvements. I love to learn and do, and had pictured a married life in which my husband would happily send me off at least one night a week to pursue just a few of my varied interests. It hasn’t worked out quite that way.
Nineteen years ago we left the Salt Lake Temple hand in hand, prepared to conquer whatever mountains life might place in our way. It wasn’t long before we were scaling the first of these.
Jerry was attending the university and working part-time. Our finances didn’t permit us both to continue our education, so I went to work to help earn the bread, butter, and books, believing that the future would bring my chance to earn a degree.
Ten months after becoming a Mrs., I became a mother—an event which changed our circumstances considerably. A mother should be in the home if at all possible, instead of working outside the home, to care for and teach her children. But how could Jerry pursue a degree if I ceased to produce a paycheck?
Jerry settled the matter by taking a full-time job, announcing that he would work and still continue as a full-time student. For almost four years, he would leave home shortly after 6:00 A.M. and return at 1:00 A.M. the following day. That left approximately five hours for sleep and homework. Even now I don’t know how he was able to keep up that schedule, but we had both prayed and received the answer that this was right for our family. So we stuck with it.
I’m sure those years were more challenging for Jerry than for me, but I surely didn’t find them easy. I was lonely. We had only one car, which Jerry needed, and there were few places within walking distance. Fortunately I had learned early in life to love books and had developed a hunger for knowledge. I must have read my way through a small-town-sized library during those years. Many hours were also filled with sketching our toddlers and writing poetry.
I was sure that once we left the halls of ivy and entered the “real world” everything would change. Now, at last, our husband and father would be able to sustain me in developing all those hidden talents which were just aching to burst upon an anxiously awaiting world. But again, it hasn’t worked out quite that way.
In the years since school, Jerry has held several positions in government and business, and all have shared a common requirement—long hours and fairly extensive travel. His away-from-home schedule as an executive with a multinational corporation has been a challenge for both of us. But we have received several blessings which have confirmed our feelings that Jerry selected his particular employment with the Spirit’s direction. So for now we’re content to struggle with the challenge and, as we’ve done for years, are making the best of the situation. Jerry has also served in Church positions which require time away from home, including serving in a bishopric and, at present, in a stake presidency.
During the earlier years, I’m not sure I always recognized what a blessing our schedule was to me and to our family. But the perspective of the ensuing years has made it more obvious. Two of the greatest blessings I now see are a nearness to the scriptures and a closeness to the children. Study of the scriptures has been, since childhood, a delight to me; and now when I read them I feel that I’m on home territory, largely because of the time I’ve spent with them during these years.
And if I had worked and taken all the classes and done all the projects, I might never have taken the opportunity to get to know my children as well as I have—a closeness that has paid off manyfold over the years.
Our decision to have a large family was a prayerful, personal decision—and it was right for us. Jerry assumes his rightful duties as father of the children. He always sets a good example for them—I’ve never seen him do anything he wouldn’t want them to do. When he’s home, he spends all the time he can with them—as a group and as individuals. We study the scriptures together, and he gives each child a father’s interview regularly. He calls home every night he’s away to inquire about each family member and learn what happened during the day.
Now, before you decide this is just a lengthy excuse for a supposed failure by my husband to help me develop my interests and abilities, let me quickly say, “Not so!” It is simply an attempt to explain that although his support has not come in the ways I once anticipated, it has always been consistent. Jerry encourages and praises all my attempts at personal growth, helping whenever he can.
Because time together is short, we’ve learned to use it wisely. Friday is our night out whenever Jerry’s in town. Instead of wasting time on a movie, which is of questionable value to us, we visit art museums, attend symphonies, lectures, and other cultural events within the bounds that distance and our finances will allow. Jerry knows these feed my soul and sustain me through many a homebound period. He enjoys them, too, but does them mainly because he knows I like them.
One Friday each month we attend a scripture study group which we helped to organize two years ago. To be able to discuss the scriptures with a group of friends who appreciate them as much as we do has been a joyful, growing experience.
I have found a special interest in studying those scriptures dealing with the House of Israel, and this has led to a detailed study of the history of that people. The project requires much correspondence and research. Never mind that it may take years to complete; the joy is in the doing!
A few years ago I wanted very much to participate in the International Women’s Year (IWY) Conference being held in our state. Jerry took two days of vacation time to care for the children so that I might attend. Experiences there inspired in me a greater interest in politics and led to my heavy involvement. Lack of mother’s attention soon became apparent, however, and I returned to the home front. But I continue to keep informed, vote, and fire off many a letter to the editor.
My cupboard houses a set of oil paints which do not see the use they once did; but as our nest begins to empty, they will be called into service again. These were a birthday gift from my husband many years ago. When he could count on one night a week besides family night at home, Jerry drove me several miles each Wednesday evening to an art class, at a local school, then loaded three sleeping children into our car several hours later and returned to the school to bring me home.
There are many other ways in which he supports and helps me—the longed-for books which arrive for birthdays and holidays; the vacation when he gave up other activities to join me as I dug happily through mounds of dusty volumes in used bookstores; the hours spent discussing how best to present a Relief Society lesson, or help a wayward student in my Laurel class, or prepare a talk for a civic group. Or just putting up with a house that would hardly make the pages of Better Homes and Gardens after a day with the Campfire Girls, or a PTA board meeting, or Relief Society homemaking day.
The most gratifying support comes when he reads my latest attempt at poetry or songwriting, or a play for the ward party, and tells me no one else could have done it so well. And choice moments of great worth are those when he places his hands on my head and uses his priesthood to bless and give counsel pertaining to the Lord’s desires for my development in all areas at each stage of my life.
Someone once suggested that I should be discontented because I’m having to postpone some of my goals for Jerry’s. I responded that I’m not postponing any of the most important ones—those mutual and eternal goals that Jerry and I have set together. And although I must postpone some of my secondary goals for now, I don’t think that’s always negative. I’ve come to realize that we are to live life “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12), and that we can’t do or be everything all at once. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). When our children are older I will return to the university and to the other projects. But for now, I’m very comfortable with what personal prayer and revelation have indicated is right for me at the present—being a worthy helpmate to my husband and a good mother to my children.
I appreciate more each day the support of a loving husband in whatever ways he is able to give it. I’ve learned a lot about life’s mountains. They are easier to climb when we help each other—but we must still climb our own. In the final analysis, the responsibility to develop myself emotionally, intellectually, and socially is largely my own.
While Leslie was writing, I took a minute to check the dictionary definition of nurture. It referred me to foster, which means not only “to help the development of,” but also “to cherish.” In this light, I do feel capable of addressing this topic, for I do now and have always cherished her growth—socially, emotionally, educationally, and spiritually. And I certainly hope to continue the nurturing, fostering help that I can give my wife as time demands change in the future. She is to be my eternal companion. We want to spend eternity together, each of us having developed to the fullest our God-given potential.
After reading “Climbing Our Own Mountains,” you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a husband/wife study period:
1. Why should husbands and wives be concerned about each other’s social, emotional, and intellectual development?
2. What specifically can you do to nurture your spouse’s development?
3. Why is it important to have a spiritual confirmation of the plans you may build for each other’s growth?
4. The authors mention that although it was hard to see all the blessings of their busy schedule during the early years, “the perspective of the ensuing years has made it more obvious.” Why are patience and perspective so important in assessing our progression?