Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jane's Wisdom

The more I read of Jane Nelson on her parenting blog, "Asking Jane," the more I admire her. Hers is a wisdom that seems to have come not merely from experience, but from thoughtful consideration of her role and steady devotion to her responsibilities. I am always curious to know more about these kinds of women/mothers and the families they raise. We're so thankful that Jane was kind enough to answer our questions about the inner-workings of Nelson family life.

Nelson Family

First, please tell us briefly about your family - ages of your children and whatever else you'd like us to know by way of introduction.

We have eleven children. We include in that count, our son Taylor who passed away at age three.

Our oldest son Nick and his wife Nadine are the parents of three and are just graduating from law school at the University of Virginia and moving to Texas.

Our second son Eric and his wife Andy just had their third little daughter. They are heading off to law school this fall at the University of Georgia.

Third is our daughter Natalie. She and her husband Kevin are the parents of four little boys. They live in Lehi, Utah. (Bloom note: we'll be hearing from Natalie tomorrow)

Fourth is our daughter Kristen. She served a mission to Finland and is taking classes toward a degree in Music Education.

Fifth, our daughter Marlee will soon graduate in English from BYU.

Sixth, our daughter Mikelle is starting her junior year at BYU studying illustration.

Taylor was our seventh child. We look forward to a happy reunion with him one day.

Seth, our oldest child left at home, is 16.

Brian is 14.

Marielle is 11.

Peter is 8.

At the risk of sounding like a Christmas card, I won’t mention everyone’s talents and accomplishments.

How did you spread yourself between so many children? Was it hard to find meaningful time with each child?

I think I always went through a period of sadness during the weeks before I brought a new baby home—especially early on. I looked at the youngest one and knew that they were in for a drastic change that they didn’t sign up for. But, of course, over time, I learned that that very new baby would become their closest friend. I was dividing myself, it’s true. But I was giving them a friend for life….lots of friends as it turned out!

Still, I admit that I always worried about someone slipping through the cracks. I remember one night when I was helping a child or two with homework projects, on the phone, cleaning up…busy, busy, busy and Mikelle, who was about three or four, was following me around with a book she wanted me to read. No one had time to do it. Later, when I remembered, I hurried to her room to find her asleep--still holding the book. It was a really hard moment for me and I did a lot of soul-searching.

In the end, I just did my best. I didn’t schedule time with each child. I absolutely loved spending time with my children. I genuinely did—so I think that for the most part, it just happened. I know it sounds unbelievable but I never really needed to get away. I loved taking one or two with me everywhere. I loved getting them in bed with me at night and reading. I couldn’t wait til they came home from school. I loved summer. They really had my whole heart and usually, that was enough.

Did you take time for yourself? When and how? Did you ever feel like you just needed to run away to the bookstore or the craft store or the ice cream parlor for a few minutes peace? :) How did you restore and refill yourself to be able to meet the needs of your family?

As I mentioned, I really didn’t feel like running away from my everyday life. I liked to take any one child—a 2-year-old or a 16-year-old—along with me. The one-on-one time was very renewing and didn’t feel like an obligation.

About ten years into our marriage, my husband talked me into accompanying him on a business trip for four days. I was miserable for a day, but I called home and found that the kids were having a wonderful time with my niece and her husband. I loved the rest of our trip and came home a new woman. Since then, I’ve been able to take little trips away about once a year and I believe in them. They’re good for everyone. (I don’t leave babies under a year old.)

I also enjoy regular date nights with my husband. Though I admit, we usually discuss the kids most of the time.

Most important of all for me, I study from the scriptures daily. And I pray. Nothing gives me more peace and perspective than that. If I forget those things, I feel a rising sense of nervousness and irritability.

As a mother of a large family (or any size family, really), there are so many things you could spend your time doing. Cleaning, cooking, paying bills, tending to the needs of your children, tending to your own needs - what do you think are some of the most fruitful things a mom can spend her time doing? I know this depends on the day and the season of life - but where have you seen the biggest payoffs?

I really enjoy homemaking and most of its attendant responsibilities. I love cooking and presenting a nice dinner to my family. Over the years, I’m glad I’ve kept that as a priority in spite of all the pressures that arise to let it go. It provides a gathering time, a pleasant half-hour together every day. It’s really worth the effort.

The basic patterns of family home evening, family prayer and scripture study are worth all of the time and difficulty they require. They establish a family in gospel teachings and in a devotion to God. They insure that a family will be able to weather hardships when they come. They create a solid foundation. There are tremendous promises that accompany these practices. I believe those promises.

How did you overcome challenges of cost with a large family? Are children really as expensive as we're made to believe? What did you give up to have a large family?

A large family was always our desire and we realized that our life would be easier if my husband had a good education. So we spent several years in school. Even though he made a good living, there were many demands on our paycheck and for the most part, money was always tight. But we never sat down and had a meeting to decide whether we could afford to have a baby. We worked with what we had. It might sound a bit cliché, but we always recognized that our children were our treasures. Each one expanded our joy and of course, transcended dollar amounts. And at the same time, we recognized that what we truly had to offer—money couldn’t buy. Those philosophies were basic to our decision to have a large family—all the children that we could.

But practically speaking, I learned to be resourceful and live on a shoestring. We didn’t shop at malls. Even Target was pretty good for us! We drove used cars, cooked from scratch and became good bargain hunters. It’s always been important to me that my children looked clean, well-groomed and nicely dressed. I carefully shop garage sales and thrift stores. We’ve paid for sports and lessons and helped with higher education when we could (although our children have paid for almost all of their college expenses.)

Sometimes we laugh when we think of what we might have done with all that money. I guess everyone invests differently. For us, the returns have been amazing and we’re projecting an incredible posterity.

Please share your thoughts with us on teaching your children to be responsible and learning to work. Did your children help with chores? At what age did this start? Was there an allowance or other reward system to encourage participation and cooperation?

I loved working with my children. For the first few years, I just like them to work along side me—doing little jobs. When they get a little older—maybe school age, they start taking on daily responsibilities. They each have an area of the house to clean (besides their own room) before school. Even my older high school children, who have a class before school, empty the dishwasher and take out the trash before they leave. In that way, my day has always started with…a nice head start! On Saturdays, we deep clean the house and often work on other projects as well—such as the garage, the yard, the cars or the garden. I usually devise some sort of game or competition with a good reward at the end for Saturdays.

I’ve never given a consistent allowance but I always have ways that our children can earn money if they want to.

I really try to help them to do an exceptional job on special homework or church assignments. I think it helps them to establish good patterns for life. I try to make them responsible for their homework but I haven’t really had to nag much. They understand that we expect good grades and they usually come through. If they are struggling, I meet with teachers and give them special help.

One little policy that I have concerns video games. I really hate them but I understand that kids love them. So we only allow them on weekends and, in order to play, grades must be mostly A’s.

As you observe families, what do you think is/are the biggest problem(s) facing families today? And what wisdom/advice would you share in relation to those issues?

We are faced, today, with a whole new level of sin and filth in the world. It has become increasingly difficult to shield our families from these influences. We got rid of TV about 15 years ago and are very careful about the movies we choose. We have the best filters on our Internet and keep our computer in a central location. But unless our children are committed to standards of personal virtue, there isn’t much we can do. We need to talk to them while they are young and teach them early. We need to view the basic safeguards of family prayer, scripture study and family home evening as necessities of life.

I also believe that we have to be careful not to buy into the world’s definition of success. Most of what people are out to achieve in their lives, is perishable. It’s easy to buy into these goals of status and materialism. But these things don’t mean anything to the Lord. When we focus, instead, on our family relationships, a commitment to righteousness, and blessing those around us, our lives become full and joyous. I think raising a large family has made it easy to stay grounded.


Natalie said...

Thanks for your wisdom, Jane. You are inspiring, I think we really need each other as women and mothers, and you are one of those people who makes me want to do better, in every way.

Sally said...

Wow. She makes it sound so easy. What a remarkable woman.

Caitlin and Mike said...

I've really enjoyed the "Asking Jane" blog. I find myself so easily distracted as a mother, it is so good to hear more perspectives like Jane's. I appreciate Jane's articulateness regarding being a loving parent. Her advice, shared through her bog, has really helped me improve my relationship with my young children.

Abbie said...

I love Asking Jane!

The Parkers said...

I am also a huge fan of 'Asking Jane' and practically study every post! What a wonderful example and source of wisdom and advice Jane is. She has truly changed the way I parent and has made me a more loving mother. And yes, she does make it look so easy. Thanks for this awesome and insightful interview!

Handsfullmom said...

Thanks for giving us a glimpse inside your home and heart, Jane. Your family is beautiful.

Sugar... said...

I loved hearing about your family! It gives me so much hope and determination. Thank you for sharing!

Barb @ getupandplay said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jane! I love your blog! And I think your focus on the family and staying close to the Spirit of the Lord is great advice for everyone!

Amanda Goldsmith said...

I love "Asking Jane" I check every week for new post's! Thanks also for introducing me to Bloom. Great Blog!!!!

KMonti said...

I just recently found your blog through, of course, another blog, and was wondering if you would allow me to share this post on my blog? I love the wisdom shared here and would love to pass it on to my friends as well.