7 Truths I Wish I had Known Before I Became a Mother
(written by Tresta Neil for Molly Christensen)
“Let’s homeschool our children,” my husband, Thom, proposed after our fourth child was born. “He must be delirious,” I thought. “I don’t always enjoy being a mother now, I could never be their teacher too. Plus, they would miss out on all the fun, social life I enjoyed.”
I returned home from my mission to the Netherlands in a wheelchair. There never was a clear diagnosis, but they did tell me that I would probably not have children. Thom and I went into our marriage prepared to live our lives without children. After a few miscarriages our first child was born, we named him, happy (Isaac) because we were excited for an actual birth.
Eleven months later (you can get pregnant while nursing) came our second and 20 months later came number three. When I found out I was pregnant with number four, I panicked! “If this was motherhood, I want out! It is TOO HARD!” I remember calling up my father and sharing with him my fears. He lovingly sent me a license plate with a drawing of a pregnant woman with the inscription, “I should have gone dancing!” NOT helpful!
Thom worked days while I worked as a nurse at night. He slept while they slept and I attempted to sleep while they watched movies, tore up books, painted the couch with sour cream, chased mice, threw eggs and well, destroyed the house. The boys figured out they could get on the back of the couch and jump over mom onto the floor, often they would miss and land on me. I’d go to work with bruises and think, “Did I really sign up for this kind of life?”
I was trying to potty-train the oldest two boys while keeping the three boys away from their new baby sister when Thom came to me with this “new” plan! “Forget it!” I thought, “I can’t keep up with the cleaning and cooking let alone reading or visiting with friends, how can I come up with “cute” things to teach too? No, way! I choose not to torture myself.” I asked him if he was serious. He was. I told him my concerns and he told me his desires (which made no sense to me at the time). What could I do? I finally said, “I’d think about it” hoping it would go away.
When he brought it up again, I asked, “How could I, who was in remedial reading throughout school and graduated high school with a low GPA, teach my children? I can’t teach, I’m not smart enough. Plus, what would they do for friends and social life? Isn’t that what school was all about?” He was patient with me and listened to all my concerns. Days later he asked me to go to Utah with him. On our way he mentioned a homeschool conference I could go to while he watched all the children. Really? Was it that important to him? To appease him, I attend a homeschool conference intending to come back with knowledge not to do it.
The conference was filled with women and a few men. I talked to everyone I sat down next to and no one – no one could answer the question, “What do you do for their social life?” There were also no classes on this subject so I was pretty sure this was not for me.
Thomas Jefferson Education was introduced, it seemed to be the best method for many families. So, I bought the manuscript thinking my husband might like it. Nothing else was said about homeschooling… until the next year.
We again traveled to Utah and Thom signed me up for another conference. I went, took notes, talked to people, still no answer on social life. The last class was a woman of twelve children. She talked about how she organized her laundry, her meals, the cleaning schedule and her teaching routine. I was impressed how she could do so much. But what I loved the most was her stories about how she taught her children, how patient she was. I could see myself teaching primary or Sunday School classes, but I couldn’t visualize my own children until the woman spoke. She taught her children the gospel and added in secular learning.
My heart resonated with this woman (I still don’t know who she is), her message and the curriculum she used. It was the Noah Plan created by the Foundation for American Christian Education (F.A.C.E.) She talked about teaching principles, centering all learning on Christ, and the creation of individual notebooks that become personal textbooks. This idea stirred up many emotions and questions. “Could learning be individual?” I recalled all the times during school I would be interested in going deeper into a subject and was stopped because it didn’t fit into the curriculum or we had to move on because of time. “Could homeschooling be different?” My professor taught me, through anatomy and physiology, how angels could stand in the air. “Could ALL learning be like that? Centered on the good news of Christ?” I changed my focus, “Could my children learn all the required subjects with the gospel?”
The biggest reason I chose to serve a full time mission was so I could learn the scriptures so well that I could use them directly in teaching and disciplining my children. This did not turn out exactly how I had visualized. I was constantly tired and I often yelled at my children. I was not using the scriptures as a mother at all. This angel woman was showing me that all my dreams I had as a mother could be a reality.
“Could homeschooling assisting me in achieving this desire?” My answer came, I experienced a transformation, a complete paradigm shift, “Oh, Tresta,” I remember thinking, “you’re going to be a homeschooler.” I felt a little giddy about the possibilities and a lot of fear in my ability, but I was willing to try it. My next thought was, “Thom’s going to be happy,” and he was. He listened to my desires and plans with a smile on his face the whole way home.
God was kind and miraculously sent me a mentor, LuJean Livingston. She had discovered the Noah Plan in a hotel drawer in California. She felt it was the answer for Latter-day Saint homeschoolers. She flew out to Virginia to learn all the details and returned to share it with us. Our small group met once a month. She opened up the scriptures and showed me how every subject was found in the scriptures. She taught me how to find principles in classic books, the difference between doctrines and principles, how I could teach my children to identify true principles and have them come up with their own applications. Her guidance became my life line and the beginning of a wonderful education and experience for me and my children.
Years later, I remember sitting in my living room with all my children and we were discussing how chaotic life would be if rocks could “serve two masters.” We were laughing and learning and thinking deeply together and my mind floated away. My childhood vision of motherhood was here and now a perfect reality. Homeschooling had been the tool. God is in charge – he helps our dreams become reality.
Throughout the next twenty plus years I have received a deeper conviction that God is in charge. Here are my top seven truths about motherhood:
1 Parents are the best teachers for their children no matter their “schooling” experience.
A child cannot learn until he knows he is loved and parents love their children more than anyone else in the whole wide world. My first son and I had multiple personality conflicts. He wanted to rule the house, schedule our days and tell everyone what to do. It was a difficult beginning trying to teach him that I was the parent and not his child. I finally had had it and took it to the Lord. I felt impressed to just hold him, to rock him. So the next day he rocked back and forth and while rocking he talked to me and told me his fears and his desires to do big things in a fast way. We discovered a way to work together. After that experience I wondered if any teacher would have cared for him and taken the time to understand why he did the things he did. I don’t believe so. Parents are their child’s best teacher.
Throughout High School I believed the lies of my teachers and classmates, that I was not smart. After graduating from college, I continued to believe it. In fact, I feared conversations because it might reveal my lack of intelligence. As I learned alongside my children, making my own notebooks and sharing ah-ha’s with them I discovered that even poor students can be great teachers because as I took the time to teach I was taught. I gained confidence in many areas.
2 Life’s Challenges are the Lesson not the Interruption.
Life is full of challenges and trials we get to learn from. Our challenges included personality clashes to the point of arguments and everyone complaining at the same time. We started out homeschooling so poor that we used the back side of discarded real estate fliers from Thom’s office for our notebooks. Our seventh child was in and out of the hospital for four years with liver transplant complications and internal bleeding. Two of our sons were in different hospitals at the same time, one with RSV and the other with liver rejection. We have worked through five home births, the loss of our home and other dreams, living in a two bedroom basement apartment and minor to major learning disabilities. Our latest challenge is having Thom at home while he recovers from a virus that attacked his heart leaving it functioning at 25%. We no longer question why these challenges have come to us, nor do we see them as interruptions to our routine or groove. These challenges are the lesson God is giving us. They teach us many things, some of which are how to manage our emotions, to strengthen relationships and find peace in the storms just as Christ did.
3 Success can be Found in Consistent Daily Routines.
My son who had a stroke has many physical and learning disabilities. He took a lot longer to learn things than any of my other children. We had to teach him to climb a ladder by going out with him a few times every day and, at first physically moving him through the process, then talking him through it and finally having him talk himself through until he was able to do it without thinking about it. This is how he is currently learning to read. When he reviews the sounds of the letters daily he continues to make progress and read words, but if he skips one day his progress stops and he has to begin again. I heard Mike Murdock speak about wisdom and one thing that stuck with me all these years was, “The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine!” I plan my days around how I want my future to look. I ask myself, “Do todays activities reflect who I am spiritually and how I see my family in the millennium?” We are successful because of what we consistently do on a daily basis. Consistent learning yields a great education. Elder Scott said, “A consistent, righteous life produces an inner power and strength that can be permanently resistant to the eroding influence of sin and transgression.”
4 Creativity and Play Inspires Connection and Learning.
When we struggle with getting along, learning and growth can not happen. I remember one day I was frustrated that no one was listening to my lesson so I sent them outside to the backyard. I later joined them. They were playing in the leaves, creating forts and laughing together. I took a picture of the children in the leaves and put it up on my wall. Weeks later a friend admired the photo and I said, “That was such a horrible day!” She made a statement that stuck with me. “I sure would like to be a part of your horrible days.” We laughed. She was right, it didn’t look like a “horrible day.” We had made something beautiful out of a rough day. We even finished the lesson with smiles and joyful hearts. From that experience I learned that when mental learning is not happening or negative emotions are taking over, doing something physical or creative will prepare the mind and inspires the learning connection.
5 Recording Creates Lasting Memories.
Creating notebooks of our learning and adventures has been the single most joyful thing we have done in our family experience. These notebooks have become a source of memories, of recalling lessons and for teaching and mentoring others. My son asked for his English reference notebook while on his mission so that it could help him learn other languages. Record keeping is fun and the pages become personal textbooks and books of remembrance for each of us.
6 Boredom Breed Brilliance
Don’t get too freaked out on this statement. It comes with a caveat of “within the right environment.” Basically, give your children lots of freedom. Don’t over schedule them or hover over them. Allow them time to be alone, to think, help them learn how to keep from being idle and allowing bad thought in. Freedom to think and create on their own makes their minds sharper.
7. “I am not responsible for how my children turn out”
This is a great mantra to memorize and have settle in your heart. You are responsible for how and what you teach them, but they are responsible for their own choices. Knowing this can help you relax and not worry. It is hard for some mothers to not take their children’s choices personally. This is how God teaches us, he tells us the consequences of the good choices and the bad choices and then allows us to choose. He loves us no matter what we choose. This does not effect his self worth or status. Teach you children consequences with love and allow them to choose and don’t be attached or feel guilty about their choices. When I fail to remember this principle my job gets hard. When I turn again to God and allow him to teach my child the way he sees fit, then I have the easiest job in the world, and the most rewarding. Remember God is in charge.
Years ago, I created a long check list of the many things I want my children to learn before they left home. It still hangs on our wall. The adult children get a kick out of looking at what they checked off and telling stories of how they learn it. And my younger ones listen and look forward to learning all of them. But here is the reality. There are only a few things I want my children to absolutely know before they leave my home. I want my children to be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and know:
- How the spirit speaks to them personally, therefore, how to learn
- Me, my heart, my mind, my testimony
- The plan of happiness and all its parts (the big and the small picture)
- How to share their hearts and the bounteous blessings of God
Friends have asked me, “Would you be homeschool mother if you knew then what you know now?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” For me, homeschooling is what makes motherhood sparkle! All the answers to the questions I had at the beginning, “Could my children learn all subjects centered in God?” “Could scriptures be used for all learning and discipline?” “Could my children survive without the social life of public school?” are being answered daily. Just as the answers to the fundamental questions of life like, who created us? who is God? was the resurrection of Christ really physical? and does it apply to me? continues to unfold as we ponder and is the sparkle in our lives.
Continual seeking for answers to fundamental questions makes a big difference to our family in the way we view the world and the things we choose to do as a family. God is in charge, he helps parents learn to teach, and children one day become parents, what a beautiful cycle of which we are all apart.
Tresta Neil is a passionate learner, the keeper of her home and a seeker of truth. She and her husband, Thom, homeschool their eight children. Together they are the co-founder of Keystone Education and Called to Learn which provide trainings for families in faith centered learning, relationships and gospel centered symbols. She is the author of The Theology Tree, grafting the eight core subject branches back on God’s divine trunk, God Saw that it was Good, How to Discover God in a Circle and other symbology books. She has a passion for learning and sharing. Her favorite subject is the stars. She once (only once) sat on a cactus, ask her about it.