"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 18, 2015
A Matter of Focus
by Marian Stoddard

A friend of mine in our Seattle ward bore her testimony once about an unexpected answer to a struggle she was having. Jane was trying to run a blended family, and if I remember correctly they each had a child from their first marriages and by this time they had had another child together. So, she was chasing after a toddler and parenting two older kids in the eleven- to thirteen-year-old range.

(Why should that be stressful? We’ll pause for a rueful chuckle here.)

She found that she was yelling at her kids, and she had realized that this was a problem. She knew that this was not the best way to govern her family, this was not the pattern of the mother she wanted to be, and she decided that she was not going to yell at her kids.

Recognize the problem, decide to change it, problem solved. “I am not going to yell at my kids anymore.” Then don’t. If only that were the universe we inhabit, it would be so easy, wouldn’t it?

She still found herself yelling at her kids. Her resolve did not eliminate her adolescents’ tardiness, slowness to respond to direction, or resistance to correction. It didn’t change the little one’s stage in life, where you have to lunge after them to keep them from mortal danger which they are pursuing with great gusto.

When they were late grabbing breakfast and getting out the door to school or to church, or when the chores had been ignored, or when the baby was crying and needed her at the same time, she reacted negatively and ended up yelling, and then feeling bad. She prayed for help to do better.

Then, she told us, a funny thing happened. She got laryngitis; a real, total, can’t-speak-at-all case of laryngitis. She couldn’t make a sound, for days.

This forced her to find a different means to communicate the needs and requirements of daily life to her family. She couldn’t leverage them with a raised voice, with verbal threats, or any of the normal signals that make kids know you’re serious, and they’d better get going, and shape up.

Jane had to think about the dynamics of their mother/child relationship. She told us that she realized that when her decision was to stop yelling at the kids, she still ended up yelling at the kids because that was her focus — a determination not to yell was still all about yelling at her kids.

She learned a great deal through this voiceless week or so. Any time she had a little sound coming back, she explained, the first hint of “push” in her voice would shut all voicing down again. She could whisper a little if her vocal cords were totally relaxed but if there was any tension at all the strain would shut her down.

Imagine the comic predicament of having to move close enough to touch someone on the arm or shoulder, gesture, point, and exaggerate your facial expressions. Most of us have been there at some point, because laryngitis is a pretty universal experience. They probably all laughed together at some of it, but the kids cooperated with what was needed.

She realized that she had to focus not on “not yelling,” but on how she did want to treat her children.

When she focused on being patient and encouraging, she found that it was much easier to be the kind of mother she was trying to be, and yelling didn’t even come up. She had to remember that her children were just normal children, and they would inevitably mess up or procrastinate or forget and she could work on keeping them on task without getting angry.

After several days of this enforced shift in her approach, her laryngitis started to improve. The changes she was consciously making were becoming easier; her home was more cheerful, and she and her family were happier.

I was a mother then of two very young children, but I knew the lesson was applicable to two-year-olds as much as to teenagers or any-agers, or to any part of life, for that matter. I have tried to take it to heart.

There are always aggravations in life. I yelled at my kids at times, too. Sometimes I lost my temper; I let stuff get to me, I had anxieties and fears and pain and irritations and disappointments. In other words, I have had an imperfect, mortal, fallible, normal life.

I realized at one point that annoyance had become a habit and I was sometimes automatically irritated with things that were simply the predictable stresses of having the chauffeur stage of motherhood overlap with the baby stage. Usually by the time you’re into the former, you’re out of the latter, but our oldest was in high school when our youngest was born. It got crazy lots of days.

I remembered Jane’s story, and all my corroborating experience over the years, and worked on changing my focus to the positive. I knew how to do this — I just had to pay attention and remember lessons already learned. I think that’s true a lot in this life.

With so much strife in our world today, it helps to remember that holding fast to what we do wish to do is more effective than directly battling — focusing on — our shortcomings. What would a good person do? Try to do that. What would a faithful person do? Focus on doing that. Be kind, be patient, be loving, be gentle, and be blessed.

Never forget that we have our Heavenly Father’s help — we are never struggling alone, though we stumble. I am grateful for all the times He has helped me up off the ground and dusted me off.

As we learn to seek and receive the Spirit, we learn to live our hopes and our righteous desires more nearly. Every one of us is still a work in progress, for as long as we walk this earth.

If sometimes the answer to the gap between our desires and our reality is the equivalent of total laryngitis, we can take the opportunity to be tutored. Once He has our attention, He will show us the right way; we can do it better than we think.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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