Monday, February 23, 2009

Clueless or Creative

As I commiserated with my best mommy friend Becky (I think we referred to our little ones as “leeches” that day), she said that she expected her headstone to read:

Here Lies Mom
Keeper of the Stuff

(…as in “Mom, hold this ” or “Maaahm, where’s my shoes?”)

Not wanting my headstone to look exactly like hers, I imagined mine would say:

Here Lies Mom
Family Referee

(…as in “Mom, she took my __!” or “I had it first!”)

Bickering between siblings was considered an inescapable fact of family life by everyone I knew. Still, I hated it. I wanted a family of peacemakers, not rabble-rousers. It was frustrating that I was following the counsel to teach my children to follow Jesus and all else that we are commanded to do in order to invite the Spirit into our homes-–yet the daily, even hourly, disputes continued. The “natural man” aspect of it grated my spiritual nerves raw. It just wasn’t right.

One day as I was reading King Benjamin’s address, he started talking directly to me:

“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14-15)

Even as the rightness of it flooded my heart, I knew that another Family Home Evening lesson on the evils of contention wasn’t going to cut it. What more could I do in my little vineyard? Wait a minute--I told myself--you may be clueless, but you are also creative! Sit down, think it out, pray it out – be proactive. A glimmer of hope lighted a distant corner in my brain. I knew the answer was in there…just a nudge or two from the Spirit and I might yet come off conqueror!

I recently conducted a workshop on creativity called: “A Gift for Expression”. The room was full of musicians, but what we learned about the subject applies as much to moms and musicians. Elder Dean L. Larsen points out for instance, that Father expects all of us to cultivate our creativity: “It may well be that this aspect of our development in mortality is as important in the eyes of a creative Heavenly Father as many other attributes that receive greater attention and emphasis.” We ought to be focusing on becoming more creative; the way we concentrate on becoming more patient or humble or forgiving - or, as Mary Ellen Smoot (former General Relief Society President) puts it: “…we are children of God. Shouldn’t we be about our Father’s business? Shouldn’t we be creators as well?

Becoming a “creator” for the first time at age 21, I remember being more afraid of the potential hurts I’d cause as a young mom, than of the hurt I would pass through in childbirth. With multiple personalities to deal with as my family grew, there was no way I had enough education or experience to handle the complexities of “people-making.” My pre-natal worries were eventually subdued in prayer: “You have the Holy Ghost,” I heard. “Use him.”

Crawford Gates, LDS composer, suggests something interesting about the gift of the Holy Ghost as it relates to creativity: How does it make us different? May I suggest that one of the ways the Holy Spirit helps us is that it makes us more creative?” President Uchtorf verifies that this is true: “The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create.”

That doesn’t sound like the Holy Ghost will dictate to us though, does it? “Heavenly Father wants to help us find the creativity within us. It wouldn’t encourage us to do that if he were to say, “Get a piece of paper and write this down” (Jack Weyland). Remember: “…you must study it out in your mind: then you must ask me if it be right…” (D&C 9:7-9) That little tidbit from church history would certainly bear out the presumption that the answers are within us–if we employ a little perspiration before inspiration, as Elder Maxwell puts it, or in another turn of the phrase: “Inspiration complements our creative efforts” (Crawford Gates).

So where do the creative solutions really come from? Elder Maxwell says that they “spring out of our seeing possibilities we have not seen before, seeing connections between patches of truth and beauty, and responding to them in ways we have not done before.”

Alright then: back to my homespun warlords. I rolled up my sleeves, took out a piece of paper and wrote down the following:

The problem: Kids clashes.

(The truth) They shouldn’t be doing it.

(The beauty) They don’t have to be doing it. We can learn a better way.

What I needed next was to “see” or “create” the connection between this patch of “truth” and it’s corresponding patch of “beauty”. Hmmmm…. I thought and thought about it for quite a while. I eventually reasoned that the munchkins needed to learn to settle their own spats…and that boiled down to…communication skills! Ah-ha! Now we’re on to something! A crazy idea started to piece itself together in my imagination and a whoosh of light gave me the tingles.

I rearranged the living room so that Grammy’s big, round, rag rug was front and center. Then I called the kids into a “come-to-Jesus” meeting, (as my Christian friends in the South would say).

“Here.”I explained, “is The Rug”. From now on, any parties suffering a disagreement will be immediately referred to “The Rug”. The parties in question will face each other, sitting Indian-style, knees touching (absolute rule). You will have to decide who presents his case first. The other will have to listen without interruption. When Party One is completely aired out, then Party Two speaks his mind – same courtesies applied.”


I shouldn’t have been surprised that they were intrigued, even enthusiastic. It sounded more like a game than an unhappy consequence. It wasn’t long of course, before the first “players” presented themselves, their whines competing for my attention. “STOP!” I covered my ears. “On The Rug!!!” They marched off and I watched them from a crack in the door. Quietly and with childlike reasoning, they established their defenses. Within ten minutes the two of them ran off together to do something completely different. Wow, I marveled. It worked!

And it continued to work for the next several years. It got to the point that all I had to say was, “On The Rug!” and they settled on the spot, one or the other acquiescing. Sometimes the litigation morphed into more of a contest of who would be the peacemaker first.

After discovering “The Rug”, I became innovative in dealing with other mommy-dilemmas like getting chores done and keeping toys picked up. I testify that as mothers and fathers we can—and ought—to be creative as we mold our ideal family life. Elder Ballard laid down the gauntlet this way:
“People [insert ‘your children’] deserve quality alternatives that YOU, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, are capable of providing.”

I'm having so much fun with your comments and emails! Let me know about one your creative “mommy” or “daddy” ideas, or one your parents used, or even just your thoughts on the subject. This will get you started: Follower Laura’s creative solution for toy clutter: "Making Bread: Toy Catalog".


Bri... only she said...

I can SOOOOOO testify to the effectiveness of Mona's parenting techniques! I've seen her "little warlords" all grown up and constantly acquiescing to others needs in their disagreements. It was one of the things that drew me to my best friends in the first place. Now my sweet husband teaches me by being an example of a peacemaker in our home. Thanks for being so creative mom! You're example will not only continue to bless our family as we pass on traditions, but you've reached out and your example blesses all those willing to be taught. Love you!!!

Mona said...


Hannah Banana said...

So..I'm here to communicate to you on very friendly terms ;) my testimony of the rug rule. It DOES work! (By the end we were arguing on who could HAVE the toy!) I have such a love and connection with my siblings that I know was a direct result of not only the rug rule, but of my mom (Mona), believing in that scripture. No matter the "normal", siblings do NOT need to quarrel. There CAN be and SHOULD be love at home. :)

I also 2nd all that was said about creativity. Especially as women and mothers we have the blessing, ability, to create, to be co-creators with the Lord. It's a blessing, but also a commandment, to be creative! Isn't that great?! We can be creative!! But we don't have to be a crafts person, painter, or musician to be "creative". But the little things we design to create beauty, love, peace, joy, etc. are all creations. For all good things cometh of Christ.

I am so grateful for the legacy I have of creation, that started with my Heavenly Father. And I hope to be able to create something each and every day.

(P.S. and to all you kids: Next time your mom gets on you about making a mess, just say, "I'm not messy, I'm creative!" They'll have to give in now!);)

Mona said...

Too funny! Too true!

Danio said...

I never really thought of problem solving as being creative. Thank you for sharing your ideas and testimony. I can't really think of anything that I have done or of anything that my parents did for me. I do know that I have received ideas and inspiration from the Lord on how to parent. I think that the Lord has been merciful with me since I started out with teenagers and adults instead of babies.

Mallory said...

I always remember my mom having us kids play "Bad guy for a day" to get our room clean. She would tell us that we weren't supposed to clean at all, and if she came into our room and caught us cleaning, we would be send to "jail" for a couple minutes. So, we all would clean up as much and as fast as we could, and try not to get caught! Who knew that cleaning could be so much fun! Sometimes I wish my mom could play that game with me in my own home, just so I can get the house clean! :D

Anonymous said...

My parents had two mustard-yellow chairs that sat in our living room. Whenever we were caught fighting, my parents would send us to "the chairs", which were turned toward one another. While sitting in the chairs we were required to sing all the verses of "Love at Home" repeatedly until our fight was over. It almost always turned into a contest of "who could sing the loudest" or "who could make up the silliest words", and we always ended up laughing with one another. To this day, my siblings and I still exchange silly smiles whenever we sing "Love at Home" in Sacrament Meeting...and we occasionally sing our silly, made-up verses under our breaths.

In The Doghouse said...

Such a wonderfully creative way to teach the art of peacemaking. I also enjoyed the sidebar on our ability to create. Great post!

Mona said...

Wonderful! Wonderful! A word to Dani - I happen to know you OOOZE with creativity -- I have no doubt it's oozed its way into your family life!

A word to Mallory: Unbelievable! SOOOO inventive. I wish'd I'd thought of it!

A word to Jessica: I LOVE IT! How delightful!!! I hope EVERYONE takes note on this wonderful twist on the concept of "The Rug".

A word to Doghouse: I had ten pages of fabulous quotes from that workshop -- wish I could use them all!

Thank you for your comments friends!

Mona said...

My best 'mom technique' was to take away whatever the children were fighting about and put it on top of the refrigerator for a week. It reminded the boys that they couldn't have whatever they were fighting over. I've had everything on top of my fridge: game controllers, toys and even a Ninja Turtle sleeping bag. It only took a few times where, if I headed their way to referee a fight, they would give the item to the other child to stop intervention!

McAuliffe Bunch said...

I love the concept of the rug. As a child my mom would separate us for a time. Usually we would fight right before dinner. Before we could come to the dinner table we had to tell each other we were sorry. Sometimes it wasn't sincere, but we learned to get along. We didn't want to have to say those dreaded words!

Serene is my name, not my life! said...

We always have a problem with our kids listening the first time you ask them to do something. It so easily becomes a power struggle which then trickles down to fights between the kids.
One thing that works magic for my kids, who are still just toddlers, is we "race". For example, when it comes time to clean up toys we say something like, "I bet you can't get that cleaned up before mommy finishes the dishes"! Pretty soon, the kids are frantically cleaning and having fun doing it. Who wouldn't like to beat mommy or daddy! Plus, they usually end up working together to get it done faster rather than fighting with each other because everyone is grumpy.
We use it for going potty, getting jammies on, even eating. (Although, you do need to be careful with that one =)
It helps keep the peace for us.

Stephanie said...

One thing we've done that helps everyone work together (to clean the house, for instance,) is:
I'll hide treats or prizes under the toys and clutter and then the kids have to go on a "treasure" hunt while cleaning up. (It works well, and instant gratification on both our parts.)

Rebecca said...

One thing I had heard that one home schooling mommy put on her kids TO DO list was "Create something." Wouldn't that be a fun "chore" to have? Imagine the possibilities!

Anyway, thanks for the rug idea--I love it! Now, if only my kids would fight so I could try it . . . : )

Mona said...

I LOVE these ideas! Keep 'em coming!


Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the post. I consider myself one of the most uncreative people I know of. However I am grateful for the reminder that the Holy Ghost teaches us ALL things we need to know if we but ask in faith. Thanks for the reminder and the other ideas shared on the blog.
The one creative thing that has helped me during meal preparation is to involve my children as I cook by giving them a bowl, spoon and a piece of bread each. I let them do whatever they want with the bread; eat it, tear it up, pretend they are making something with it. They feel like they are helping mommy and I feel better knowing I am not just shoving them out of the kitchen so I can concentrate on cooking without distractions. I also do a similar thing with my 3-year-old when washing the dishes. She stands on a chair next to me at the sink while I wash the items and she rinses them then places them in the dishwasher for drying. It takes a lot of mental effort and patience on my part to involve her in this process because it takes much longer then normal. But the payoff came in her joy in helping mommy and her pride that she is becoming like mommy and will one day be a mommy and wash her own dishes.

On Tour With Steph's Posse said...

Everyone has such good ideas! I am totally inspired! I just ended a fight of my kids not sharing with the "I'll share first!" idea. But I am a little disappointed. I have cures for cleaning, cooking, fighting but no one has solved my problem of how to put on my makeup for the day without kids pulling everything out of the cupboards, climbing on the counter and getting into everything on it, and flushing the toilet, wanting lotion, perfume, lipstick and brushes... it's stressing me out just talking about it. Some days I just give up the 'beauty routine' in favor of peace. Not to mention, I am a bathroom phobic. I think they are disgusting and I am obsessed with cleaning every part b/c I think the kids will touch something and we'll all die of poisoned potty or something.

I am going to come up with a solution. I will ponder and pray and I'll let you know what I come up with...

to be continued...

Elisabeth said...

I loved that last post. So funny and so true. Can't wait to hear what she figures out. I have the same problem getting ready in the morning. I have tried giving my kids some of my old mostly used up make-up to play with but they often realize its not what I am using and feel cheated.

Mona said...

You're hysterical! I know you're not laughing though when you're trying to get ready in the morning I'm going to ask Sue, my friend with twin 2 year olds and a baby how she does it. ("does it" may be a relative term -- I know for a fact there have been several casualties over the past two years -- and it's usually the house -- not the twins that gets hurt!

The Monkey Mama said...

Thank you so much for all these ideas! I am very creative when it comes to cardmaking/papercrafting, but lack so much in parenting. It literally breaks my heart and I am often so disappointed in myself as a mother. These ideas will help me so much! Thank you all!

Olivia said...

Unfortunately I think I lack in the cool mom depo. Oh well. I try. All these ideas are fabulous! I can't wait to try some out. :)

An Ordinary Mom said...

What a positively brilliant post! I might have to enforce the rug in our home, although it might be named something different.

Mothering/parenting truly is about listening to the Spirit and how to go about solving daily problems. But the Lord has promised us that He will provide the inspiration for us to be successful. For the last two years I have been reading "Preach My Gospel" with my mission in mind ... the mission of motherhood. I can't tell you how many creative thoughts have come into my mind while studying this manual and the scriptures with this focus.

The word creative is so powerful and means so much more than we think.

Mona said...

AMEN! Here's POWERFUL for you:

“Creativity in a broad and noble sense is a great eternal principle, both as an attribute of God and as an expression of man’s highest self. Surely God, in his exalted sphere, is the greatest creator of all, creating things that are endlessly variable, never exactly the same—flowers, trees, blades of grass, mountains, snowflakes, animals, people, planets, galaxies, and the whole universe, with all its myriad forms of life and matter. Indeed, one of the main differences between celestial life and mortal life may be the vast creative powers that characterize celestiality.” (Bruce B. Clark, “Creative Writing in the Church: A Challenge to Young Writers”, New Era, Aug. 1973)

An Ordinary Mom said...

That quote you just shared the the comment previous to this one deserves a fridge space :) !!

Mona said...

Emailed comment fom Debbi:

I can't remember my blogger password - so here is my comment:

I am creative in many areas of life, and it is nice to hear, after all these years, that there is some spiritual aspect to it. I am not sure I was creative in my mothering - it was hard when my kids weren't as interested in creative things as I always have been - and I had to learn to not demand creativity. Then lo and behold, it has been gratifying to have one son choose art as his life's work at the age of 27 - and that both my boys were in the band, and that they are both very creative in the kitchen and in many other ways.

One of my favorite TV shows used to be "Designing for the Sexes" - with Michael something or other. A man and a woman would be on opposite sides of some design issue in their home, and just when you were sure no way under heaven could they both be happy with a single design choice, Michael would manage to come up with something that was SO much better than either of them ever imagined, and they both felt completely acknowledged and were THRILLED with the final room - it would bring tears to my eyes - thinking, "if a little creative thinking outside the box can solve a design dilemma, why not a marriage on the brink or other serious human conflict?" I am SURE this is applicable in almost any situation. We need more creative "Michael s" in this world.

pcNut said...

This post reminds me of a quote from Sheri L. Dew in her talk, “Knowing Who You Are—And Who You’ve Always Been.” She talked about, “how eager the Lord is to unveil the knowledge stored safely inside our spirits concerning who we are and what our mission is...”
Maybe creative tools for life are already stored inside of us.

Love this! Thank you.

Mona said...


I am certain of it. Elder Maxwell said:

"Creativity, therefore, is not simply innovation but organization.”

And it seems to me that's what being a "god" is all about ultimately:

Hmmm. Think about it...

Heidi said...

There was one thing my Dad put into use for a time. We were supposed to sing our arguments. Most embarrassing in a family of many teenagers. Stopped those arguments fast!

pcNut said...

Love all these quotes!

I remember one couple telling me if their children would fight in the car, they would pull over and kiss saying there wasn’t enough love in the vehicle :) I thought that was creative.

Along the idea of singing your arguments, our home teacher made his children speak in an English accent for an argument. It turned into giggles pretty fast.

Evan said...

I read something today that reminded me of you and also relates to this post. It is an article by one of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card, entitled Do we want an LDS Bard?. His point seems to be that artistic genius is often not recognized in it's own generation. While mentioning several great artists, he focuses on Shakespeare and answers his title question with an emphatic "Of course we do", but concludes by saying that, "we won't have a clue that we've had these 'Shakespeares' till long after they are dead."

Likewise, the heritage we leave to our children is greater than can be realized in this life. I am profoundly affected by a number of my deceased ancestors, some of whom were dead long before I was born. Fortunately, my still living ancestors can begin to see some of their labors bear fruit in my life, as I have only just begun to take joy in lives of my children. But of course, only those who have left this life can fully appreciate the fruits of their labors as they watch from the other side of the veil.

That said, it's probably about time to get a Rug for my own little quarrelsome fruits.

Mona said...

Fascinating take on the whole subject of creativity...

President Spencer W. Kimball: “There may be many Goethes [the author of Faust] among us even today, waiting to be discovered." (Ensign, July 1977, p. 4)

Bruce B. Clark: "As Elder Spencer W. Kimball and others have said, the greatest novels, stories, poems, and dramas are still to be written, the greatest music still to be composed, and the greatest paintings and statues yet to be painted and sculpted.”

John and Laura said...

I finally posted my idea. Thanks for reminding me about how to be a creative mommy. I really appreciate your posts.

Bri... only she said...

These are such wonderfully, inspiring, ingenious ideas!!! You are ALL magnificent creators! Thank you for sharing your insights. :)

Terresa said...

You have some great spiritual insight here. Love your blog.

PS: I stumbled across it via the Mormon Mommy Blog vote thingy. My blog is also up for vote (Chocolate chip waffle).

Cheers! ;)

Lorie said...

What a great post!

When my kids are home for vacation (Spring Break is coming up!!) I get so tired of them telling me how hungry they are all the time (right after we eat breakfast!!) So in the morning (before breakfast) they get to pick out three snacks (two healthy and one treat) for the day. We get them ready (wash fruits and veggies, get out a portion of nuts or crackers, etc) and put them in their snack container. They can eat them WHENEVER they want throughout the day without asking. But when they are gone they are gone and no more snacks!

Works like a CHARM!

Mona said...

Lorie! That's genius! I especially love the part about letting them choose for themselves when they'll dip into their snack reserves!!!!

The Happy Holladays said...

I love all your thoughts, as usual. I really like the rug idea and I'll have to give it a try. I'm not very patient when my kids fight. One thing that I haven't tried, but I learned in a family science class at BYU was to have each child wash one side of a window. I could see that working--they have to look at each other and would probably end up laughing at trying to spray each other through the glass.

As to chores, so far I've been blessed with kids who like to clean. After a meal I simply ask, "Who wants to sweep? Who wants to wash off the table?" etc. And they all say what they want to do. Same thing with bigger chores like unloading the dishwasher and folding the clothes. At this point we only do those chores a few times a week, but when we start doing laundry and running the dishwasher daily I'll probably have a chore chart.

I'm also blessed that my oldest loves to clean. When we have the whole house to clean for company or something she'll say,"Let's have a cleaning party!" The 4 older kids (ages 8 to 3) divide up 2 on each team, don aprons, get rags and sprays and each team cleans a bathroom and a bedroom. Somehow they organize this themselves and have a great time. I'm very blessed. :)

The Barnettes said...

Hi Mona -
Unfortunately, I am not a mother right now - so my advice, experience & ideas are simply from the outside looking in.

One thing I think is key to all of these ideas is one thing: consistency. If parents are going to implement the rug rule, make sure to follow through with them staying on the rug until the argument is complete. Too oft times, my poor mother would get tired of hearing my brother and I argue and would "cave in." I think that if you stick to your guns about keeping the peace, any idea of sibling love/relationship/sharing will work.

Mona said...

Good point! Maybe we'll tackle the whole consistency thing in another Musings!

Stephanie said...

I love this idea! I need to pass this on to my sister, her kids are the best fighters I know of. You are always giving me such great insight Ramona. I love the idea of using my creativity to better parent my kids. Or, better yet, I'll just use your creativity to better parent my kids! : )

And I loved you class! It was inpiring!

Kim (Davis) Loudon said...

I am so glad to have found your blog. I feel like I am constantly re-inventing the wheel to find ways to get kids to obey, stop fighting, etc. There are 2 options...natural man/lose it, or creativity. Most of my creativity is born out of guilt for losing it a few times first.\"/ I am excited to read more of your ideas. I have 4 kids... and the OLDEST just turned 5. It is nice to get some wisdom from other moms! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the inspiring parenting ideas! I have three young boys (ages 7, 4 and 1) who are great guinea pigs. I can't wait to try "The Rug" technique, Mona! And I'm looking forward to the day when my boys know the words to "Love at Home" - Jessica's post reminds me a little bit of a friend's mom who would sing "Let us all throw big rocks at each other" to the tune of "Let us oft speak kind words to each other" to break the tension of sibling arguments.

I love how the promptings of the Holy Ghost can help us parent our children. Just as "necessity is the mother of invention", the challenges we face as parents are usually the catalysts for some really wonderful revelation, if we take the time to ask and then receive. This has been the pattern for me as a mother.

My favorite pieces of revelation have been about contention and mealtime. After weeks upon weeks of welcoming home a tired, grumpy first grader, we've instituted the practice of "Getting out the Grumbles" before we step inside our home. The kids think it's just fun to stomp their feet, shake their arms and "GRRRRRRR" all the "Grumbles" out. Then we put on our smiles and step inside. I'm sure the neighbors think we're silly, but it seems to keep the contention at bay, at least until mealtime. = )

Mealtime is another beast, entirely. As mothers, we try to prepare well-balanced meals, introducing new flavors and textures to already finicky eaters, just to hear the whines of protest, and later the whines of hunger when they've exercised their agency to not eat. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I was inspired to re-invent a game. We call it "DINER BINGO", and it's simply a Bingo game the kids play while they eat. Each square of the grid has a word to describe some food characteristic, such as red, green, square, circle, soft, crunchy, fruit, vegetable, etc. (For younger children, squares can be labeled with pictures. For older kids, nutrients can be taught - proteins, fats, grains, etc.) The most gratifying moment came when my 7-year old asked what we were going to have for dinner that was purple so he could finally mark that square. He tried beets that night and LOVED them!

Being a parent is a tough job, but the most rewarding and ONLY eternal one. Thanks, Mona, for the inspiration to start such an amazing blog! *HUGS*

Mrs. B said...

I found your blog while googling ideas for a Creativity Workshop. This post and the ensuing comments are so fantastic that I had to take notes! I can't wait to give all of these great ideas a try!

A friend told me once that mothers don't always have to correct behavior; sometimes it's enough to just diffuse the tension. A few days later, I could hear my girls coming up the stairs to pull me into their heated argument. Before they got to the kitchen, I threw on a pair of wild-looking sunglasses that were conveniently on the counter, and when they rounded the corner and saw me, they dissolved into giggles. I kept those sunglasses in a kitchen drawer for a long time afterwards.

Thanks for so many fantastic ideas!