Happiness is your responsibility

I was reading an interesting article about Pixar today breaking down the character relationships in Toy Story in a paradigm of parenthood.

So even as, on one level, Woody and Buzz act as children to Andy’s parent, on another they act as parents to Andy’s child: His happiness is their responsibility, and they will resort to the most-extreme measures imaginable to ensure it.

I think that’s something a lot of people believe today, that parents are responsible for their children’s happiness. And yes, absolutely, my children’s happiness does depend a lot on me. If mama isn’t happy, nobody is. And I want my children to be happy.



I can’t make them happy.

And their happiness is not my top priority.

I think many people of my generation—we poor millennials—were raised in this paradigm. But then we reach adulthood and suddenly we don’t have a cruise director who’s in charge of making us happy. Happiness is not only a choice, it’s a skill.

Happiness is a skill.

It’s one we have to learn and practice and we do need to start in childhood. It’s something we have to learn for ourselves, like tying our shoes or riding a bike or long division. And like those skills, we learn it with tutelage, but heavily through our own effort. If we’re never allowed to struggle or make an effort, though, we won’t learn that skill, and we’ll be wearing the emotional equivalent of Velcro sneakers well into our thirties. (I saw an adult, older than me, trying on Velcro sneakers at the store last week. No, sir. Just no.)

Millennials are seldom accused of being well adjusted or well equipped for life. I think cultural norms of parenting, a backswing from our parents’ parents’ parenting, probably did most of us a disservice. (Mom, Dad, I don’t mean you, or us. Obvs we’re doing okay 😉 .)

Even children are in charge of their own happiness. Making my children happy—while very nice—is not my primary function, and ultimately it will not be up to me. I want to teach my children to be happy. That’s absolutely part of parenting. But let’s not forget our goals as parents: we’re fostering well-adjusted, independent, capable adults, not permanent children who depend upon us for their every happiness.

(That may not be anything like what the author intended in his passing comment on the topic, but I just had this brain wave.)

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A quick quiz

I know my kids know all the right answers to this quiz. Because they hear about them in lectures pretty much every day.

They are still not the answers they choose.

I think they must like hearing the lectures.

1. You’re nearly six years old and you’ve been taking weekly dance lessons for coming up on two years. When should you start to look for your clothes to get ready for your dance lesson?
a. On the day of my dance lesson.
b. When my mom reminds me we have 15 minutes before we leave.
c. When my mom reminds me we have 10 minutes before we leave and I need to get dressed RIGHT NOW
d. When my mom reminds me we have 5 minutes to leave and I HAD BETTER BE DRESSED RIGHT NOW
e. When my mom says, “Let’s go!”

2. When you return home, what do you do with your dance clothes?
a. Put them in the appointed dance bag my mother bought for me two years ago, which goes in a specific place, so they’ll be there.
b. Put them in the laundry so they’ll get clean.
c. Hang them in the closet or fold them in my drawer.
d. Wear them for the next three days and then hide them under my mattress
e. Wait . . . they were just here a week ago . . . . . . ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

3. You own three pairs of shoes. You need to wear your shoes every day for school and play. What do you do with your shoes when you take them off?
a. Put them on the appointed shoe storage device (shelf, basket, area) my mom made for us.
b. Put them in my closet.
c. Put them in my room.
d. Leave them in the middle of the floor, making sure to NOT remember which room that was in, even if there are only three logical choices. (Note to self: make sure those are the last places you look!)
e. Stuff one under the couch and take the other upstairs to the bathroom, just in case.

4. You take a backpack to school. Every. Single. Day. What do you do with it when you get home?
a. Hang it in the front closet on the hooks my mom had her dad install for us, right at our height.
b. Stuff it in the front closet and hope the door shuts. You know, if someone else were to shut it.
c. Leave it near the front closet, leaving a trail of all my school work throughout the house to lead me back to it.
d. Wear it until it sloughs off naturally, like a snake’s skin.
e. Dude, where’s my backpack???

5. Your mom and dad have a rule about no eating downstairs, and preferably eating only at the dining room table. Where do you eat?
a. At the dining room table, upstairs.
b. Upstairs, while wandering around.
c. Downstairs, but I’m very careful, because that’s the spirit of the law.
d. Downstairs, but I kinda forgot to destroy the trash evidence….
e. Downstairs. Trash, half-full glasses of milk, partially eaten fruit, even partially chewed bites attest to this. But you will not find the glasses of milk or partially eaten food until it is too late.

6. You have to go to the bathroom. What do you do?
a. Announce my intention to go to the bathroom.
b. Actually go into the bathroom.
c. Use the bathroom.
d. Some of the above.
e. All of the above, but not necessarily in that order.

7. You have a stomach bug. What do you do?
a. Run for the toilet.
b. Bring a bowl, basin or bucket to bed with me.
c. Aim for the floor.
d. Roll over.
e. Turn my head.
f. Find my mom like a SMART vomit missile with a homing beacon.

8. You’re playing with your baby brother, but when you put a cardboard box on him, he screams in terror. What do you do?
a. Take it off as fast as I can! Sorry, brother. Here, have hugs.
b. Take it off . . . I guess?
c. Take it off when my mom yells at me to.
d. Back away slowly. Hide.
e. Take his toy away and then hold the box down. That’ll give him something to cry about.

9. It is the dead of winter. There is a foot of snow on the ground, which you played in yesterday. How do you dress to go out today?
a. Heavy coat, hat, scarf, mittens, sweater and snow boots. I hate to be wet and cold!
b. Two, or maybe three of those things over reasonably warm clothing. You know, long sleeves.
c. A sweater and either a hat, coat, scarf, or mittens, but only because it’s/they’re my favorite color.
d. A short sleeve shirt and tennis shoes.
e. Swimsuit.

10. It’s time for bed, and you’re very tired. What do you do?
a. Brush my teeth, put on pajamas, finish the rest of my bedtime routine, and go to bed.
b. Brush my teeth and go to bed. (Fear the sugar bugs!)
c. Go in my room and fall asleep somewhere.
d. Pick a fight with someone. Anyone. Everyone.
e. Cry.

What questions are on your family’s quiz?

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Benjamin’s birth

I’ve only had people asking basically for three months to hear Benjamin’s birth story, so here it is (finally!). There’s not a whole lot to it…

Friday, I had my usual appointment with my doctor. “Don’t have the baby this weekend!” he said. “I’m away.” The baby said, IS THAT A CHALLENGE???

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling some contractions. I was kind of surprised because it was still a week until his due date, and that would make him the earliest of our babies. Hazel was our first “late” baby, so I had no expectations of Benjamin arriving before his due date.


The contractions weren’t going away, though, so I told Ryan and got to work on the biggest thing I was hoping to accomplish in the following week before he came: my business taxes. Because what better way to relax through the contractions than doing my taxes, right? I sent Ryan out to get a few things for me, including a birthing ball (yeeeah, I was hoping to find my old one. No luck) and a treat. He got me a pack of fun size Kit Kats. I ate the whole thing (sharing some with the kids & him). While he was gone, the kids always seemed to pick the worst time to come into my room (i.e., during a contraction, while I was trying to use my hypnosis).

However, by about 1 PM, the contractions had kind of trailed off. Since that was what happened when I first went into labor with Hazel, I accepted it and (eventually) went downstairs to do the usual mom thing.

I still had one or two strong contractions every hour, though, which was really annoying. Because if I’m not going to be having this baby today, I said, I deserve a rest!

We got the kids to bed around 8, as usual, and settled down to watch a movie (Galaxy Quest, which we’d never seen before). And right about then, the contractions picked up again. I’d brought my ball downstairs just before bedtime for a couple contractions then, but all of the sudden, we meant business again. I was sitting on the ball, but lying back (on the pile of clean laundry) on the couch, and using my hypnosis for a long time.

When it really set it in that this was happening, we had a problem: it was about 10 PM on a Saturday night, and we had nobody to stay with our four kids. (Every other time, my mom had already arrived at this point.) We called one of our home teachers and asked for help. He and his wife were more than happy to come over and sit with the kids. After Ryan hung up, it hit us: we’re having a baby. Like now.

We rushed around to gather up the last few things to pack—after four kids, I have a very minimal hospital bag. It actually took me probably over a week to figure out even one thing to put in it other than toiletries. Fortunately, I’d finally figured something out (PJs, bathrobe, etc.). So we gathered up my toiletries and things. I couldn’t find the earbuds I’d used for my HypnoBabies practices, so we ended up getting my over-the-ear headphones.

We got to the hospital at about 10:30 and had to figure out where to go. We went one entrance where I thought my OB had said to go afterhours, but I wasn’t sure. They said we should go to the other entrance—not the best news for a lady in labor. Fortunately, one of the desk clerks got me a wheelchair and wheeled me over to the women’s center.

They got us to a triage room and I was at a 5. Disappointing for someone who usually is much further along when she gets to the hospital! But good enough to keep us there. I’d started my HypnoBabies in the car and kept it going. We got moved to a room and I kept going with the HypnoBabies. The doctor on call from my OB’s office came by and I got to meet her. She asked if I wanted my water broken, but I declined. She was fine with that and left me to work.

I kept doing my HypnoBabies. Ryan watched the rest of Galaxy Quest on his phone (!!!) and, I don’t know, played games. I was kind of busy.

After midnight, the contractions were getting really intense. I came out of hypnosis (middle position on the lightswitch if you know what I’m saying) and told Ryan. He asked if I wanted the nurse to check me when she came in next. I said I did. I was at an 8—encouraging but discouraging at the same time.

Back to hypnosis. I don’t really know what to say about the time I’m in hypnosis. From the outside it probably looks like I’m “chilling,” to quote Ryan. My body is relaxed, I’m breathing pretty normally, and I’m quiet. My mind is basically somewhere else. I have to focus VERY intensely on the HypnoBabies recording I have playing in a loop (I hate the minute or so at the end before it loos around again). Focusing on Kerry’s voice is really what gets me through.

My contractions are kind of weird—when one starts, it has peaks and valleys, but it doesn’t stop for a good long time. The nurse would try to wait to ask me questions, but eventually she’d just have to ask. And I’d wait to answer. Kinda funny. I’m pretty sure the nurse must have checked me again, but I don’t remember that now.

After I don’t know how long, the lights flickered on overhead. When the contraction plateaued, I opened my eyes (middle position, of course) and saw the doctor was back. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“You’re complete. It’s time to push.”

“Oh, okay.”

This is the good part, because you’re almost done, you almost have a baby and you can finally DO something. We waited a few minutes until I felt the urge to push, and then I started pushing. My water broke on the first push. We didn’t count pushes, but we did time how long it took: two minutes of pushing. Benjamin was born at 1:50 AM.

We got to hold him for a minute, then I asked the doctor not to use cord traction, so we just kind of waited around while they cleaned him up. He had a little trouble breathing. He would cry a bit but was kind of gray. We were still waiting to finish up so I checked the time on the computer next to me—3:00. I was really concerned that more than an hour had passed since he was born—it didn’t seem that long!—until I remembered what day it was. Daylight Saving Time.

My son, Benjamin Franklin McCollum, had the first hour of his life stolen by the government.

(See the second paragraph here if you don’t see the irony above.)

Just when they were worried they’d have to take him to the nursery for oxygen, Benjamin suddenly started breathing much better and immediately pinked up, so we got to keep him. After a couple hours, they took him to the nursery and me to my recovery room. Ryan finally returned home around 6 AM to relieve the home teacher and his wife, and catch some sleep before 11 AM church.

I was pretty bored for the next two days because my kids couldn’t visit and therefore my husband couldn’t come much either. A friend watched the kids for a couple hours after church so Ryan could visit, and my mom changed her flight to come in the next day (two days earlier than her flight had been). She got to visit with us in the hospital, and Ryan got to spend some time with us too. The kids finally got to meet their brother when I got home Tuesday.

In the weeks after I had Benjamin, I read 37 novels, and in them there were a dozen or more birth scenes. Not a one of them was anything like any of my births. I realize that my births aren’t the same as the experience we’re conditioned to have by the media, but #1 screaming makes it MUCH MUCH worse and #2 there’s a huge variety of experiences, not just the freaking out screaming option (and #3 if there’s frank blood (it’s a medical term, Mom, who knew?) before the baby is born, something is probably wrong).

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Filling Our Homes with Light and Truth

I spoke in church today. Here are the notes for my talk! Because they’re my notes, it’s a little disjointed. I adlibbed some explanations and transitions, but this is the gist of what I said. Some of it is color coded according to its source.

Filling our homes with light and truth

(Introduce myself and family) One last thing, if you haven’t picked up on it already: I talk fast. This is me trying to talk slowly. If it’s not working, . . . Listen faster.

  • We are living behind enemy lines

In Stake Conference, President McFarland told us that we’re living behind enemy lines. I was really unhappy that we’d moved here. (JK.) We are living in the world, Satan’s territory.

Richard G. Scott, “For Peace at Home” Apr 2013:

“Many voices from the world in which we live tell us we should live at a frantic pace. There is always more to do and more to accomplish. Yet deep inside each of us is a need to have a place of refuge where peace and serenity prevail, a place where we can reset, regroup, and reenergize to prepare for future pressures.

The ideal place for that peace is within the walls of our own homes

We must guard our souls and our homes and make them into this refuge, a haven: we must fill them with truth and light.

At Gen Women’s mtg in March, Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, counselor in the Primary General Presidency, spoke on exactly this subject. She shared an object lesson she’d seen in a General YW training. The teacher held up two cans of soda. She squeezed the empty can. It quickly succumbed to the pressure and was crushed. Then she held up the second can, unopened and full. When she squeezed it, the soda in the can held the sides firm against her grasp. The message, Sister Esplin said, was clear: “We likened this demonstration to our individual lives and to our homes and families. When filled with the Spirit and with gospel truth, we have the power to withstand the outside forces of the world that surround and push against us. However, if we are not filled spiritually, we don’t have the inner strength to resist the outside pressures and can collapse when forces push against us.”

One place where we best seek to be filled with light and truth is in our own homes. To protect against Satan’s powers, our families and homes must be filled with light and truth. So first, we need to understand what we mean by light and truth. That doesn’t mean to switch on every lightbulb or stockpile the scriptures.

  • The meaning of light and truth.

We see the phrase “light and truth” a few places in the scriptures, but it’s probably used most extensively in Doctrine & Covenants 93. Most of us probably remember verse 36, the scripture mastery from this section: “the glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth.” In the next verse, we read that “light and truth forsake that evil one.” So light and truth are definitely things we want to have in our homes to fight off those outside powers!

But the beginning of the section discusses light and truth even more. The Lord calls himself, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;” (2) “The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth,” (9). Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the Spirit of truth.

  • CHRIST is light and truth.

Elder Scott says that As you center your home on the Savior, it will naturally become a refuge.

To fill our homes with light and truth, we need to make the Savior the center of our home life. For each of us, the exact process we use to do this might be different. Many of us have been baptized and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose role it is to reveal and teach the truth of all things. – the Holy Ghost can teach us what we each need to do to make our homes a haven, a temple, a place where the Spirit resides.

Every home is different, as Sister Esplin says. We can all receive guidance from the Holy Ghost on how best to strengthen our home and fill it with light and truth—with Christ. Studying the scriptures and prayer keep us in touch with the Spirit so that we can continue to receive that revelation about specific things to do for our home.

Doing all we can to invite the gentle, guiding influence of the Holy Ghost into our lives is critical in our attempts to center our homes on the Savior. Acting obediently on those promptings strengthens us even more.

In D&C 93: 28, we read that He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, so as we obey these promptings, we’re automatically receiving more light and truth.

Even if we don’t have children living in our homes now, we need to fill our homes with Christ, with his Spirit. We all need a haven, a refuge from the world. We’ve been commanded to fill our homes with light and truth.

  • HOW? I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years now, and this is my “list”
    • Feelings: Joy, SHOW LOVE, Feel the spirit
    • Environment: Safe from the world, Welcoming entry, Actually welcome them
    • Actions: Family, scripture study, FHE, Family meals, Family prayer: teach the gospel, gather as a family, strengthen bonds, feel the spirit, teach them to be kind and to love God. These are the two great commandments. 4 Nephi 1:15 (there will always be conflict because we have agency, but loving God can help us avoid contention by keeping us all focused on the same ultimate goals & in tune with the Spirit)
    • My personal actions: Pray for them by name, No yelling, Go to bed at a reasonable hour, personal scripture study, We are continually counseled to increase our spiritual knowledge through prayer and through studying and pondering the scriptures and the words of the living prophets
      • Queue up scripture study on phone @ bedtime—hit play in the AM
    • I don’t need to study the scriptures to get the plot. I’m pretty familiar with the story of the Book of Mormon. Even the specific doctrine that I might study might not be relevant to my life that day. But I need to study the scriptures so that I start the day off with the Spirit, so I can have the Spirit in my home and in my interactions with my children.

None of these things by itself is a huge effort. Elder Scott says that “simple, consistent, good habits lead to a life full of bountiful blessings.”

My list will not be your list, although there will obviously be some overlap. With the Spirit’s guidance, you can make a list or receive inspiration about what’s best for your family and your haven.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this seems like a daunting task. Elder Scott reassures us that as we work toward this, we won’t be alone.

When we obey the commandments of the Lord and serve His children unselfishly, the natural consequence is power from God—power to do more than we can do by ourselves. Our insights, our talents, our abilities are expanded because we receive strength and power from the Lord. His power is a fundamental component to establishing a home filled with peace.

As part of Heavenly Father’s plan, we’re here in families, and every member of our family contributes to the spirit in the home.

We come into our families with a sacred duty to help strengthen each other spiritually.

The words in the chorus of the song we heard remind us, “God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be.”

As a teenager, I thought that God gave us families to make us better by trying us. (I’ll probably feel that way again when I have teenagers myself.) However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that families are (hopefully) how we learn to love, to be kind, to sacrifice.

Families are the Lord’s workshop on earth to help us learn and live the gospel.

The fulfillment of this counsel does not rest upon parents alone, although it is their role to lead. Children can be responsible for improving the Christ-centered efforts in the home. It is important for parents to teach children to recognize how their actions affect each individual who lives in the home.

Strong eternal families and Spirit-filled homes do not just happen. They take great effort, they take time, and they take each member of the family doing his or her part.

When we take the whole list altogether, though, our list might seem long or daunting. I’ve carried mine around in my pocket just about every day for over two years (it’s on my phone), and I still haven’t gotten around to putting a ficus by the front door. But creating a haven in our home is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it event; it’s a process.

We need not worry if we can’t simultaneously do all of the things that the Lord has counseled us to do. He has spoken of a time and a season for all things. In response to our sincere prayers for guidance, He will direct us in what should be emphasized at each phase of our life. We can learn, grow, and become like Him one consistent step at a time.

As part of this process, we must always strive to keep the Spirit in the home once we’ve invited him in. Although our homes are in enemy territory, we have a great amount of control over what comes inside. When I was in Seminary, one of the Seminary songs was “My Holy House.” The words of the song say that “the things that I choose determine if I lose all the light that’s within my holy house” and “Mine is a house of holiness, it’s up to me to keep it clean. My own temple full of love and light, where the Spirit stays with me.”

In the “music video,” they showed two example scenarios. Both were set in the same lovely home decorated in light colors. In the bad example, the girl who lived there allowed in some friends and media that replaced her lilies with dead weeds and popped a video in her VCR that literally poured filth out of the player as black and thick as oil. These people left black footprints and handprints on everything and even turned off her lamps. But first, she let them in.

The media and the influences we invite into our home have a great impact on the amount of light and truth there. We can’t always tell or control what media will come into our home—you never know what commercial or pop-up ad might spring up on you, and Satan is howling at the doors like a stormwind, trying to get in.


Satan knows that in order for us and our families to withstand the pressures of the world, we must be filled with light and gospel truth. So he does everything in his power to dilute, distort, and destroy the truth of the gospel and to keep us separated from that truth.

We need to prepare ourselves and our children for this frontal assault in our own homes. We need to learn to turn away from Satan and his influence wherever it might crop up and redirect our thoughts into something uplifting to invite the spirit into our home and our heart again.

Whatever we do, we must do something. If we do nothing, we leave a vacuum—an empty can. It won’t stay empty. Either it will be filled with things that we didn’t choose, or it will be crushed.


Filling our homes with light and truth is so important that we need all of us working together to be successful. Maybe it’s just me that’s overwhelmed by the responsibility we have to keep ourselves and our homes in tune with the spirit—but fortunately, as Elder Scott said, we don’t have to do everything all at once—and we receive light and truth just for making an effort, and power from Heavenly Father. The enabling power of Christ’s atonement can also strengthen us and make our efforts more than what they are.

Living an obedient life, firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, provides the greatest assurance for peace and refuge in our homes. There will still be plenty of challenges or heartaches, but even in the midst of turmoil, we can enjoy inner peace and profound happiness. I testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the source of that abundant peace.

I know that our lives will not be easy—life is not easy—but that’s exactly why we all need a haven, a place where we can access the peace of the spirit, the peace of our Lord and Savior, the peace of his atonement. As we work to listen to the Spirit and follow inspiration, Jesus Christ will sanctify our efforts, and just like He will with our lives, He can make up for any of our failings if we have faith in him and strive to do all that we can to fill our homes with light and truth and to keep the Spirit there.

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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day gets a bad rap. We hear so many people praising their angel mothers and we wonder if that title could ever apply to us. No, we finally decide. I’m not as perfect as this man’s mother. I’m no angel. I don’t deserve any praise.

We are way too hard on ourselves. At church today, Brother Rick McAlister noted that no one said anything about a mother being perfect. “Because there’s no such thing as a perfect mother,” he continued, “and it’s a good thing, because there’s no such thing as a perfect father or perfect children, either. But every family has the perfect mother for them.”

Normally when I hear that kind of platitude, I dismiss it just as easily as I would the praise of angel mothers. I’m not perfect, and I’m keenly aware of how far short I fall. Especially right now, two months after my fifth child is born, I’m sleep deprived and snappier than I should be. But when Brother McAlister said that, I knew immediately that he was right. I don’t know what about me—trying to ignore the long list of faults that immediately pops up here—makes me the perfect mother for Hayden, Rebecca, Rachel, Hazel and Benjamin, but I do believe that Heavenly Father has a plan. He didn’t assign us to families by throwing darts. He hand picked each parent and each child.

Yesterday, my visiting teacher shared this video with me, and I loved it:

The talk is “Because She Is a Mother”. I quoted it in a Mother’s Day talk here which I still love. Still feeling inadequate? Maybe it’s time to change the measuring stick.

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A little news

Obviously I don’t post here often anymore, but today I have a very good reason.

His name is Benjamin.


Benjamin joined our family on March 8. He’s pretty cute, so I think we’ll keep him.

Today: pinch proofed!

As I just had a baby (#5!), pretty much everything will be on a delayed schedule.

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