"It's CHALLENGE time!"
I scrolled through my Instagram feed and stopped on a picture of a friend from my church congregation, Kacie Backus, smiling down at her children.
"We (will) begin a two-week challenge to improve one of the most important aspects of a happy family: positive parent-child interactions."
That phrase hit me hard, and I knew this was something I needed to do. "Kacie Loves Parenting" is the name of the account, and although I can look you in the eye and tell you that I fiercely and deeply and completely love the people involved with the job of parenting, I can't always say I am in love with the job itself.
I_want_ to love parenting. So I sent Kacie my email and told her I'd be joining in the challenge, hoping over the next few weeks I'd be able to see an increase in the peace and happiness in our home, and be able to pen her phrase as my own.
I was elated and completely surprised when I noticed a substantial, positive difference in my attitude and their behavior after only 24 hours.
The challenge didn't have me doing anything over the top or extra special. Each daily task focused on simple yet intentional ways to connect with my children.
"Behavior is largely a product of its immediate environment. Simply put, fix the environment and you will fix the behavior," says Dr. Glenn Latham, author of "The Power of Positive Parenting."
Day one encouraged us to have 20 positive interactions with each individual child.
"Your children's behavior is largely determined by how you act as a parent," Kacie said in an email she sent to those taking the challenge.
These interactions didn't have to be big — it could be just a hug, a few words of praise, a smile and kiss, or taking time to stop whatever I'm doing and listen. This is when the changes began. When I made eye contact with them, I wasn't just looking at them — I was truly seeing them. For the first time in a long while, I felt I was doing what the scriptures say in 3 Nephi 17 (in the Book of Mormon), and beholding my little ones. I can't tell you how much this touched me, and changed my heart.
Day two challenged me to select five strengths I saw in each one my children and write them a letter highlighting those strengths. I thought about each of my four boys, and memories of their lives filled my mind as I filled little homemade cards with all the unique qualities my boys possess. Well into the deep hours of the night while my boys were dreaming and darkness still had its blanket wrapped softly around our home, I laid my heart and soul in the form of paper planets, volcanos, soccer balls and Batman symbols on the floor outside my boys' bedroom doors.
Morning broke and I awoke to the sounds of surprised and excited chatter as my children discovered their letters and began reading them aloud, over and over, to themselves and to each other. My 3-year-old even somehow managed to memorize part of his while his older brothers were reading to him, and crawled up on my bed next to me saying, "Mommy loves to snuggle with me! I am a happy boy! I am fast! I am tough!"
They carried those cards around with them all morning, crinkling the edges as they held on tightly to a mother's message of love and affirmation, willing the words to become a part of them. It was a bookmark memory morning.
We all have a choice when it comes to parenting. In every situation, we have a choice. We can yell when the milk gets knocked off the counter, or we can take a deep breath and say, "Mistakes happen, let's take care of it," and watch in awe as every kid gets off their stools to help (that happened the first day of the challenge).
We can hesitate when our baby asks us to play with them at the gym, or we can throw up our hands and jump in the foam pit at full speed (observing my friend Whitney Bell with her little boy, on the third day).
That's what this amazing little challenge has helped me to do; to recognize that I have a choice. I can choose to be a happy mother. I can choose to respond with love, even in the most difficult situations (like when my boys strip down and pour dirt and water all over our patio and have a mud party — something they did while I was writing this very article). I can choose to laugh. I can choose to focus on the good.
I can choose to love parenting.
Follow @kacielovesparentingfor more ideas on how you can be the parent your child needs.