Become a Better Parent

 

Being a parent is kind of a high pressure job, eh?  Not only are you on call 24/7, 365 but if you screw up your job, then your kid ends up in a maximum security prison.   Or at least in crippling debt from all the therapists he has to see undo the effect of your well-meaning intentions.

Yet so many of us have no clue where to turn for help with our parenting skills.  We know we shouldn’t yell or spank or threaten consequences that we never intend to follow through on.  But how SHOULD we deal with the raging toddler or the angst-ridden preteen??

Or that one kid who keeps peeing in inappropriate places?

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I recently found two AMAZING parenting resources that I have to share!

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The upside to carrying your 7th kid

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Expecting baby #2. We were so young, so…sane.

I realize that the decision to have 7 kids isn’t really an idea the majority of people will ever entertain (well, sane people, anyway).  But just in case you ever wondered if there’s any benefit to being pregnant while there are 6 diminutive maniacs running around your house (all.  day.  long.), there ARE!  Read on.

1.  You’re too busy to think about being pregnant. If you’re an OCD planner and dreamer like I am, then a first pregnancy literally feels likes it’s 27 (thousand) months long.  Researching cribs and strollers and baby baths, panicking about what baby carrier is safest and having meltdowns about the nursery theme filled every minute of every day of that first gestation.  During THIS pregnancy however, I generally abide by the following motto:

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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Laughs from the Littles: Twin Edition

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Having twins is a hoot.  I’m not gonna lie – sometimes the stress level makes it feel as if 1 + 1 = 7 but the hilarity usually makes up for it.  Vivian’s speech skills aren’t quite what Kira’s are but the latter has certainly come up with some gut busters lately.

While in the pool, Luke asks Kira, : “Wanna swim with me?”
Kira: “Yeah, but you got boogahs hanging outta yo’ nose.”

After a few discussions regarding where this new baby will come from…

Kira: “MOM! Wemember when I was a baby?  I drank baby milk and got in yo’ belly with Vivsy, then I came out the pink hole together with Vivsy holding hands.  And we were wearing pink heels.”
And I swear I never said anything about where the baby comes out!

She picked up the word “suspicious” from the big kids recently and so, any chance she gets, she strokes an imaginary beard and says…

“hmmmm, SUM-spicious!”

An Essential Guide to Crazy-Free Family Pictures

Pretty sure this kid was mesmerized by some rock or something.

Pretty sure this kid was mesmerized by some rock or something.

With one kid, taking family pictures is hardly a national crisis.  You get dressed in nice-ish clothes, do your hair and maybe have grandma hopping around somewhere behind the camera trying to get the kid to look.

Add a couple more kids to the mix (or 5 more, whatever) and all of a sudden your mental state has deteriorated to DEFCON 5.  (That’s the worst, right?  Or is it DEFCON 1?)  Seeing how we’re in the thick of family picture taking season (all you overachievers who had them done at the beach back in June can just tune me out), here are some tips on avoiding Post-Family-Picture Stress Syndrome (that’s a thing).

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1.  Use an experienced photographer.  This doesn’t mean that you have to spend oodles of money, but it pays to ask about experience, especially if you have a large(r) family.  If you really only want a snapshot, then your brother-in-law with the nice camera is fine.  But if you’re putting effort into outfits and spending money, make sure you’ll get what you paid for!

2.  Dress for the weather, if shooting outdoors.  We live in Phoenix, which means that every time we take holiday pictures it’s October and still 95 degrees outside.  Would I love to dress everyone in matchy-matchy reindeer sweaters?  Maybe.  But the subsequent heat stroke would make for some pretty crappy pictures.  Instead, we put on light pants, short sleeved shirts and find shade.  If November is already too cold for little girls in dresses, embrace it and take some cute shots all bundled up.  The outfit isn’t worth being miserable!

3.  Pay attention to the best time of  day for your kids.  For mine, it’s usually right after naps but before they get hungry for dinner.  If this time works out with the sun for outdoor shots, then you’re in luck.  If not, you may need to get more creative.  Be sure to give everyone plenty of  snacks and water beforehand and BEFORE getting dressed, obviously.  Also be sure to bring water with you, as well as some non-messy snacks (i.e. apple slices or cheese sticks)

4.  Be aware of the location where you’ll be shooting and prepare for it.  For example, if you’ll be around water, make sure someone is the designated baby-watcher.  If it’s out in the open, you might want to bring an umbrella for portable shade.  If there will be snow or sand, bring sunglasses.  We neglected to bring bug spray this year and Arizona has had some terrible flooding and unusual mosquito problems this year.  It’s strangely difficult to get kids to smile when they’re scratching umpteen mosquito bites.

5.  Prepare kids ahead of time for what to expect and plan a bribe: Something like… “Mom paid money for these pictures.  They will last an hour.  You must wear what I say and do your hair how I say and smile.  If you do, you will get french fries and ice cream afterwards.  That is all.”  It works pretty well for us.

6.  Stick (mostly) with clothes you own and love: If you go out and buy new stuff for everyone, chances are, not only will you be broke, but everyone will end up itchy and uncomfortable.  I like to pick a few of our favorite things and coordinate them rather than match.  Pinterest has some great color schemes for reference, or pick a favorite fabric pattern for inspiration.  Beware of too much white or too many patterns.  Your photographer can also tell you anything else you should avoid.

If you need more tips for dressing your crew without going broke or crazy, check out this post here!

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Lastly, be realistic and relax!  It’d be nice to get several great, quality shots of every kid but that’s not always likely.  Instead, focus on recording this time of your family’s life with all it’s quirks and imperfections (note my vice grip on baby Toby’s hand in above picture).  Life is messy, roll with it!

5 Keys to a Happy Mom

 

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I’m gonna take a quick moment to state the obvious: Motherhood is HARD.  If you are a mother or you had a mother or you know a mother, you certainly know what I’m talking about.

And while the rewards of being Mom can be amazing (sticky hugs and super-smart kids and seeing your genes in miniature), sometimes they just aren’t enough.  Sometimes, you wake up with dread in the pit of your stomach and nothing seems to make up for all the spills and fights and disasters and loneliness.

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When I first decided to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, it was a scary huge adjustment for me.  I always knew that I wanted to have kids but I also always expected to have an advanced degree, a part time job or some other “useful” outlet for my time and energy.  I knew the value of motherhood but couldn’t see myself deriving ALL my personal value from wiping stinky bums and making endless tuna fish sandwiches.

The decision to stay home full-time was a long and personal journey for me (as it is for any mom) and it was full of bumps and adjustments.  But now that I’m in my 10th(!) year of staying home full time with my kids (of which there are now 6 adorable, homeschooled ragamuffins), I have learned some amazing tools for dealing with the occasional emotional slump and ensuring that I wake up happy and excited to greet every single day (alright, almost every day).

Every mom will have different tactics she uses to keep her mom-bucket full, but here are my top 5.

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1.  Take care of yourself. 
I know, I know: gone are the days of the weekly pedicure or the 45 minute blow-out or sometimes even the daily shower.  But how you feel about yourself speaks volumes about how you’ll feel (and treat) your home and family.  Decide what makes you feel good and commit to doing it.

I personally have to shower and get dressed every day.  I don’t always wash my hair or shave or all those other niceties, but if I don’t shower, my motivation for just about anything else is gone and I feel like crap all day.

Also, exercise REEEALLLY helps me.  I know sometimes it’s only a pipe dream (like if you have a nursing baby younger than 6 months) but getting up just a half hour early to take a jog or do a YouTube yoga video makes me 110% more productive and energetic all day long.

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2.  Take care of your cleaning peeves, let go of the rest.
Take a minute and think of the messes or issues that REALLY bother you in a home.  Taking care of these in your own home might be so second nature to you that you’ll need to think of someone else’s home.  Do you despise filthy carpets?  Loathe crumbs on the counter?  Get super grossed out by dirty toilets?

Obviously we all prefer a clean, meticulous home, but if you are super stressed and busy beyond belief and have 5 minutes to take care of something, what would it be?  My top three are laundry on the floor (can’t stand it!), walking on crumbs (blech) and piles of toys everywhere.  Dirty dishes and bathroom sinks (while gross and eventually need to be cleaned) are less important to me.

The recognition of these stress triggers helps me to better manage my time.  I deal with the most annoying things first and, when I run out of time, I let the rest go.  This is hard, especially when people come to your house and you feel guilty or judged for having a mess.  In the end, your peace and happiness are more important than what the neighbors think.  There will come a time when you have all day to clean the house again.  And that is precisely when you will wish you had cute little kids running around to distract you from it 🙂

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3.  Make something beautiful
It took me several years to really understand this one and make it work for me, but when I did, it made all the difference in the world.  I recently did a presentation on creativity for a class I took with other homeschool moms.  I talked about how women are natural creators (we make people!) and that we are drawn to beauty.  I believe that it is part of our human nature to seek out and create things that please the senses.

It’s often hard for us to think past the visual arts in this sense (painting, design or crafting) but ALL of our senses appreciate beauty.  Instrumental music and song, delicious food, home repairs or décor, even fitness or fashion apply here.  Improving ourselves through any creative means will lift our spirits, give us a sense of purpose and fill our lives with appreciation for all of the beautiful things around us.  Read more rambling about the importance of creativity here!

I have found a passion in home decorating, sewing (obviously) and other crafts.  This can be as simple as hanging a picture on my wall.  But after a day of changing diapers that are just gonna get pooped in or feeding mouths that will be hungry in 20 minutes, anything I can do that stays done, is like a breath of fresh air!

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Some spectactularly fabulous college roommates of mine gather together from all over the country about once every 18 months or so to eat, talk, laugh uproariously and generally revel in each other’s amazing company.  I HIGHLY recommend this!


4.  Spend time with friends
Women are unique in our need for interaction from the same gender.  We need friendships with other women unlike men need guy friends.  I don’t know why this is, but it’s a fact (according to me).  When we isolate ourselves, either purposely or accidentally, we lose the ability to see ourselves from an outside perspective.

Give yourself 15 minutes with a few close friends and you will feel happier, more optimistic, less alone and more prepared to face the stress of everyday life (*not a scientific study, it just works!).  If you’re short on close friends, go find some.  I guarantee there are dozens of other mothers (and non-mothers!) in your town who need camaraderie and support just like you.

It helps to look in places where you might find someone with similar interests (the kid section of the library, the step class at the YMCA, church, etc.) but don’t count someone out just because you don’t see much in common up front.  Some amazing friendships can blossom in unlikely places (think church-going conservative housewife and tattooed, single gym rat).  If you feel like life is getting you down, schedule a girls’ night.  Chances are good that you’re not the only one who needs it.

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5.  Look at your kids
Have you ever found yourself, harried and overwhelmed at the end of the day, and realize that you haven’t even really looked your kids in the eye?  Maybe everyone woke up late and you forgot you had to carpool and someone threw up and there were 3 poop accidents.  Regardless of the reasons, I sometimes forget that my “job” includes caring for people.  Little people who love me and look up to me and just want to please me.

Sometimes, if I look into those little eyes, I can see past the 27th glass of spilled lemonade and realize that this kid just wants me to love them and tell them it’s OK.  Life is hard and scary and Mom is the ONLY person (besides Dad) who loves them unconditionally.  You are their entire world and they need you to acknowledge them and help them through the rough patches.  All the messes in the world won’t mean a darn thing to a mom who regularly gives her kids the attention and acceptance they need.

This is not a step intended to invoke guilt for ignoring your kids when you need 5 minutes alone in the bathroom (for the love of all that is holy… just FIVE minutes!!).  It’s simply a reminder that we can be tempted to see a child as a task instead of a sweet little person.

**As a final note, let me say that real (clinical and chemical) depression exists.  It often happens to mothers because of fluctuating birth hormones and then sticks around.  If, after doing everything you can to feel good about yourself, you just can’t seem to feel happy, please see a doctor.  There is great courage and nobility in recognizing that you need help to get your life back.  Don’t waste a single second of this precious time with your babies; seek for help and then reach out to others who might be struggling in the same way.  I thank the heavens that we live in a time of good therapists and miraculous medication.  We deserve to be happy!

Good luck, mamas!  The work you do is not only good, it is the best there is.

If you still doubt yourself, watch this.  Warning: may cause tears.

 

Homeschool vs Hawaii

We had a fantastic summer of traveling this year.  I made the rash, irresponsible, more-than-partially-crazy, super exciting decision to take a road trip with my 6 kids by myself from Arizona through Vegas, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Washington…and then all the way back again.  3000 miles of screaming, road-side diaper changes, crumbs up to our shins and lots and lots of fun!  It was seriously my favorite road trip to date.  I obviously much prefer the job of driving with my headphones in to snack-passer-outer and baby-calmer.

Then Luke and I got to go to Ireland with a great group of family and friends.  After that, we took an “official” 10-year anniversary trip to Hawaii which was absolutely breathtaking.  Even better was the fact that most of the trip was free because Luke won a raffle through a business partner.  Yesssss.

So, I have these gorgeous pictures of Hawaii sitting around on my hard drive, just waiting to be shared and enjoyed.  But I’ve been slightly preoccupied with all the things and bodies that need me here at home.  I thought I’d put together a quick recap of home life, in relation to a tropical vacation getaway.

 

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I think you get the picture.

Reality is reeeeally cute, no doubt about that.  But messy.  And less… beachy.

In all seriousness, the summer of relaxation was just the thing to prep me for this year of homeschooling.  We’ve had a great start to the “school” year and just this week I found the most magnificent resource for any parent interested in their kids’ education.

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This homeschool summit put on by The Home Education Council of America is the coolest collection of webinars!  They’re airing 3 talks a day by prominent, amazing educators and leaders in the homeschool community.  You can watch them live or stream them for up to 48 hours after the live session.  It’s all month long, all online and it’s all FREE!

Seriously!  I’ve watched 3 of them already and they are chock full of incredible information for any parent wanting to be more involved in their kids’ educations.

Today, I listened to Andrew Pudewa talking about how the physiological differences between boys and girls are essential to address in the way we educate our kids.

Did you know that most boys can’t hear sounds as soft as most girls can?  Girls see colors and textures with more distinction and boys see direction and motion with more clarity.  Anyone noticed that their boys draw predominantly verbs (flying, shooting, running, fighting) and girls focus on nouns in their artwork (animals, people, houses)?  These were just a few of the amazing eye-opening ideas he talked about and there’s plenty more coming.

Good luck this year to all the parents out there who are trying to give their kids the best education they can, at home or at school.

I hope more moms and dads can take advantage of this great conference!

Look Up

IMG_7839Westport House, Connemara, Ireland

I read this great little story in our church’s magazine the other day: A woman who had recently lost her daughter in an accident woke up early one day in an attempt to see a sunrise.  She and her husband were hoping that a glimpse of a beautiful sky would help lift their spirits and give them hope during their devastation.  They waited, facing east, yet as the sun rose, it failed to break through the clouds.  The woman felt disheartened and turned to go back inside when her husband said, “Look!”  She turned to see him facing west where they witnessed a gorgeous reflection of the sunrise in beautiful shades of pink (her daughter’s favorite color, btw).  She felt that God was sending her hope for the future and a reminder of His love.  She then went on to say this:

“I have thought often on that beautiful moment and the new perspective it gave me. Who looks for a sunrise in the west? And yet that is where my miracle was waiting. How many blessings and miracles do I miss because they come from unexpected places? How many times do I focus on what I think should be and miss the glory of what is?”

Whoa.  THAT was something I needed to hear.

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That saying was so good it needed a meme.  And I need a hobby, apparently.

While my anxiety over caring for 6 little ones is nothing compared to this woman’s tragedy, her words helped me recognize all the good that exists amidst the stresses of everyday life.

It seems every time I turn around, someone is telling me to “enjoy these years because you’ll miss them when those kids are gone!”  A saying which is most likely true, albeit not extremely helpful to hear as that frazzled mother in the checkout line with a kid screaming for a toy, another licking the shopping cart and a 3rd snorting stolen pixie sticks.

The fact is, however, that the very act of enjoying any stage of life usually means ignoring the messes and inconveniences that come with it all.  A bit of a catch-22, if you will, but pretty much applicable to anyone, anywhere.

Enjoying life = ignoring messes (literal and figurative)

IMG_7901The Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, Ireland – see all those teeny tiny people up there?  Adrenaline junkies.

One more story: yesterday, on the radio, the lead singer of a Christian band was talking about visiting Disneyland with his little nephew.  At one point, the kid threw a massive temper tantrum because his sister wouldn’t let him push the stroller.  The guy said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Here was my nephew, in the middle of the happiest place on earth, throwing a fit about something totally insignificant and I realized how often we do the same thing.  We focus so intently on the small problems that we forget to simply look up!  We’re surrounded by blessings and beauty and wonder, we just need to lift our eyes to see it.”

Right on, man.  Right on.

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Lest you forget my life is no longer all green grass and rainbows, here’s a shot of me “looking up” amidst the chaos and laundry.  Although I probably should eventually look down cause my kid’s not wearing a diaper here.

 

 

Laughs from the Littles

 

I keep DYING to share some of the funniest and most touching things these great kids of mine come up with.

I recently decided that I’d start a series of posts chronicling the hilarity that ensues at our house.  I knew kids were funny but sometimes they seriously just SLAY me.

The only sad part is that I’m usually alone with them and there’s no one else to laugh with me.  That’s where you guys come in.

Introducing: Laughs from the Littles, Round 1.

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Me: “Everyone is good at something.”
Liam:”Except me.”

I gear up to give him a motivational pep talk until…

Liam: “I’m good at everything.”
Me: Laughs.  “Except humility.”
Liam: “What’s that?”
I explain.
Liam: “Nope, I’m good at that too.”

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The best part about this picture is Liam’s shirt.  It says, “I’m pretty much one of the best people I know.”  (plus a stick drawing of Greg Heffley aka Wimpy Kid).  Fitting, considering our above conversation.

While playing Duck, Duck, Goose as a family, Toby decides to pat heads to the words of, “tiger….platypus….deer scat…goose…”

Stay tuned for the next installment of snort-inducing children’s quotes.

Pain

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Becoming a mother opens you up to so much joy…and pain.  You essentially become an extension of your children and often feel what they feel.
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Remember this (super serious) post?  A homeschooling friend gave an amazing presentation more on this topic during our discussion group and it included this poem that might help me have perspective during rough patches:
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
“I will not have you with me any more.”
I stamped my foot and said, “Be on your way,”
And paused there, startled at he look he wore.
“I, who have been your friend,” he said to me,
“I, who have been your teacher–all you know
Of understanding love, of sympathy,
And patience, I have taught you. Shall I go?”
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast,
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears, and lifted up a song–
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.

As Quoted by Spencer W Kimball (Past president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

Faith and fear, hope and doubt

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I’m kind of obsessed with color so this last Christmas I challenged myself to decorate with only white, silver and gold just to prove a point.  See!?  I did it!  I can make neutrals look pretty!  And it felt surprisingly good, especially considering I usually have all kind of wacky colors going on at Christmastime: I usually switch between hot pink/green and bold blue/purple color schemes :).
I was just looking at the quote in this frame (from the LDS general conference in October of last year) the other day and felt it resonate with me once again:
“Doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In the last few weeks, so much sad, sad news has reached my ears: a local family lost a special needs child when he escaped from their yard and drowned in a nearby canal, my friend discovered serious abuse happening to her children right in her own home, and I learned of several other traumatizing stories that happened to parents and children of families I admire or follow online.
I bring this up because as a mom of little children I occasionally find myself contemplating the dangers and accidents and evils that could befall my family and honestly, the thoughts are paralyzing.  I almost can’t breathe when I think about all the things that could bring calamity to my sweet little innocent children.  I’m not a naturally anxious person at all, but I find myself having mini-panic attacks at the possibilities!  Is it even right to bring children into a world so full of hatred, prejudice, violence, accidents and danger??
I contest that YES.  Of course it’s right…and good and necessary and worth it all and here’s why…
Once or twice, after feeling these crippling bouts of fear for what the future holds for my kids (or me…the thought of losing my husband is equally unnerving!), I’ve felt a supernatural sense of calm.  I know it was God speaking right to my soul and saying that yes…bad crap happens (um, but not in so many words….I mean, I’m sure God would never use the word “crap”…this is just me paraphrasing).  Life is full of danger and sin and accidents and really, really awful stuff that even the best people in the world can’t avoid.  But you know, the bad stuff in life does not have to define you. 
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I usually avoid even thinking about the awful possibilities out there, but in these spiritual moments, I’m able to imagine them, in all their seriousness and possibilities, with very little fear.  YES, one of my children could fall seriously ill, one could die.  I could get cancer; Luke’s plane could crash.  Any one of us could suffer abuse or be abducted.  A child could drown.  A child could choke, I could have a severely handicapped baby that would never talk or walk or speak.  But once those thoughts passed through my head, it was made clear to me that I would move through.  Tragedy doesn’t have to be a brick wall which halts our progress forever.  It can sure feel like a brick wall; we can slam into it and get bruised and battered but if we look closely enough, that wall will have chinks in it.  Little holes and pieces of masonry sticking out just big enough for us to grab hold of, and, eventually, we can scale that big old scary wall of tragedy and come out on the next floor up!
During an amazing discussion about this recently, a friend described a family she knew who endured an unthinkable accident that left their son paralyzed and severely handicapped.  The mother of the family had (something like) this to say about it all, years later:
Not only CAN good come from bad, but it MUST.  That is part of the plan of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes the greater bad that occurs, the greater the good that will result from it.  Even when the bad things are your fault, there is always a way for good to triumph. 
I believe that God is the Father of our spirits, which makes him the literal Dad of billions of people.  The same people who lie and hurt each other, who steal and murder and commit hideous crimes.  Something tells me that because God loves more purely than any of us, He likely feels pain more acutely than us.  If He gave us the choice to make these mistakes, even when these mistakes will hurt His other children and hurt Him (probably most of all!), then what does that say about the importance of our freedom?  Surely the freedom to screw up must be one of the most important gifts in the whole world!  (Um…thanks??? 🙂  And then I realize:

Surely more good can come from our tragedies, our mistakes and our learning from them, than from never enduring hardships at all.
THAT is why we’re here. 

Wow.  What a thought.
Here and here are two of my favorite online examples of mothers enduring trials beautifully.  And I interact with more of them around me every single day…