I have always admired the two young men who knocked on my family’s door when I was 5. They taught us about the faith I have grown to love, and I made a goal at an early age I would be a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was older. And in 2010, I became just that.
The 18 months I spent proselyting in Billings, Montana, were some of the best in my life, but I could have never imagined how serving in the community and teaching people about my faith would prepare me for motherhood. As I begin the daunting task of raising my daughter, I frequently look back on these six things I learned as a missionary:
1. Establish a righteous routine. As a missionary, two hours of each morning are devoted to studying the word of God, both individually and with your missionary companion. The leader of my mission, called a mission president, named this our “righteous routine.” Now in our home, we try to create a righteous routine each night. Now, don’t think we spend two hours studying the scriptures. Good heavens, no! But my husband and I try (quite imperfectly, I might add) to study the scriptures individually and as a couple. We also pray individually and as a couple. It makes a world of difference. By making God a priority in our busy and exhausting schedules, it helps us focus on what matters most. We come closer together as a couple. This also establishes good, wholesome patterns as our family continues to grow.
2. Be flexible. For the Whitlocks, parenthood is becoming synonymous with flexibility. Maybe you’ve heard, but the thing about babies? That patience skill is not so refined. As a missionary I spent 30 minutes each night planning the events of our upcoming day, complete with back-up plans for each. Inevitably, there were (many) days that every one of those plans fell through. It taught me the valuable lesson of going with the flow. It’s not worth getting frustrated if things don’t go exactly as you plan them. Instead, it was about making the most of each minute we had. I plan to do the same with my sweet daughter.
3. How to teach children. Let’s rewind a few years and take a look at 2009 Emmilie. 2009 Emmilie is insanely awkward around children, doesn’t know how to talk to them, and instead settles for begging for awkward high-fives. Luckily, I was able to interact with children often as a missionary as I ate dinner with families from the congregation we were serving in. I was also able to teach several children about Jesus Christ as a missionary. These children allowed me to come out of my insecure shell and learn how to simplify important, sacred things so a child could understand them. As I think about teaching my own daughter, I am filled with confidence that I will be able to teach her about her Savior and give her a solid foundation of faith.
4. Children are very close to God. One sweet family I met as a missionary had a 3-year-old son. My missionary companion and I would have short lessons with the family, who were members of the congregation I was serving in at the time. One day, my bag tipped over, spilling the contents onto the family’s living room floor. The 3-year-old boy grabbed a small picture of Jesus Christ that had fallen near him. He picked it up, looked at it, showed it to his mother and said, “Jesus.” The boy’s mother looked at him, baffled. “I’ve never taught him that. How does he know that?” Now I’m sure the boy had learned that either at home along the way or at church, but it was an experience that struck me. These sweet children in our homes are so close to God. They are pure and innocent and I’m grateful for their examples of unconditional love and acceptance.
5. Use the edges of time. As missionaries, we believed we were consecrating all our time for those 18 months or two years in service to God. Our mission leaders often encouraged us to use the “edges of time.” That meant using every possible opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ, engage in service and help those around us. This advice has been good for me as a new mother. Time is precious, and because I want to devote as much time as I can do where it matters most — my husband and my daughter — I find that when I use my time wisely, life seems more manageable. It’s about using those little pockets of “extra” time. For example, as a breastfeeding mom who pumps, I use that time pumping to either take a breather for myself while my daughter sleeps, or do something productive like planning our menu for the coming week. When my daughter goes down for the night, it’s my time to get my kitchen cleaned, indulge in my favorite late night snack — Fruit Loops — or watch an episode or two of my latest guilty pleasure, “Pretty Little Liars.” During nightly feedings I’ll switch my laundry after Bellamy goes back to sleep so it’s ready to be folded and put away the next morning. Being conscientious about my time has helped me feel like I’ve maintained some balance as I’ve entered mommyville.
6. Be unified with your companion. One of the rules for LDS missionaries is to be within sight and sound of their companion at all times. Needless to say, you learn to get along. And you learn that if you want to get productive work done, you must be unified. A marriage is the same way, especially when children are involved. Though my husband and I have different approaches to some aspects of parenthood (I’m infinitely more worry-prone) we still act as a team. If something is important to me, Eric is willing to accommodate, and vice versa. As we work together (no matter how imperfectly) we are united in our efforts to raise our daughter righteously.