The celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is just around the corner. How many of us find it comfortable to have the spotlight turned on our role as parents? I certainly don’t, even after years of working on my attitude.
In my experience, parents who feel truly at ease with the whole picture of their parenting performance are rare. As Latter-day-Saints we take the roles of mother and father very seriously. The words “No success can compensate for failure in the home” can cause us to shake in our boots.
Most of us have learned enough to know that it is counterproductive to lament over what we didn’t know when our kids were little . . . and that it can be downright insulting to a grown child to imply that our parenting performance was less exemplary than we wish it had been. Nonetheless, most of us are still left with questions in regard to what we might have done or not done, or could have done better. Here are five ideas that can ease the hurts in our hearts:
1. Our Assigned Parental Role Includes Making Mistakes and Raising Children Who Make Mistakes
God is the only parent who never makes mistakes in parenting. Making mistakes does not brand us as failures! Mistakes are expected. Mistakes are inevitable because of the gift of agency, and are the reason Father provided a Savior whose atonement would make repentance possible.
By the same token, having our children grow up mistake free is not the goal and should never be our standard for measuring our success as parents. By that standard Heavenly Father would be failing with all of His children.
Nowhere in the scriptures can we find a single verse directing parents to raise mistake-free children. Instead, the role of parents is clearly mapped out that we are to teach our children to whom they can turn for repentance. In 2 Nephi 25:26 we read, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (emphasis mine.)
If our children know where to turn for a remission of their sins, if they have received even a remedial understanding of the baptism and sacramental covenants and know how to repent when they’re ready, that is success! If we as parents are daily repenting and turning to the Savior, that is success!
2. Our Parental Job Is Not to Teach Children All the Spirit Has Taught Us, But to Teach Them How to Learn by the Spirit
I used to feel a great urgency to teach all the important spiritual lessons I had learned through Divine tutorship. But it is no more possible to accomplish that than to open our children’s heads and pour in our own testimonies. And it is not part of a parent’s job description. The Spirit teaches each of us exactly what we need to know at each stage in our lives. The most amazing lesson that the Spirit just taught me may not be what my children are ready to learn at all.
What children do need all along the way is tutoring in how the Spirit works, how to hear His voice, how to stay in tune, how to recognize promptings, and how important it is to follow them immediately.
Disclaimer: We can’t teach what we don’t know, and the Lord will find other ways to reach our children if we didn’t know and didn’t teach those things when they were growing up.
3. It Is Not Our Job as Parents to Protect Our Children from Suffering
If there is one thing I set out to do as a young mother it was to protect my children in every way possible. I wanted them to be comfortable, happy, and healthy-ALL THE TIME! I felt I was failing whenever they weren’t.
Our Heavenly Father sets the perfect example for parenting. Does He use His unlimited power to make His children comfortable, happy, and healthy all the time? Hardly! The perfect plan of a perfect God allows trials, adversities, and suffering. Why? Because He knows there is no other way to receive the experiences we need to gain the knowledge we came here to gain . . . because He knows adversity offers the greatest opportunities for growth, spiritual seeking, and reaching out to the Creator for help and relief.
Disclaimer: The kind of inevitable suffering I’m referring to above does not condone abuse of any kind. It IS the job of parents to protect children from suffering abuse whenever humanly possible and to try our hardest not to be the source of it. However, when we as parents have no knowledge of or control over a child’s abuse from others, we must rely on the healing power of the Atonement to make things right in the long run. We can cling to that promise. And we can know that all suffering is part of the opposition necessary for our mortal experience: 2 Nephi 2:11 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”
4. Parents Are Part of the Plan of Opposition in Their Children’s Lives and Vice Versa
Whether we like it or not, we as parents contribute opposition in each of our children’s lives and they contribute to the opposition in ours. No parent ever gives birth to a problem-free child or does a perfect job raising them. Every parent finds challenges with each child and all children have difficult experiences with the way they are raised that give them challenges to overcome. It’s part of the plan.
Think how challenged Lehi and Sariah were with Laman and Lemuel. Conversely, in Laman and Lemuel’s perspective, their dad was one difficult man to deal with. They seemed to consider Lehi and then Nephi (who was so much like his father) as the source of most of their woes in life! And whether opposition is real or imagined, it has a large impact on lives.
I don’t think many children create opposition for their parents intentionally and they often realize only in retrospect how difficult they were. And certainly we as parents don’t mean to be part of the opposition in our children’s lives. We never wake up in the morning and say, “Today I am going to do my best to increase the level of opposition in my children’s experience.” Opposition happens because both parents and children are imperfect, fallen, natural man creatures. We parents mean to encourage our children, but sometimes our words discourage instead. We mean to teach, but sometimes we preach instead. We mean to discipline in ways that will help our children to be disciples, but sometimes we confuse and alienate and create resistance.
We can thank the Savior every day for His promise to help children and parents learn from opposition. We can thank Him for His promise to wipe away our tears, to heal our hearts, to redeem us from the hardest things in our lives. He always keeps His promises! The Savior is aptly named; we believe in a Savior who saves! He will eventually save us from all the ills of mortality.
5. It Is the Savior’s Job to Save, Not Ours
So many times we would like to play a bigger part in the salvation of our children than we have been assigned. As they grow and mature and leave our homes and make lives of their own there are times when the only thing we can do is pray for them.
As our children leave the nest, sometimes to journey to faraway lands, we learn the poignant lesson of trusting them to the Lord. When grownup children make mistakes that wrench our heartstrings, our greatest comfort is a reminder that the Lord’s plan of redemption is in place for them and is working just fine. He will never forget them. He has their names engraved on the palms of His hands. (See Isaiah 49:16.) His work and His glory is to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. (See Moses 1:39.) He not only has the intention to save them, but also has the power necessary to accomplish all His intentions; consequently, we can find His rest in our souls.
D&C 123:17 offers one of the most comforting promises to parents: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”
Such promises are truly the only cure for the “dis-ease” of parenthood. We can find ease in the arms of the Savior’s love.
Author’s note: Visit my website darlaisackson.com for the latest information about my books Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On.