In this series on godly parenting, we have described the footers for our parenting house as our personal well-being—especially our relationship with God. A parent with a vibrant relationship with God is far more likely to be an excellent parent than one who is conflicted about his or her relationship with the Eternal.
The foundation of the parenting structure is our compassion for our children—our tenderness and openness to our children’s needs, preferences, and circumstances. This challenging process draws us out of our own world and invites us to understand and appreciate the child’s world.
Next comes the body of the parenting house formed by companion processes, nurturance and guidance. Guidance of children is not effective in the absence of nurture. And nurture without guidance is indulgence. These processes must be yoked as equal partners.
Most of us are much better at one than the other. Maybe we are good at setting limits—but we struggle to be consistently loving and nurturing. Or maybe we are warm and loving—but we find it difficult to set limits and enforce them effectively. All of us are imperfect people who are unable to be what we must be without divine help. Parenting is designed to challenge us toward godliness.
Mormon reminds us to “teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children” (Moroni 8:10). Learning to be good parents is one of God’s favored ways of making us more godly.
The Vital Role of Nurture
Research is clear about the vital role of nurture; nothing matters more for helping children become good human beings than being loved and cherished by good human beings. This is one of the strongest and most consistent findings of research.
More importantly, it agrees with the direction we are given by the ultimate Parent:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34-35
The test of godly parenting is whether we love as Jesus loves. Anything less leaves us short of the standard for disciples.
How Does Jesus Love?
It is obvious that Jesus’ love is extraordinary. His whole heart, might, mind, and strength are dedicated to us. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24). He loves us completely, sacrificially, and redemptively. He is bound to us by covenant.
You can see the remarkable irony. In asking us to love Him with all our hearts, He is only asking us to do what He has already done for us. In asking us to love our children with all our hearts, He is only asking what He Himself continues to do perfectly. As in all things good, He leads the way.
With God, All Things Are Possible
If you are like me, you are haunted by the impossibility of the task. I am weak, fickle, and self-serving. How can I love as He loves? How can a fallen human be divine?
The great sermons and examples throughout scripture show us the pattern:
1. We recognize His greatness, goodness, graciousness, and willingness.
2. We recognize our inability to do as we are required to do unaided by the grace of Christ.
3. We hunger for divine aid.
4. We cry out for mercy following the scriptural pattern: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” (See, for example, Alma 36:18).
5. We continue in faithfulness, striving to make Jesus our co-parent.
Ultimately the only way we can love as we should is to be changed by Christ, filled by Him, and captained by Him (as President Benson suggested). There is no other way—even in the specific domain of parenting. He is the way, the truth, and the life in family life just as He is in our spiritual lives.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). And no family makes its way to Heaven without Jesus.
I hope this idea doesn’t cause you to feel impatient: “Enough already. I accept that I need Jesus’ help. When are we going to get to the real ideas, the practical tools?” I hope that instead of simply giving this concept a mere “head nod” of acceptance before moving on, you join me in supplication: “O Jesus, Thou Son of God, grant me goodness, and graciousness. Give me the eternal vision and the enlarged heart. Grant me mercy that I may show mercy.”
Being filled with Jesus is the most practical method of improving our parenting. I’m certain you have noticed that when you are filled with His characteristic goodness, helpful parenting flows naturally from you. I invite you to try the five steps listed above. Make Jesus your parenting partner.
In the next article I will describe some of the ways this heavenly mindset will change our parenting.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.