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The following is part one of a four-part series on parenting lessons learning from the Lord’s dealings with his covenant people.
We are told that we can find answers to any question we have in the scriptures. For me, the biggest dilemma in my life is what to do with all these tiny humans that have been entrusted to me. And when I look in the scriptures, I see some sweet vignettes– stories about mothers who taught their children not to doubt and sacrificed to God, but I need even more! What do I do with a screaming toddler in the grocery store? How do I show love when I have to punish or correct? How about the daily ins and outs of parenting?
Then I started looking at the history of God’s covenant people (the scriptures) as a continual lifespan of one person being led by God the Father; suddenly there were a lot of answers about parenting.
As wonderful as the parents in the scriptures are, I was interested to learn how to parent as God parents us. I need His example to show me what I’m supposed to be doing.
I will be laying these phases out in more detail, section by section, in subsequent blog posts. Generally, the lifespan starts with the Patriarchs (Infant/Toddlers), then moves into the Israelites (4-12 years old), then into Disciples of Christ (teenagers) and finally adult children (Servants and Friends in the Last Days)
I am not saying that other generations weren’t more mature than us (ahem, Methuselah), and that individuals didn’t exceed our dispensation’s level of faith. I just mean that the covenant people matured as a group and they built upon the previous generation’s knowledge and experiences. This might explain why they were treated differently by God in each period. He expects us to learn from the things he taught the Israelites, the Disciples and the early Saints. Just as we expect our children to remember the rules from yesterday, last week and last year.
God sends down babies with two superpowers: they are adorable, and they are helpless. They require a servant to keep them alive. When we spend all day, every day serving these beautiful tiny creatures, we form a loving bond that will last for our whole life. This love is essential to the plan–it connects us to one or two humans who are totally invested in seeing us through to the end. You are that person for your children, and if they don’t get it in you, they won’t get it in anyone else. That is why it takes a mix of superpowers to make those bonds. Love is the starting place for parenting.
Looking at the way God nurtured his infant covenant people gives us an insight into how we ought to parent our very young children. The early patriarchs of the Church (Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah) were the first moments of life for our race and our religion. They were cherished, loved and taught. The overarching philosophy behind their interactions with the Father was that they were precious and had great potential. The following ideas are just a smattering from reading the stories of the early Patriarchs. I’m certain there are loads more to be found.
The first thing our Father did before sending Adam and Eve here was to prepare a space for them with all the things they would need–light, water, land, animals, trees and flowers. Before our babies come into the world, we get the same urge to “nest” and create a clean, well-supplied space to receive the baby in. Before my first arrived, my husband and I took a very fruitful trip to the local thrift store and found almost all of the “gear” we would need for the baby for a fraction of the cost (undergrad baby!). Preparing the house to have a baby doesn’t need to be expensive or elaborate. My cousin had their baby sleep in a padded dresser drawer (always left open, of course). Cleanliness and order are the main things that help new parents feel like they’ve got it under control.
God let them explore the garden, He gave them everything there, and let them learn and figure things out together, with a few guiding rules. He checked in often to see how they were and to teach them. When things went wrong He stepped in, meted out the appropriate consequences, and got rid of the negative influence causing the problem. He then prepared them for their next stage with proper clothing, instruction and protection.
It is really good for babies and toddlers to have time to discover the world around them. They shouldn’t be penned up and kept out of trouble for our convenience. That’s what we do with a pet, not a human. Electronic “penning” is still penning. Maria Montessori was an Italian educator who developed a system that aligned closely with the natural desires and actions of children–working with the child’s temperment and interests instead of against it. You don’t have to pay out the nose to give your child a Montessori education (well, you do if you join a school), you can simply learn her philosophy and use it with your own children. One day she observed a child sitting on the side of the road, playing intently with rocks and sticks, completely absorbed in his own world and totally happy. She realized that most kids that age are hardly left to their own devices, because parents assume it will create chaos. Her experience in that moment, and later as she implemented her ideas, was that “Play is the work of a child” and if we give them some ideas, tools and time, they will be happy and learning independently for a long time.
“It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age, man finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent. The exalting feeling of being sufficient to oneself comes as a revelation.”Maria Montessori
Adam and Eve were taught by their Father that they needed to work and be obedient. He observed them for “many days” to see if they really would do what He had asked them–and they did. We can internalize this pattern when giving rewards or treats to our young children. The reward should be contingient upon some lasting good behavior. When we give things to kids because they wear us down with their whining and tantrums, we are simply training them to whine and throw tantrums (for as long as it takes!). “Lasting good behavior” means 15 minutes to a two year old, and 3 days for a four year old. Using judgment about what they are capable of is important.
Enoch was called to be a missionary–preaching repentance and gathering. Like most of us, he felt unworthy and incompotent. And in a tender conversation with the Lord, he was told, “Behold, my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.” After which, the Lord allowed Enoch to see all the Spirits around him, supporting him–and he had the courage and strength to try. After a long missionary stretch, calling all to repentance, he did have great success. God didn’t take the hard thing away, he gave His son the courage and confidence to try.
Noah was protected from the storm, he was cradled by the ark his Father showed him how to build. The covenant people survived and started again, relying on the Lord for their protection from wickedness. Our homes should be like the ark–a safe place from the wickedness around us to carry these little souls to safety. Even if the world outside is a mess of storms and floods, inside the home can be a refuge.
Reading through Genesis or Moses, looking for parenting techniques from Heavenly Father is fruitful. Nearly every verse teaches some principle or pattern that we can use with our own children.
The lesson from the Patriarchs is that our infants and babies should be treated as precious and full of potential. The love we develop for them through serving them (and looking at their adorable chubby faces) will be the foundation to all future parenting. Prepare the way for them and reward their consistent efforts, like Adam. Give them courage to try things, like Enoch, and always protect them, like Noah. The first few years of a person’s life are so vitally important to the way they feel about themselves and their abilities. If you don’t give them that, no one in their life will.