Last week we posed this question from a reader and invited your response. It is a sticky and sometimes painful question that many of us face as we seek to make home the center of our gospel learning.
I want to teach the gospel and make my home Christ-centered, but I have two children who utterly resist this. They are older teens and don’t want to go to church any more. They have suggested that if we make teaching the gospel the center of our home, it will only divide them from us. They say that it will only mean that we are pushing the church on them and they will be mad. I don’t think these are idle threats. I want to keep a happy relationship with my children and teach the gospel in my home, but I feel like they are pushing me to make a tough decision for the sake of our relationship. What should I do? And in general, how do parents handle making the gospel the center of our lives when we have children or in-laws who find that offensive? I need help.
A Powerful Love and A Powerful Testimony
Imagine that your child, teen or adult, comes to you and declares that they have studied it, thought deeply about it, talked to their peers about it and have decided that becoming a heroin user is a lifestyle they are going to embrace. They expect us to respect their free agency, and to support their chosen lifestyle. If we don’t, they will be offended as we have no right to push our belief system upon them. How many of us would agree with their conditions? Wouldn’t we first talk to them about the danger they are in, the effect their choice will have on their future, their families, their jobs, their relationships. Maybe we would stage an intervention with all their loved ones present, to make clear how such a decision would destroy so many shared values and put so many of life’s precious treasures at risk. One thing is certain, we wouldn’t nod our heads and avoid the subject for fear of offending our child.
And yet, so many of us feel that that is what me must do when the topic has to do with the gospel and with our dear family members who are estranged from it for one reason or another. Something like drug use has consequences for sure, but those consequences pale in significance with the consequences faced when an individual makes the choice to shut God out of their life. When the choice is made to break sacred covenants, to ignore sacred truths.
My youngest daughter and I had this conversation when she informed me that she did not believe God existed, or if He did, He did not care about her and so she would no longer rely on him. She explained that she expected me to remember her choice and to avoid pressuring her about the church. After carefully and clearly explaining to my daughter that I loved her regardless of her choice, that indeed, she was as precious to me as it could be possible to be, that my powerful love for her also meant that while I wouldn’t nag at her, or purposely make her feel bad, I wasn’t going to give up on trying to teach her and bring her back. I was able to bear testimony that I believed it ALL, and because I believed it all, what kind of mother would I be if I just let her go?
I believe that families are meant to endure for eternity, how could I possibly just agree to let her exclude herself from our family circle? I love her, and want her within that circle. I made sure she understood that our circle would be incomplete without her presence; that I would fight for her for the rest of my life, even if at times that meant I would have to fight with her. It is all because of love for her, even the uncomfortable moments. I teased her that I would return from my grave to pester her about it and I reserved the right to do so!
We embraced, but neither has given ground. My daughter knows that when she is with us, we will pray, we will talk about gospel topics and we will read scripture. Most of all, she knows that I KNOW and that I stand fast. What she does is truly her own choice, but she will never see me waver. I consider this my responsibility as her mother and my greatest gift to her.
Three of our four grown children have left the church after having been raised with its principles and having attended meetings their entire lives while at home, and graduated from seminary. All are living respectable lives but have picked up worldly lifestyles that keep them from enjoying the full blessings of the Spirit. Because they are adults, we have little influence over their choices EXCEPT through: example, prayer, our own temple and church attendance, and scripture and other study that keep us within the sphere of influence of the Spirit as much as possible to be ready with inspired guidance as it is needed; and at your children’s stage of life, it will be needed.
It has been made clear that force is not the Savior’s way, but while they are in your home, you have the opportunity to let them see and to express firsthand how a united effort to live gospel principles bless and inspire.
There will be golden moments when you will find authentic ways of sharing how this happens in your adult lives as you follow through yourselves with the gospel centered home program and invite them each time to join you. This is a difficult time as children struggle to establish their own identities and make choices with long lasting consequences, but if you stick to your own covenant path, they will respect that and eventually may choose to receive the same blessings with you.
Don’t Comply with Their Demands
I sympathize with your difficult situation. Try taking the situation a step further and see if that brings clarity. For example, what if your teens said “if you continue going to church it will make us mad”. Does that sound right? I think to comply with their demands (threats?) is to allow them to set limits on your personal religious observance, which is inappropriate for anyone to do to anyone. (check out the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud—it may help!) If you want to make gospel study a fixture in your home, do it. With or without them. It will bring the Spirit who will prompt you with ideas and insights to help you with those very relationships. Will it further alienate your teens? Maybe. But will it help them if you don’t follow your convictions? Absolutely not. To not study the gospel in your home right now would be like coming out of the storm shelter just as the tornado approaches. YOU need this. They do too, but until they decide that, those blessings won’t be realized.
I’ve had my share of sleepless nights and tearful prayers over my children. Two things ALWAYS help. First, show more love. (This does not mean complying with unreasonable demands. Read the book mentioned above.) Second, seek the Spirit through personal study, prayer, temple attendance and service. An added portion of the Spirit makes everything better. Always. Good luck sister!
You Set the Rules
First, be clear with your children that while you love them, this is your home and you will set the rules. They are not going to control what you teach or practice in your own home. Second, try discussing principles of life that flow from the doctrine, not the doctrine itself. It is the difference between sharing your belief in the afterlife with someone whose child has just died and diagramming the Plan of Salvation for them. One is a cool drink, the other a firehouse of water knocking them over. Ask what they think is the correct choice and why they believe it. Help them to learn to reason out their behaviors. The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it really is the path to lasting happiness. Help them to see howconsequences follow bad choices. Third, let your children witness you praying, fasting, studying the scriptures and repenting. Model for them the behavior of Christ. That is what makes a home Christ centered.
When They Ask Questions
I am going through a similar situation. But my family members who live with my wife and me ask questions related to gospel topics from time to time. And I use that as an opening to explain the Gospel. I keep my answers pithy and let them lead the conversation. I hope that helps.
I had a friend who grew up in a home where they had always had Family Home Evening, scripture study and gospel discussions, Then her uncle, her mother’s brother, came to live with them. He was very anti-religion. Her mom decided to hush all of their gospel talk and practices at home so that he wouldn’t feel bad. She felt that it was already hard enough for him to be there with the family.
In the end, my friend’s two youngest brothers grew up in a much-less gospel centered home than she had—all because her mother thought it would hurt somebody’s feelings. The outcome was painful. It left her two youngest brothers without receiving any gospel instruction at home, and to this day they are both out of the church. There could have been many other factors for their decisions, but this was a big one.
When she came to our home and saw how centered we were on the gospel, she realized that her parents had let all gospel instruction come to an abrupt halt until she had almost forgotten what a home centered on Christ looked like.
If you teach the gospel at home from the time they are young, your teenagers will know that this is your family practice. It is a constant. It is one of those things we do as a family. Though some may not have teens who are as hostile as you describe, many of us will have teens that would rather be doing something else than studying the gospel. Pray and think ahead about what is your most important message for them. Think, if I only get a few minutes with them, what message do I want to make sure comes across?
You can put in a message that can have a life-changing effect. You have to get creative. Do your best, but for sure, if it is constant, they always know it is going to happen. Maybe you can’t cover every single thing in the manual, but you can do life-changing messages, week by week. I think the habit matters. I never delete what I am going to say.
We can follow this scripture: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” That goes for our response to anonymous naysayers as well as the children that we love. Pray that their hearts can be softened. Even five minutes each week over the course of a year can do a lot. (Romans 1:16).
When we are close to the Lord, talk about Him naturally laces our speech. The Savior did not stop bearing testimony of his Father or showing love because there were naysayers in the crowd. He continued to teach his gospel and people were changed. We have the responsibility of having a gospel-centered home.
Ask for Spiritual Strength
You don’t have to be preaching the gospel to have a gospel centered home. It seems to me that the more loving your home is the more gospel centered it becomes. Have good conversations with your children that show interest in your them and their activities. Value their opinions. Find an activity that they would love — go out to eat at a restaurant that you know everyone would especially like, take them for a weekend getaway where you can hike, explore caves, etc. If you show love, the Spirit will be with you. Eventually maybe they will be open to what makes the gospel important in our lives.
The most joyful thing that happened in my life was my youngest son getting back into activity. He turned wild when he was 16 and wasn’t interested in the church at all. I went to the temple to pray especially over him and felt that I should show him an increase in love and praise him for everything he did right. It was many years later – he had joined the army, married a beautiful Catholic girl, but a few years ago started reading the Book of Mormon because I gave the family a challenge. His was ready and he came back to the church when he was around 34 and is very active now. Never give up – ask Heavenly Father for spiritual strength and always show love.
Part of parenting is being a parent. As long as a child is living in the home, they should be required to follow the house rules, which includes attending church and scripture study at home. What this person needs to do is ask her teens to explain why they no longer want the church i their lives. Is it peer pressure? Do they not have friends at church? Why have they strayed from the family’s teachings? Sit down with them, bear your testimonies,. Have you been too lax in the past with your attitudes towards spirituality? Somehow, these kids have learned that it’s okay to not go to church anymore. There as to be a reason.
I hope you recognize that it shows your depth and love for god and your kids with these concerns and your kids are very blessed to have you. With an answer, in my experience there are often bigger/deeper issues going on when teens show this type of behavior whether it be fear, insecurity or struggles/concerns they’re having.
Make sure they understand that you will always love them and that you want to help them. I think working to help them feel safe with you and that they recognize where you are coming from will be key.
However I would not stop with teaching the gospel in your home like you want to, I would say this will take a leap of faith but continuing to teach the gospel in the home will help your kids more than you realize.
Your efforts and desires will be a great strength and blessing to your family, I am very confident things will work out.
In answering your question there is a lot of information I would like to have but don’t, such as the teenagers ages and have they had discipline problems in the past? How has discipline been handled and what is the current relationship between you and the teenagers in the home. Is it one of respect and safety or constant contention and bickering? Absent this information let’s assume that the relationship is loving and that of late the kids are starting to show more of a rebellious attitude.
Your children have given you a false choice. You mentioned they are pushing you. You do not have to choose between having a Christ Centered home and having a good relationship with them. You can have both. So your challenge is how do you achieve both?
The reason your teenagers are not out living on their own is because they are not ready. They are not ready for those responsibilities or able to make those decisions. They are teenagers! You are the head of your home. You decide how they are to be provided for and the standards your family will live by. If your desire is that your home be Gospel/Christ centered, you have the right and responsibility to make it so. Some standards are required. For instance, you require your children to attend school. To help around the house. To abstain from alcohol and drugs or from bringing them into the home. Another such requirement is their attendance at their church meetings and gospel study at home. If the teenagers don’t want to attend then you use a combination of rewards and punishments to influence them, such as linking driving privileges to church attendance. You respectfully and lovingly set the standards and then enforce them, not with anger but with firmness.
Paramount in your situation is your relationship with your children. The way they experience the gospel is reflected in the way you treat them. There must be mutual respect, kindness and loving service. There must be safety and transparency in the relationship so they can open up to you and share their questions and concerns. Working on making the relationship better would provide a more solid foundation from which to operate moving forward. Work on making the relationship better. Keep in mind that relaxing a standard or failing to enforce it does not improve the relationship you have with your kids. And don’t forget that tough love requires love. Sometimes we focus on the tough, instead of the love.
The most effective parents create clear, understandable standards which are consistently enforced in an atmosphere of love and respect.