This is the last installment in a series from Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth. To read previous articles, click here. The previous articles in this series have detailed the key processes of effective parenting:
- Be a Flourishing Person. When we are personally flourishing—vibrant, happy, and connected to God—we bring peacefulness and goodness to our relationships with our children. It also opens us up to the inspiration of Heaven.
- Have Compassion. When we have heartfelt compassion for our children, we humbly seek to understand their development, individuality, circumstances, and hearts. This prepares us to act wisely and in their best interests.
- Nurture. When we wholeheartedly and wisely love our children, we offer them love, joy, and peace. We provide the ideal environment for them to develop toward godliness.
- Guide. When our objective in all guidance attempts is to help our children learn to use their agency well, we help them become strong, resilient, and sensible people. We teach them to listen to their own inner voices and guide their lives by eternal principles.
These are the key principles in effective parenting. Also, these four principles can help us wisely manage parenting challenges. For example, consider a child who is playing happily with his toys when a neighbor child arrives to ask if he can come out to play. You are fine with having the two children play together outside, but you have a rule that toys must be picked up before children go out to play. You have many options. Let’s consider how various options honor or dishonor the four principles.
You might say, “You cannot go out and play. You have not put away your toys.” That response honors lawfulness (one part of guidance), but shortchanges both compassion and nurture.
You might say, “Son, you may go outside to play if you promise to pick up your toys when you come back in.” This response seems to honor compassion and nurture, but sends an unhealthy message about rules. Ignoring rules is not a good evidence of love; rather, it shows our own insecurity and desire to win the goodwill of our children.
You might say, “Son, as soon as you put your toys away, you may go outside.” This may be pretty close to a good solution, but I think it skimps on nurture. It can be stark and confrontational. The heart of nurturing is that we help children move toward goodness.
Consider the following possibility: “Would you like to go outside, Son?” This question may seem like a no-brainer. Yet even if the child is almost certain to affirm his interest, you have shown that you are tuned in to the key question: What is your desire? Let’s assume that he expresses enthusiastic interest in going outside. You can respond with enthusiasm: “Won’t that be fun? You start putting away the toys while I go get your shoes.”
With this option we show respect for rules and accountability, but we also show regard for our child’s heart and desires. We add our energy in support of his interest. We might offer to help with putting away the toys or any other task that facilitates the accomplishment of the objective. However, if we are putting away the toys while the child heads for the door, we have not effectively taught responsibility. We should gladly help our children, but we must do not do their work for them.
You can see that all four of the core principles should be used together to provide balanced and effective parenting. The Lord tells us to “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order” (Mosiah 4:27).
As Children Mature
The same principles apply to parenting teens—but the application must respect their growing maturity. For example, when our sixteen-year-old son, Andy, asked for permission to go to Lake Chewacla on a forthcoming Friday with his soccer-team buddies, I asked him questions and involved him in making the decision.
“Tell me about the activity, Son.”
Andy described eating, fun, and swimming.
“Do you feel good about the doings?”
“Sure, Dad. They’re good guys.”
“Is there anything that you’re worried about?”
“No.” [Long pause] “Well, some of the guys use marijuana, but I’m not interested so it won’t be a problem.”
There is a key point here. Andy has just been honest with me in disclosing some worrisome details. If I react to that information by immediately forbidding him to go, he will likely decide there is no benefit in being honest with me. In the future, he may feel the best course is to hold back any information I might not like. He may become deceptive. And then I would be continually suspicious of him. There is a better way.
“Do you see any problems with some of the guys using marijuana?”
“No. If I’m not using it, it shouldn’t be a problem.” Andy paused. “Do you see any problem, Dad?”
“Two potential problems come to mind. If the party is busted, the police may consider you to be guilty by association. Also, knowing the mischievousness of your friends, I could imagine some of them chopping marijuana up and slipping it into your salsa or brownies.”
Andy laughed. “I’ll be careful, Dad.” He clearly wanted to go.
Fortunately, he was asking early in the week. I invited him to think about it. We could talk about it after we had both had time to reflect on the decision.
A day or two later, Andy re-opened the discussion: “Dad, I guess I don’t need to be at that party. Do you mind if I invite some of my friends to the house for food, music, and ziplining?” We were delighted to have them come. Our house became the drug-free party site.
By the way, we also learned the painful truth that there are no parents cool enough that their teenage kids want them hanging around when they have a party. We stayed in the background making salsa and cookies that were entirely free of marijuana.
What if Andy had thought it over and still wanted to go to the party? Parents cannot say yes to something they don’t feel good about. But even though we have to say no to the request, we can still honor the principles of effective parenting. We can have a conversation that invites our teen to share his or her perspectives and desires. Instead of simply laying down the law, we involve the teen in a discussion (appropriate for his or her maturity level) that helps the teen learn how to make responsible decisions. If he or she still wants to do something to which you can’t say yes, you explain—but do not negotiate—your decision to say no. And if you are able, you could seek an option that allows your teen to go in the direction of his or her desires in a safe and acceptable way. For example, in this case you could offer the opportunity to have his friends over to your house for a fun alternative event.
A side note: Nancy and I have had many foster children in our home over the years. We allowed some of them to go to parties where marijuana was used—even by them. The reason we let the children go was not because we did not care about them. We let them go because such parties were not the beach head for influencing them. Teens whose lives were filled with bad choices must be helped step by step. We might start by encouraging church attendance or prayer or scripture-reading or different friendship choices. We know it is more effective to draw them toward the light rather than drive them from the darkness. All things must be done in wisdom and order (see Mosiah 4:27).
God has commanded us to bring up our children in light and truth (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:40). Our goal is to facilitate their growth towards holiness. This requires great patience, wisdom, and inspiration.
The Other Purpose of Parenting
Sometimes we focus on only one set of parenting outcomes: the effects on children. God is vitally interested in that outcome. He is also interested in the effects on parents. Parenting is a significant and soul-stretching challenge. God has a purpose within those challenges. He wants us as parents to be changed, refined, and enlarged, even as we strive to grow our children. God knows that earthly parenting is ideal preparation for heavenly parenting. He wants us to join Him in His work of blessing children.
Any sensible person will be daunted by the prospect of parenting in the way Father does. We all fall short. We are shortsighted, impatient, narrow-minded, self-serving, and limited. We regularly fail to act wisely and graciously. Yet God teaches us the process.
In characteristic manner, He gives us an impossible task—like building an enormous ark, crossing the raging Red Sea, or surviving in a fiery furnace. God likes to challenge us beyond our capacity. He keeps hoping that those types of challenges will cause us to turn to Him and draw on heavenly power. He wants us to experience His miraculous and transformative power.
If we were to paraphrase in modern terms the words of the Apostle Paul, who was an expert at challenges, he might have said: “I just love it when my weaknesses and inability are so conspicuous. I am thrilled when I am persecuted and tortured. It is in times of such extremity that my abundant weakness is outshone by God’s great power and goodness. Such times testify most clearly of God’s amazing ability and willingness to give me strength and to rescue His children” (see 2 Corinthians 12:10). Godly parenting is one of many things that is impossible for humans on their own, but is fully possible in partnership with God (see Matthew 19:26).
God Provided Instructions
The process of drawing power from heaven is taught in the words of Moroni: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
There is a reason the word “humble” shows up three times in Moroni’s formula for growth. We must be humble. We must recognize our desperate need for God and throw ourselves on His merits, mercy, and grace. Self-sufficiency is the enemy of progress. Submission is the door to power.
We must have faith in Christ. There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved or whereby we can parent effectively. Christ set the perfect example, provided the glorious teachings, delivered the infinite Atonement, and continues to sustain us with His compassion and goodness.
The Parenting Power of an Earnest Disciple
As Latter-day Saints, we talk often of the vital practices of family home evening, family prayer, and family scripture study. Yet sometimes we are tempted to consider these practices and others as merely daily or weekly routines. We might even approach them with impatience—“It’s so difficult to make the time!” Or with condescension—“I’ll do it for the kids, but only because we are supposed to.”
As normal Latter-day Saints, we listen to the counsel of Church leaders taught in our Sunday meetings. We ponder guidance provided by scripture. We pray for heavenly guidance. But then we get swamped by the busyness and pressures of everyday family life. Perhaps we tend to view the directions we have received as not all that relevant to the press and challenges of day-to-day parenting.
God would have us think differently. What if we approached our role as parents with the heart of an earnest disciple? What if we actively invited Christ into our homes each and every day to partner with us in our parenting? How would that impact our homes and families?
Imagine a burdened single mom kneeling with her son by his bedside, pleading for God to help him find patience with his brother.
Imagine homes where the children love the characters in scripture because those characters have been their companions at the breakfast table or at bedtime when scripture stories have been regularly read and celebrated.
Imagine homes where children hear their parents in family prayer express both great love for God and plead for His mercy in their home and lives.
Imagine families gathered around the dinner table on the Sabbath, sharing their best experiences of the day or discussing what each family member most remembers from their worship experience and classes. Imagine family members united in awe as they witness God blessing and teaching each of them in perfectly customized ways.
Imagine families where repentance is taught powerfully by parents who willingly acknowledge their shortcomings, ask forgiveness of those offended, and seek earnestly to be more Christlike, where children are taught by their parents’ example that mistakes are not tragedies if the Atonement of Christ is applied.
Imagine family home evenings where parents tell great stories of their ancestors and the way their devotion has opened the gates of eternity. Imagine families where every member feels the love and support of departed ones.
Imagine children who understand that regardless of trials or disappointments, they can still “be of good cheer” and appreciate their blessings because they witness their parents’ firm conviction that the Lord is with them always (see Doctrine and Covenants 68:6).
Imagine homes in which children learn faith, compassion, charity, forgiveness, service, joy, and a love for the Lord because those principles are the foundation of their family.
Being a godly parent is much more than simply participating in a checklist of vital practices or following the latest parenting recommendations from Pinterest. Incredible power is available to us as parents when we have the heart of an earnest disciple and partner with Jesus.
I conclude this article with the inspired and inspiring words of President Ezra Taft Benson:
Would not the progress of the Church increase dramatically today with an increasing number of those who are spiritually reborn? Can you imagine what would happen in our homes? . . .
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. . . .You do change human nature, your own human nature, if you surrender it to Christ. . . . Yes, Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world. Men changed for Christ will be captained by Christ. . . . Finally, men captained by Christ will be consumed in Christ. Their will is swallowed up in his will. They do always those things that please the Lord. Not only would they die for the Lord, but, more important, they want to live for Him.
Enter their homes, and the pictures on their walls, the books on their shelves, the music in the air, their words and acts reveal them as Christians. They stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places. They have Christ on their minds, as they look unto Him in every thought. They have Christ in their hearts as their affections are placed on Him forever. . . .
In Book of Mormon language, they “feast upon the words of Christ,” “talk of Christ,” “rejoice in Christ,” “are made alive in Christ,” and “glory in [their] Jesus.” In short, they lose themselves in the Lord and find eternal life. May we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, be changed for Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him, and born again.
God invites us to be filled with Christ and His perfect doctrine, principles, and power so that we may be saved along with our dear ones.
Reflection and Application
Try it. Imagine your family in the ways described in this chapter. In those areas where the hoped-for performance seems hopelessly beyond reach, pray for an outpouring of heavenly mercy and patiently do all you are able to do.
To order a copy of Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth from which this article is taken, go to Deseret Book: https://deseretbook.com/p/bringing-our-children-light-truth-h-wallace-goddard-90084
To get 50 practical ways to respond to your children without using anger or power, order The Soft Spoken Parent from Deseret Book. https://deseretbook.com/p/soft-spoken-parent-revised-edition-h-wallace-goddard-85681
Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” First Presidency Message, Ensign, July 1989.