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One particular parenting advisor is famous for recommending that parents tell their children to shut up and listen to adults since adults know so much more than they do. He also recommends putting kids to bed early for every variety of infraction. He regularly justifies his harsh recommendations by saying that children need to learn limits. He recommends that we give children regular doses of Vitamin N (No!). He has set off firestorms in many communities with his controversial recommendations.
Yet he’s partly right. Children need limits. Learning the law of the harvest is one of the most important tasks of mortality and the earlier we learn it the better.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
That parenting advisor is also wrong. Children (and humans in general) thrive on love. Feeling loved and valued is simply the single most important experience for turning us into good people. The first principle of childrearing is nurture and the first commandment of the gospel is love.
A parent wrote to that advisor asking for advice for a 5-year-old who calls on her mother’s help with many simple tasks—like getting a glass of water or putting on her shoes. The mother wondered if her focus on a new baby was creating a desire in the child for more attention from Mom. The parenting advisor responded:
Contrary to the prevailing myth, children who act “starved” for attention have received too much, not too little. They’ve come to depend on being the center of attention, and the more the Look-at-Me Beast is fed, the bigger it gets and the more demanding it becomes. . . . The solution is to insist that she accept that she is not and will never be deserving of being the center of anyone’s attention. (See ArDemGaz, April 13, 2011, p. 3E)
Let’s contrast this attitude with Jesus’ attitude. Jesus upset all expectations in the way He treated children. While His disciples did not want His important work interrupted by children’s play, Jesus welcomed them.
“But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14)
Jesus’ attitude toward children shocks us even today. He did not see them as a nuisance but as an opportunity to embrace heaven. He never encouraged children to be more like adults; He regularly invites adults to be more like children. While our society values strength and power, Jesus valued innocent goodness. He embraced the people we are tempted to brush off.
We should, as Jesus did, welcome children into our lives. We should treat them as sacred guests. That is our first and foremost opportunity with children. Teaching the law of the harvest can only be effectively done in the context of a loving and trusting relationship.
I would love to observe just how Jesus interacted with the children! Maybe, when they asked for water, He invited them to use His gourd, draw some from the well, bring it and share it with Him. Maybe when they asked for help tying their shoes, He made a game of it: “Show me what you can do! I bet you have your own way of tying your shoes.” I picture Him experiencing pure delight with children. He may not have run errands for them, but He fully participated with them.
If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. Mark 9:35
So it is true that children must learn to take responsibility in their lives. It is equally true that we can participate in their lives joyfully and encouragingly.
This is in perfect harmony with research. Helping children feel loved and valued is the single best predictor that children will become strong, compassionate people. Nothing matters more. We certainly must learn wisdom in order to manage the many demands of raising children and managing a household. But we should never try to persuade ourselves that they are an intrusion.
Just today grandson Ian visited us. He is our only not-in-school grandchild who lives nearby. He and I spend a lot of time together. When he is around, I set everything else aside. When he wants to play with one of my robots, we play with it together. When he wants to go to Taco Bell for lunch, we go to Taco Bell. When I read about extraordinary creatures in nature, he sits on my lap and we search for images on the computer. We make brownies together. He plays with the hand-crank mixer in the sink with soapy water.
This level of attention is possible because I am retired—but also because connecting with our grandchildren is a priority for us. Rather than brush by them, we stop to hug them, love them, listen to them. Even when life is busy, all of us can make cherishing children a priority.
It is a sacred trust to be a part of children’s lives. Only when we are filled with that truth can we parent effectively.
As you read these words, what do you feel invited to do to be more attentive to the children in your life?
For an LDS perspective on parenting, read Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth or The Soft-Spoken Parent.