5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges (Hardcover)
"Every LDS parent should read this book." — Stephen R. Covey
Parenting can be a struggle for everyone, but Latter-day Saints have access to unique parenting solutions. In this groundbreaking new book, New York Times #1 bestselling authors, Richard and Linda Eyre, teach us it's not just about parenting our children. It's about who we are as eternal families. The unique insights of our eternal perspective provide answers to common parenting problems and concerns such as sibling rivalry, peer pressure, rebellion, selfishness, lack of motivation, entitlement, and more.
Foreword by Stephen R. Covey
Perspectives — Worldly Challenges, Spiritual Solutions
Solution 1 — Remember Your Children's True Identity
Solution 2 — Remember God's Parenting Patterns
Intermission — Why It's Worth All the Effort
Solution 3 — Remember Your Direct Channel to the Father
Solution 4 — Remember the Church's "Scaffolding"
Solution 5 — Remember the Savior's Power
Epilogue: For Grandparents and Empty Nest Parents
- Size: 5½" x 8½"
- Pages: 208
- Published: March 2011
About the AuthorInternationally recognized parenting experts Richard and Linda Eyre are the parents of nine grown children and the authors of over twenty-five books, including the worldwide bestseller, Teaching Your Children Values. They are the cofounders of Joy Schools and valuesparenting.com. Their mission statement, developed while presiding over the London South Mission, is “FORTIFY FAMILIES by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance, and validating values.” They write a column every Monday at deseretnews.com and every Friday at mormontimes.com. The Eyres currently travel the world speaking to (and with) parents about family and lifebalance, and dropping in on their nine children and twenty-one (and counting) grandchildren.
Remember God’s Parenting Patterns
Follow the supreme example of how God parents us. There has only ever been one perfect Parent, and the more we can learn of and emulate Him, the better parents we will be.
The conversation started simply enough . . .
“Can you believe Samantha turns eight this summer? You’ll be baptizing her!”
“Amazing! Where does the time go? It seems like she should still be about four!”
“You know, I’ve been thinking, since she’s the third child, she gets lost in the shuffle so much. We should make a really big deal of her baptism.”
Kate and Dave were enjoying a rare moment alone as they drove the fifty miles back from a wedding reception in the next town, and their conversation had turned to their kids.
“It’s interesting, even though I still think of Sam as a little girl, I notice every once in a while how fast she is growing up—too fast! and she was asking me the other day if she could have a cell phone!”
“She thinks she should get everything Trace has, even though he’s four years older.”
“Yeah, and Trace thinks he should have everything Liz and her eighth-grade friends have.”
“Have you noticed that we try so hard to be fair and to treat them all the same that we forget how different they are? Not only different in age, but different in every way—different needs, different motivations—it’s like what we really need is a whole new formula for each of them.”
“Oh, please! Who’s going to figure all that out?”
Both Dave and Kate knew that this discussion was long overdue. Liz, at fourteen, was showing some classic signs of rebellion. Trace, about to become a deacon, was lazy and unmotivated. Samantha, whose upcoming baptism had started the conversation, seemed to think she was entitled to have whatever she wanted, without any effort, and right now! And little Mark, only three, seemed to be relishing (and prolonging) his time as the baby of the family, refusing to do anything for himself and expecting everyone else in the family to wait on him hand and foot.
They had prayed hard about their kids the night before and now, in the peaceful moments as they drove along together, ideas began to come.
“Let’s make a big deal of Sam’s baptism, Kate, not only because she needs attention, but because it is a big deal! Let’s make it a real rite of passage and kind of promote her to middle management in the family. She needs some responsibility. She is really good with little Mark, and she needs more specific assignments around the house.”
“And (gulp), maybe it’s time to have the sex talk with her. She hears more than we know, and from the worst sources—media and friends.”
“Age eight really is key, when you think about it. It’s so transitional. She’s old enough to really get things, but she’s not cynical yet like Trace, or rebellious like Liz. You know, when you think about it, she’s really flattered by being given responsibility right now.”
“It’s true! And most amazing of all, she still thinks we know something! That’s not going to last long! It’s like a little window of time before we have another teenager to deal with. I think we should take this age of accountability thing really seriously!”
“I’m into that whole ‘rite of passage’ thought. Let’s tell her how important we think age eight and baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is and make her feel special about it, including giving her some extra responsibility. And let’s make a big deal about telling her some things that will make her feel trusted and accountable.”
The discussion went on between Dave and Kate (and it wasn’t all quite as “a-ha, how wonderful” as we portrayed it here), but it was one of those lovely, Spirit-guided discussions that prayerful parents sometimes have when inspiration comes and when breakthroughs are made in how we think about our children within our unique eternal perspective.
Let’s have that same kind of discussion between writer and reader in this chapter as we focus on the marvelous advantage of knowing a substantial amount about how God parents us!
More Than a Term of -Respect
While other religions may call God “Father” as a term of respect or as a way of subjugating themselves to Him, we have a very different reason and a much more literal meaning when we say “Heavenly Father.”
We mean it exactly literally. He is the Father of our spirits. We were born as His spirit children and lived in His family before this world was.
And what a treasure of parenting truth we have as we look at how our Heavenly Father has parented us and continues to parents us!
And isn’t it a natural tendency to follow the patterns of our own parents?
“I Am Becoming My Mother”
One young mother actually made a list of the things that her mother had done with her that she would NEVER do with her own children.
Then one day when she was at her wit’s end with the bickering and arguing of two of her children, she happened to catch a glimpse of her own reflection in a mirror as she was yelling at and lecturing her kids about not hurting each other.
The sound of her own voice and the sight of her own reflection was so exactly like how she remembered her own mother that she gasped, stopped in midsentence, and walked from the room thinking, “I am becoming my mother!”
We have all had similar experiences. Perhaps not that dramatic or negative, but we all find ourselves unconsciously, subconsciously, or consciously imitating our own parents.
One of the real tragedies in the world is that bad parenting and the abuse and belittlement of children passes down from one generation of parents to the next. Scripture hints at that when it says that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children for generations and depicts how the “traditions of their fathers” (Mosiah 1:5) can drag families down for hundreds of years.
There are areas of the world that are still developing where we love to go for many reasons and yet, at the same time, we hate to go there because in these areas it is a common, accepted part of their culture to hit children. It is the only form of discipline they know and the standard way to show disapproval. In other cultures, excessive entitlement and leniency are problems of an opposite nature.
The fact is, most parents perform their parenting pretty much like their parents did, and thus a parent who changes and turns away from the bad methods and child-damaging patterns of many generations is a true hero and may start a new and better parenting pattern that will flow down through his posterity.
Following the Heavenly Parent Rather Than the Earthly One
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the patterns we pick up and the methods and examples of parenting that we follow could be those of our Heavenly Father? If we can emulate how He raises us we will become the best parents we can be and it will cause our children to be the best—and the happiest—that they can be.
So the second spiritual solution is remembering and thinking about and following the divine example! If we can explore everything we know about His pattern of parenting, then we can attempt to apply each of His ways to how we parent our (His) children.
Of course, none of us will measure up to the perfection of God’s parenting, and you may wonder if we should even make the comparison. It can be daunting, even discouraging, to try to follow a perfect model.
But here’s the thing: When we try, He will help! Any time we look to a mentor or model ourselves after someone we admire, that mentor does what he can to help us. How true this can be in the ultimate situation, when we view God Himself as our ideal and work consciously to know and to follow His wise and complete example. Perhaps when we are earnestly trying and yet still fall short, He will lift us up and pull us along toward Him.
So here is a list of some of the things we know about how God, our Heavenly Father, parents us. We will number them so they will match up with the “applications” to follow—with the efforts we can make to apply them in our own parenting. We have come up with fifteen of them—some may just be insights to enjoy, and others will beg for more attention from you as you consider how you raise your own children. And you’ll have additional ideas and applications of your own.
1. God grants us complete, unconditional love. Talk about starting with the obvious (and perhaps the hardest one to follow!).
We know that God has a deep and unconditional love for each of us and that His love is individual rather than collective. He loves the drug addicts, the sinners, and even those who revile him, even as He loves those who are true and faithful to His teachings. He knows and appreciates the uniqueness that each of us has, and He applies equal (and total) love in different ways (as many different ways as He has different children).
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ not only show their love for us, they tell us of their love, in countless ways. They tell us through sunsets and wildflowers. They tell us through the random acts of kindness of those we encounter. They tell us through comfort in hard times and little miracles every day.
2. God sees (and treats) each child as a unique and eternal individual. Have you heard the parenting advice, “Be fair, treat all of your kids the same”? That’s not Heavenly Father’s method. He has lovingly put us each into a body, a situation, and a series of circumstances tailored to what each of us needs. He knows each of us perfectly and loves the uniqueness that makes us each who we are.
3. God gives clear, simple laws with well-announced consequences, rewards, and punishments. Our Heavenly Father has never been subtle or ambiguous about His rules. He wrote them in stone. He gave them to prophets. He wrote them in scripture, and He often states the reward or the punishment right with the law.
It is by having immutable laws that God gives us the boundaries in which He expects us to operate. He gives us agency, but He also makes clear His laws, along with the rewards for compliance and the penalties for deviance.
4. God allows His children the chance to repent. Heavenly Father doesn’t want any of us to fail. His laws are not negotiable, and He knows we will fall short, so there is a provision for repentance. And with the repentance comes complete forgiveness.
This is made possible, of course, by the Atonement of the Savior which allows God’s children to overcome the sins that would otherwise prevent us from returning to Him.
5. God taught us and trained us and held us close throughout the premortal life, and then He gave us choices and let us go. God, in His marvelous model for parenting, held us close, kept us with Him in His home, and taught us all He could for eons. And then, when further progress required the responsibility, choice-making, independence, and families of our own that could not happen in His presence, He gave us our agency and let us go.
With agency came choices, and the decision-making started with a bang—with perhaps the biggest choice of all being whether we would follow what must have seemed an unbelievably risky plan of veiled mortality, temptation, options, and pain.
It was time for the irony of leaving our heavenly parents so we could become more like them. It was time to apply what we knew (but first having to remember it despite the veil) and to make our own decisions and set our own course.
6. God trusts His children and is completely trustworthy for His children. God trusts us mightily! And He entrusts us. He trusts us enough to send us into this dangerous mortality. He entrusts us not only with our own salvation but also with the stewardship of others of His spirit children.
And, of course, God is completely, totally, and endlessly trust-worthy. What He says is what He does. He is His word, and He is The Word. His promises are always kept.
One form of trust is covenants. After turning us loose and putting us on our own, God seeks ways to bind us to Him, ways to help us remember who we are, even through the veil, and ways to pull us back toward Him once we start to drift. So He gives us covenants.
As we learn in Primary, a covenant is a two-way promise between us and the Lord. We pledge ourselves to do something righteous, and He promises blessings in return.
7. God gives us stewardships. Heavenly Father, who owns all in His universe, gives us stewardships. Our first stewardship is of our agency, followed by so much more, and He does so with the promise that we can someday own that which we learn to steward.
His stewardships are responsibilities, not entitlements.
8. God has a plan of happiness for His children. One of the most marvelous and awesome things that we know about God is that He has a magnificent and comprehensive plan for the ultimate happiness of His children.
We sometimes call it the plan of salvation. He has spelled it out for us in the restored gospel. He has told us that the purpose of mortality is joy. He has explained to us that trials, sorrow, and opposition are as much a part of it as happiness and fulfillment. And He has made it clear that His plan, and our eternal progress, centers around families.
9. God gives us written advice in the form of scripture. Heavenly Father knows and values the written word, as do His prophets. Lehi sent his boys back, at the peril of their lives, to get written records. The full word of our Heavenly Father is written in His scriptures. Language and writing lend clarity and permanence to the laws and wisdom of God.
10. God allows us constant availability to Him through prayer and suggests regular communication. With God, there are certain set times when we anticipate spiritual communication—when we partake of the sacrament, when we kneel in family prayer, when we have our personal bedtime prayers. These are like set appointments for spiritual meetings that keep us in tune and in touch. Yet we don’t need an appointment to converse. We can “call” anytime, and the line is never busy, nor is our Father ever unavailable.
11. God sent His eldest son to help and save us. Perhaps the most beautiful of all divine parenting stories involves the eldest son—a Father sending His Beloved Son to do something that only He could do for all of His younger brothers and sisters.
12. God sends angels. Far from leaving us on our own, Heavenly Father prompts and guides us through the Holy Ghost and also sometimes sends actual heavenly beings or angels to help us in times of special need.
13. God finds joy in His children and in His relationship with them. God’s “glory” is the progress and eternal lives of His children, and “joy” is the purpose for which He made mortality. We know that He takes joy in our progress, in our learning, and in His individual relationship with each of us.
14. God gives us specific opportunities for service. Through His Church, God gives us constant opportunities for service—service in the ward, service on missions, and compassionate service of all kinds.
He knows that our happiness, as well as the welfare of our fellow travelers in mortality, can be increased and enhanced by service.
15. God makes family central to all and the core of His purpose. Finally, as we think through what we know about God as a parent, we come to this: Heavenly Father’s family is His priority, His “end” to which all else is the “means.” His goal is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of His children (Moses 1:39).
Now comes the challenge of looking at Heavenly Father’s parenting pattern and asking ourselves how we can emulate each part of it.
1. Try to follow God’s example of complete, unconditional love. Anytime we use words like “complete” and “unconditional” we are talking about perfection. And we can never reach God’s perfection. But how do we begin to try?
Of course it involves the efforts discussed in the first solution—trying to understand who each of our children really is, and to discover each one’s gifts, needs, and particular traits.
Hard and complicated as that part might sound, there is another part that is shockingly simple. It’s the tag line from the Church’s classic “Homefront” media spots—and it’s only six words: “If you love them, tell them!”
Heavenly Father and Christ not only show their love for us, they tell us of their love, in countless ways.
It is not enough to assume that our children know we love them. When we just assume, we are a little like Alf from the old country, whose wife, Anna, used to plead, “You never tell me you love me!”
Alf would reply, “Anna, I told you that on the day we were married. If anything ever changes, you’ll be the first to know!”
Instead, we should be like the father I used to home teach in Virginia years ago. He was kind of a rough fellow—a plumber by trade—-and actually a man of few words. But his kids always seemed remarkably happy and well-adjusted, and they acted so secure and natural in his presence. As a young father I remember wondering how he did it. Years later, I ran into one of his daughters, then a student at BYU. I got reacquainted and then asked her what her dad’s parenting secret was. She told me a remarkable thing. She said her father had a temper and was a little gruff at times, but that he did one thing that superseded everything else, and he did it every single night. She said he would tuck her in and then take her face in his rough hands and say, “Sweetheart, I love you. And you are more important to your mom and me than anything else. Don’t you ever forget that.” Then he would turn out the light and close her door.
Sometimes saying it more often makes us also show it more often, in more ways, to our kids. And it makes us think about them more and be aware of them more. You can’t overdo it! There are lots of things we can give way too much of to our kids, but love is not one of them. They are sponges with an unlimited absorbing capacity for our honestly expressed and unconditional love.
Does unconditional love mean not correcting our children, not disciplining them? It certainly does not mean that to God who chastens those He loves (see D&C 95:1) and advises us to reprove at times with sharpness, but then show forth afterward an increase of love (see D&C 121:43). Love can mean giving critical feedback to our kids or using “tough love” when they require it.
Another phrase that parents can’t repeat too often is, “I don’t love what you just did, and there will be a consequence, but it does not change how much I love you.” Even small children can understand that and can realize that our displeasure and discipline for something they have done does not diminish our love for them. Say it often enough, feel it, mean it, and show it, and they will begin to understand that your love is “undiminishable”—that it is unconditional.
2. See and think of each child as unique and eternal. This principle is a little counter to the idea that parents should be fair and treat each child the same. “But that’s not fair!” One child will say when another gets off easier than he would have or gets some reward the first didn’t get.
We have progressed in our answer over the years. We used to say, sometimes in exasperation, “Well, life’s not fair!” Now we try to explain better. We ask, “What doesn’t feel fair about this?” Then we explain, “We’re trying to make sure that each of you gets what you really need and sometimes one of you will get more than someone else but other times it will be the other way around.” Or, “Someday you will be a -parent, and I hope when you are, you will try to give each of your kids exactly what they need and not the same thing you give the others.”
Parents often tell us something such as, “Our older children are complaining incessantly that we don’t treat their younger siblings as we did them. They are disgruntled that we are so much more lenient and we don’t make them toe the line like we did with them.” A friend once made the observation that no two kids ever had the same parents. What she meant, of course, is that we evolve as parents, and hopefully become better as we progress through life and through our kids.
As time evolves, things do change. As parents, we not only try to teach, we try to learn what works and what doesn’t. We improve. We panic a little less. We are sometimes just too tired to make a mountain out of a molehill. We just keep doing the best we can and hope our kids will understand.
We will never know our children as well as God knows them (after all, He has been their parent—and ours—for eternity). But don’t sell yourself short! You’ve known your ten-year-old for ten years and your
sixteen-year—old for sixteen years, and you know a lot about him or her. Discover more and more about each child through thinking and -praying and discussing (like in the five-facet review from the last chapter) and then give each child the kind of love he or she needs as a unique, one-of-a-kind spirit on whom only you and your spouse are the experts!
3. Establish clear laws, rewards, and punishments. Following God’s pattern in the establishment of laws within our families can be beneficial on a number of levels.
Children who know their boundaries, even though they may complain about them, have a certain, simple security and identity that other kids don’t feel. To be always pushing the envelope and not knowing what you can get away with is not a good feeling. And to know it will depend on the mood of your mom or dad at the moment makes everything kind of like a dangerous, moving target.
We like the word “law” more than “rule.” “Law” seems to bother kids less and incite less mutiny than “rule.” And it lends itself to better comparisons in teaching small children. “Why do we have traffic laws?” “Why do we have laws in our country that people have to obey?” Most important, God calls His commandments “laws” and we want our family laws to mirror-His.
One huge benefit of clearly established and consistently followed family laws is that it allows parents to be more matter-of-fact about things. Have you noticed how the best moms and dads seem pretty calm most of the time—that they manage to avoid the emotion and drama and power struggle that plague so many parents? You hear them say (calmly) things such as, “Sorry, Matt, but that’s the law,” or “Don’t blame me, you know that when the little hand is at the eight it’s time to turn out the light,” or “Thanks for telling me about your friend Tommy and what he gets to do, but in our family . . . ,” or even, “I feel your pain, son, but that’s what we agreed on.”
We have had lots of fun establishing family laws through the years. When our first two daughters were three and two we started having family home evenings about family laws. We wanted them to be involved so we explained what a law was and then asked them what they thought would be a good family law. Our three-year-old’s hand shot up and she said with confidence, “Never hit other little girls!”
“What a great idea!” we said as we saw the wheels in the mind of the two-year-old working.
“No pud in puds” (translation: “Never plug in plugs”), the two-year-old added as she remembered the lesson she had the night before when she tried to plug in a fork.
To make a long story short, we added to that list of family laws for years until one day our oldest, then eight, came to me and said, “Mom, we have thirty-three laws! We can’t even remember all of them. In the whole Bible there are only Ten Commandments!”
We immediately realized that she was right! We needed to cut and simplify! In the end we all decided on five one-word family laws, each with a consequence attached to breaking that law.
Here are the Eyre Laws:
When we asked the kids to help us decide on what the consequence should be for breaking the law, they were hilarious. Assuming they would never break the law of asking (which meant always ask before they leave and always let us know where they are), they thought that the punishment should be being confined in their room for a whole day with only bread and water.
We decided that there should be a natural consequence for breaking each law. For example the consequence for breaking the law of peace was going to the Repenting Bench (more about that in a minute). The consequence for breaking the law of respect was simply to start over. (A parent who has heard something disrespectful from the mouth of a child should say, “Let’s start over,” until the child figures out how to say what he just said with more respect.) The consequence for leaving without asking was that the child was not allowed to go the next time he wanted to go to something. The consequence for breaking the law of order (leaving the play room messy or leaving their room in a mess) was that they couldn’t play with or go with friends until it was clean. And the consequence for breaking the law of obedience was the magic word “please.” (When we asked a child to do something, if we forgot to say please, there was no obligation to do what we asked, but if we said “please” there was no way out. They had to do it!)
Of course, this is not as easy as we are making it sound. Everything needed reinforcement over and over again in family home evening. We took one law at a time and really made sure that everyone knew exactly what was meant by that one-word law and what the consequence would be for breaking it. Role-playing various situations where one of the laws would apply was helpful.
We should take pains to make the setting up and maintaining of family laws a spiritual process. As you discuss and set up your family laws, pray about them as a family. Ask which laws would help your family be happier and please God most. Call on the children to pray about them. When they are set, pray together for the strength to keep them, and ask forgiveness for the times you have not.
4. Allow children the chance to repent. As well as we know God’s provision for His children’s repentance, we often fail to follow the same pattern in our own homes.
While the bigger problem may be the absence of family laws, how often we also see rigid, disciplinarian households where the letter of the law is so strictly enforced that there is no mercy. Even in homes that have done a good job setting up rules, there can often be too much “swift justice.” “You break a law or make a mistake and you get immediate punishment so you won’t do it again.” That is a good policy if you are training a dog or a horse, but children deserve the same opportunity to repent that God gives us.
We finally figured that out many years ago while Richard served as mission president in London. We had four little kids when we arrived in England and six when we returned to the states three years later and—take it from me as a mother—the kids were a lot easier to count than the fights they had with each other. I was exhausted from playing judge, jury, and warden all day long. “Who started it?” “Then what did you do?” “Who hit the hardest?” It was nuts.
We realized one day that our home was a perfect microcosm for what happens in the process of repentance. We have been taught since the time we were small that repentance is a process: We break a law, we figure out what we did that wasn’t in alignment with the Lord’s will, we admit what we have done wrong and express our regrets, we make things right by asking for forgiveness from the person we have wronged, and then we promise to try not to do it again.
As we struggled with how we could make that process work with sibling rivalry, angry feelings, and even physical fighting, we came up with a solution called the Repenting Bench and it served us well for more than twenty years.
We went to a Church of England yard sale and bought a short, very
uncomfortable-looking pew which was about three feet wide, just big enough for two children to sit together, uncomfortably.
We introduced the bench to the children in a family home evening and explained that this bench was now going to be placed in our kitchen and would henceforth be called “the Repenting Bench.” We explained that whenever there was an argument or fighting between two children they would be sent directly to the bench where they would have to go through a process of repentance. First they must figure out what they did wrong (not what the other kid did). When they are ready to admit their fault, they must call Mom or Dad and say what they did. Then they must turn to the other person and say, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” The other person then has to decide and, since they really want to get off the bench, they almost inevitably said, “Yes.” The other child goes through the same process. Then they say, “I’ll try not to do it again,” give each other a little hug, and are allowed to leave the bench.
For most young children the repenting bench works like magic. The argument stops immediately. A stern “You two—to the repenting bench” will do it. You no longer have to be the referee or the arbitrator or the judge and deal out the punishment. Bad feelings between children are dissipated, and most important, children learn one of the most valuable things they came to earth to learn: the process of repentance!
That old bench has saved us countless hours of negotiation as we let the kids figure out how to resolve their own disputes. Constant arguments can build into resentments that may last a lifetime if they aren’t resolved. Even though the process may seem perfunctory at times and kids will say, “Yes, I forgive you,” just to get off the bench, it is undoubtedly the best thing we have ever found to reduce bad feelings between children and maintain a better spirit of love in our home. Somehow that physical hug at the end is like popping a bubble with your fingertip. Anger, angst, and even thoughts of revenge just disappear!
Incidentally, as empty nesters, we recently moved from our home of thirty years and decided to have a “family auction” of the furniture we didn’t want to take with us. We gave each of our children ten thousand dollars in Monopoly money, hired a real auctioneer—complete with top hat, gavel, and fast-talk—and let each kid bid on the things he wanted. The most spirited bidding of the night was for—-guess what?—the repenting bench. One of our sons (one of the feistiest ones) spent more than half of his bidding money to win the bench, and afterward, when I asked him why, he said, “Dad, I spent half of my life on that bench!”
Obviously, you don’t need an old Church of England pew . . . any bench will work, or two chairs, or even a particular stair on your staircase—any close-proximity place that you designate as the repenting zone. It is important that it is always the same place, however, and it is crucial to role-play the whole thing over and over in a family home evening so that when you say, “Go to the repenting bench,” there is no question about where to go and what to do.
By the way, it’s likely that at least one of your kids will say something such as, “What about you! If you and Dad are arguing, can we send you to the bench?” The answer, of course, is yes. (We have spent many lovely moments “repenting” to each other under the watchful glare of one or more of our children.)
When repentance involves more than working out a conflict, it may require some extra one-on-one time between parent and child. At a recent family reunion, a young grandson scribbled through the pages of his girl cousin’s journal. He thought it was funny and she was devastated! When asked
point-blank, eyeball to eyeball, whether or not he did it, he firmly declared that he did not. Richard spent the next hour getting to the truth and unraveling the little web of lies the child had spun to deflect suspicion.
Once we got to the truth, there were tearful “I’m sorrys” and some genuine remorse. You could see the visible relief in that child’s face as he felt the “lightness” that repentance brings after the dark feelings that he had harbored.
As children get older, it’s important to help them understand the entire process of repentance, including asking for forgiveness from God, taking the sacrament meaningfully, seeking sanctification of the Holy Ghost, and so forth. But within the home, both older and younger children can learn and benefit from the repenting bench.
5. Teach and hold close, then let go. How do we emulate God’s pattern of teaching and training His children and then letting them go? When does D-day come for our children? How early can we begin to give our children choices?
Perhaps in the premortal life there were stages that we progressed through in gradual and steady preparation for our agency and independence here on earth. The Church now gives us some guidelines and phases that may mirror this kind of step-by-step process of getting ready to leave home and parents. Small children go to nursery, where the simple goal is to play and cooperate and be entertained and taken care of (and occasionally learn some simple lessons.) They start going to Primary classes at three and progress in terms of what they can understand. Then at eight comes the age of accountability with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. At twelve, boys receive the priesthood and girls enter Young Women and both start serving within the ward. At sixteen comes further service along with driving and dating and other responsibilities which dovetail over the next few years into college and missions and marriage.
We have always tried to follow this pattern and age progression in terms of our parenting goals. Babies and toddlers are simply to be cherished and loved. At three or so, the goal is to give and enhance their capacities for joy. At eight, they are ready for (and flattered by) new levels of responsibility. At around twelve, the focus shifts to learning sensitivity and charity toward others. And about sixteen, there is more focus on the decisions and goal setting that will define their independent futures. Check out our website, www.valuesparenting.com, for more about these phases and their sequence.
Part of the challenge, as it must have been for God, is being aware of the different ages, levels, and needs of each of our individual children. Talking about their “five facets” (see p. 35) on a regular basis can help, and praying for insights and listening for answers is the best tool of all.
Generally, our children are ready for more choices and challenges than we think they are. But they need to start getting this independence in thoughtful and organized ways, not by just giving them free reign to do whatever they want. We have often made the statement to parents that, “In current western society, we give our children license too early and responsibility too late.” We also like the one that says, “Wherever possible, retard your child’s social growth.”
In other words, phase in their independence, follow the guidelines of the Church, and treat them as your respected stewardships whom you want to help gradually grow to need you less and less.
And then, when it is time for them to leave for mission or schooling or marriage, really let them go rather than hovering and coddling and interfering.
6. Trust and be trustworthy / Give covenants. Can we follow God’s pattern in trusting our children and allowing them to totally trust us?
And can we be trustworthy to God? Trust-worthy! Worthy of the magnificent trust He has given us. We know we are not worthy of His blessings. Are we worthy of His trust? Are we trustworthy?
As we strive to be trustworthy with God, it can lead us to be trustworthy with our children. We can absolutely pledge ourselves to do what we say we will do, and not to say that which we may not be able to do.
Can we make covenants with our children? Can we form pacts where we, in our best moments, promise each other things that will bind us and that will help to keep our children out of harm’s way?
Here are a few illustrations of the kind of family pacts you could consider:
• An honesty pact. Discuss in family home evening how important it is to trust each other. Think of some case studies and
role-plays. Get to a point where you each promise to all other family members to always tell the truth.
• A respect pact. Make a mutual pledge to speak with respect to family members and never to speak in a tone you would not use with a friend. Again, a family home evening is the best time to discuss and work on this.
• A loyalty pact. Promise to try to support each other in each person’s interests and activities—to be there when someone is performing or competing and to try to choose family over friends when the two conflict.
• A “no offense” pact (for grown children). Adult children pledge to seek parents’ advice whenever possible and not to be offended when it is given, and parents pledge not to be offended when adult children choose not to follow their advice.
7. Allow for stewardship. God, who owns all, gives us stewardships. Likewise, we parents, while owning everything in our households, can give our children stewardships, over things and over responsibility, with the promise and the hope that they will one day own all that we have and more.
We recommend using the word “stewardship” more with children, and talking a lot about what it means.
Consider getting rid of entitlement words like “allowance” and any practices you might have of giving kids whatever their friends have.
Instead, create a “family economy” where everyone has certain responsibilities (for the common areas of the house, for the dishes, etc.) and where kids keep track of their stewardships. Have a “payday” at the end of the week where how much they receive is based on how many of their responsibilities they remembered and got done. (For further details on this type of a family economy, go to www.valuesparenting/familyeconomy.com.)
8. Create a plan of happiness for your children. What is your plan for the happiness of your children?
A good place to start is with a family mission statement, where you and your children discuss, perhaps over several weeks and several family home evenings, what you want your family to be. Ask them, “What words describe our family?” “How should our family help us?” “What should we feel in our family?”
Begin to form a mission statement or slogan unique to your family.
Then ask yourselves as a couple (or, if you are a single parent, brainstorm with one of your parents), what your goals are for your children and how you think you can better facilitate their long-term happiness.
It is less important that you finish your plan than that you are working on one, and thinking about the goal of the long-term joy of your children.
9. Give written advice. How do we advise and guide our children? Will the occasional lecture or verbal instructions accomplish all we need and have the staying power we want? Or do we need to value the written word too?
Notes and letters (handwritten sometimes) of love and appreciation when our children do something especially kind or memorable or when they get their Young Women in Excellence Awards or their Eagle Scout awards will be treasures! And written bits of advice, carefully worded, can impact children long after what you may have said is forgotten.
Recorded and transcribed priesthood blessings, and other written records, have a permanence (and “reviewability”) that verbal conversation or instruction does not. They are also better thought out and usually better reasoned and composed than lectures, tongue lashings, or off-the-cuff advice.
10. Have regular communication times (and constant availability for calls). Can we try for a similar kind of in-touch-ness and availability with our children that God allows His children?
What it takes, first of all, is a priority commitment. We know one man, important and busy in his company, who instructs his secretary that calls she is to put through, no matter what, are the calls from his children.
Another friend has a “daddy date” with each of his children once a month where they have their dad all to themselves for an evening and they get to decide what the activity is.
Still another dad has a monthly “interview” with each of his kids on the second Sunday of each month.
One couple has a regular Sunday phone call to their grown kids.
A younger couple asks everyone to tell their “happies” and “sads” at the dinner table each evening.
One couple consciously applies “active listening” where they just repeat or paraphrase back what a kid says, without direction or correction or advice.
One mom has figured out that late at night is the time her teenagers will open up and talk. Another uses car time to get into conversations. Still another mom volunteers to drive car pools because kids “forget she is there” and talk about all kinds of things.
One mom told us that if she really wants her daughter to talk, she gives her a foot rub!
Whatever your personal formula, we need some set times for communication, and we need to find ways to make ourselves always available to our children and to get them to open up to us.
11. Allow older sons or daughters to help their younger siblings. Are there things that only our older children can do for our younger children?
Have you ever observed a big brother or big sister teaching a younger sibling something better than you could have taught it? Or have you watched how closely a younger child follows the example (good or bad) of an older brother or sister?
Active LDS families tend to be relatively large, and the more children you are dealing with, the greater your need for a little “middle management.”
In our case, it started with homework. There were more kids than we could help, so we started assigning the older kids to help the younger ones. They liked it better when we called it “tutoring” so we began calling the older ones “tutors” and, before we knew it, the younger ones were getting referred to as “tutees.” In general, those over eight and past the age of accountability were tutors and those under eight were tutees.
The tutees liked it right away! Who wouldn’t rather have an idolized big brother or sister help them with their homework than a parent (particularly with their math!). And the more we praised the tutors (and thanked them and told them how much it was helping their tutees) the better they liked it too. We started having an occasional “tutors’ night out” when we would have a babysitter come over for the little ones and take the tutors out for a reward in the form of a movie or dinner.
We’re almost embarrassed to tell you how broadly the idea expanded. Before we knew it, we had tutors giving tutees their baths, getting them ready for Church on Sunday, cutting up their meat at the dinner table, telling them
one-on—one bedtime stories, helping them brush their teeth, getting them ready for school, and putting them in bed after having their prayer with them. We even started having some family home evenings lessons just for tutors and then having them go and pass on the lesson information to their tutees.
And speaking of family home evenings, it seemed to work better when there was an official tutor-tutee designation—better than just asking one kid to help another kid on an ad-hoc basis. We would make the designations at the first family home evening of the month and change them if necessary at a subsequent FHE.
We would also have the tutees write detailed thank-you letters to their tutors, itemizing the things the tutor had helped them with.
12. Enlist the help of angels. You may read this subheading and wonder where this one is going. Surely one thing Heavenly Father can do that we could never imitate is that He can send angels to protect, to guide, and to help His children.
Is it possible that we, as parents, could do something even remotely similar to that?
Maybe there is something . . .
We all know that sometimes someone with a little “social distance” can reach one of our children better than we can. And our kids, sometimes just out of the politeness we have taught them or out of a little fear bred of unfamiliarity, will pay more attention to a nonparent than to a parent.
Who are your “angels”? Which of your friends will your children listen to? Which of your friends could convey a message or a warning or an idea that you are having a hard time relaying to a child?
Is this something we should be afraid to ask our friends to do? Is it an imposition or a big inconvenience? Often as not, it is something a friend would be glad to do, would actually enjoy doing it, and would be honored that you would ask.
Why not find our own angels in the form of our friends and ward members whom we can ask to give specific and particular advice and guidance to our children according to their needs.
13. Find joy in your kids and in your relationship with them. God makes “joy” the goal of our mortality. We should do the same for our children—and for ourselves. Parenting is not one continual joy! It is filled with hectic busyness, with worry, and with exhausting responsibility. We find ourselves wondering when we will have a rest! A friend of ours once changed the words of a wonderful song to make it more “realistic.”
“There is beauty all around,” he sings, “when there’s no one home. Hate and envy ne’er annoy . . . making life a bliss complete . . . when there’s no one home.”
Despite the lack of peace and bliss that comes with children, there are also those great moments of joy. Moments when two kids play sweetly, when a child says the cutest thing, or gives a tender prayer, or lisps “I love you.”
One mom has a “joy journal” where she simply writes a line or two whenever she has one of these moments. Another makes a short blog entry (often with a photo) to capture as many of them as she can.
They add up. And they help us get through the not-so-perfect moments that are an equal part of parenting.
14. Give kids more opportunities to serve and to give. One of the most interesting (and frequent) questions we get from parents all over the world is this: “How do I ‘unspoil’ my kids?”
There is certainly no quick fix for years of indulgence and entitlement, but one of the most effective and fast-acting antidotes we have found is to get a child more involved in organized service.
Ward cleanup projects may not be quite dramatic enough. Consider taking children to work in a soup kitchen or even possibly on a “service expedition” where, instead of a vacation some year, you go to a village in a developing country and work on a health, water, or nutrition project of some kind. There are many good, nonprofit organizations that put these together, offering surprisingly inexpensive “voluntourism” packages to villages in developing countries.
Kids come home noticeably changed from a week of sleeping on the ground in a village and working with villagers to build a well or a school or a clinic.
15. Acknowledge family as the center of all, as the core of our purpose. We are not some adjunct experiment to God or a sidelight of interest in an existence devoted to other things. We are His “work and [His] glory” (Moses 1:39).
Only as we are willing to think of our children in the same way—as our work and our glory—as our priority and our passion—only then will we draw down the full help and approval of Heavenly Father.
Some may get to this point in the book and say, “Where will I find the time to do all this stuff?” The answer is that this is not about borrowing a few minutes here and there or putting a little more thought into one of the many separate facets of your life. This is about adopting the same priority as God has and, in the process, working out your own salvation while you work on that of your children and your family.
Of course, since God is the complete and perfect parent, emulating His parenting, if we could ever do it completely, would have a completely positive impact on every aspect of our parenting and on every quality of our children. The trouble is that we don’t know, and cannot comprehend, the full scope of His parenthood. But we know many things about how He deals with His children, and thinking about and focusing on what we can emulate will bring about many positive things and prevent or overcome many negative ones. Said another way, following the parenting model and example of our Heavenly Father can help us give His children what He wants them to have and to steer clear of many potential parenting pitfalls even as it helps us dig ourselves out of pits we have already fallen into. Here is a short list of the positive possibilities and the negative cleansers just to get you thinking and connecting.
What Remembering God’s Parenting Pattern
Helps Us Bring to Pass
Better, more effective goal setting, for us and for our children. We can adopt God’s goals for mortality and follow His method of spiritual creation. And, like He did, we can let our children set their own goals.
Better communication of children with you and with siblings. Shared responsibility breeds communication, and kids who share responsibility and help each other grow up as friends.
Good choices. Like God did, we can give our children choices that allow growth and the accepting of-challenge.
Individual confidence and family security. Kids who are recognized as unique and who know where their boundaries are can discover their truest selves and feel grounded and secure.
Better obedience. To follow and obey is a choice and a joy, both in God’s plan and in ours.
Covenant keeping. Making decisions and commitments in advance is the best way to avoid temptation.
Self—discipline and learning to work and handle money and other responsibilities. God gave us an environment that rewards effort and
self-governance, and we can do the same.
What It Helps Our Children Avoid or -Overcome
Entitlement. Having what we want, when we want it, and thinking everything is owed to us was never part of God’s plan for us, nor should it be part of ours for our kids.
Laziness. Heavenly Father’s approach leaves no room for idleness. Neither should ours.
Dishonesty. The reward for truth must always be greater than the punishment for the deed one has confessed.
Whining and complaining. Complaints happen more in situations of compulsion than when there is agency and choice.
Being spoiled by grandparents. Grandparents need to buy into your
responsibility-giving approach so they don’t become an easier way for kids to get what they want.
Guilt and secrecy. Children who commit to and are rewarded for truth, and who understand how to repent, will not carry around the guilt and secrets that undermine their happiness.
Bad choices. Knowing God’s pattern for making good decisions can trump the peer pressure that is responsible for most bad decisions.INTERMISSION
Why It’s Worth All the Effort
We know it is a bit quirky, but we always like to put a short inter-mission halfway through our books. It gives us a chance to take a breath, think together as writers and readers about where we are going, and reflect a little on the first act as we anticipate the second.
Our particular reason for a little break in this book is to give you a pep talk. Don’t be overwhelmed or let guilt or discouragement flag you at this point. No one should attempt every idea in this book. You shouldn’t even try. It’s not about checking everything off a list or becoming perfect at anything. No one can remember everything he should be or wants to do all the time.
Let us remind you: The main thing we are trying to do with this volume is change how we think about parenting and about our kids. It’s the insights and the perspectives that count. Don’t beat yourself up about not being able to do everything and try everything. Just pick ideas that appeal and apply what you can. But let your understanding
and your thoughts about your kids change and upgrade. That doesn’t take time, it just takes focus.
And at this point in the book, instead of running out of gas, getting discouraged, or feeling guilty—do the opposite. Reflect for a minute on the fact that your children are both your joy and your most important stewardship. Rejoice in the fact, and be thankful and calm about it.
By now, we hope you realize that this is not just a parenting book, but a book on priorities—on prioritizing our kids and also on prioritizing the spiritual. You have likely figured out that it is not only parenting solutions we’ve been talking about, it is perspectives for life that can make us, as well as our children, happier and more fulfilled. And you have probably already sensed that it is also a book on timing and on the seasons of life. The full-blooming “summer” of life is the fleeting time that we have our children in our homes with us. We will still have our jobs and our entertainments and our golf games in the autumn, but the kids will be gone. We must implement and prioritize these changes and ideas in the summer, because it is the only season when we can!
Parenting, we know through the restored gospel, is not just another skill to be worked on, like managing our finances or improving our gardening or even serving in our Church calling. Parenting is the core stewardship of mortality and the thing most directly connected and relevant to our eternal salvation and returning to God.
And what helps us parent better is understanding the clear differentiation between means and ends that the gospel gives us. Within the gospel, families and children are the end; jobs and houses and cars and money and all the other things of this world are just the means. We use them to help us with the goal and the purpose which centers on family. Even the Church and its programs is a means that helps us toward the end result of eternal families. President Harold B. Lee uses an analogy of the Church and its organization as the scaffolding that helps in the building process.1
There is a wonderful congruency in acting on and doing what we believe.
People everywhere say (in public opinion polls) that family is the most important thing to them, yet it is just lip service if their lives and their priorities do not match what they say. In the Church we know more deeply and more specifically why families are the most important thing and why children are the most important stewardship, so it is even more crucial that we “walk the talk” and make how we live and how we parent match up with what we believe.
To do that, we must become, in a way, contrarians with the world—reversing the means and the ends, and seeing the job as a support for the family rather than the family as a slave or second fiddle to a career. We must find the courage of our convictions to sacrifice the approval, the applause, and the accolades of the world in favor of the approval of God as we prioritize the most important stewardship He has given for us.
But, as with so many sacrifices, what we get far outweighs what we give up.
Because it’s not just about doing our duty and being righteous. It’s about joy and love, the very things we were sent here to gain, the very purposes of mortality. It’s about joy and love for us as well as for our children!
Think for a minute: Is there anything less joyous and less loving than “no children allowed”? Do you sense the stiff, staleness of people who are rarely exposed to the sparkle and spontaneity of kids?
As grandparents, the two of us now see it more clearly than ever—how much laughter and tears and love are missing when there are no kids around. And we know more surely than ever that family is the center of life.
Children are a source of joy! Not always pleasantness, and rarely easiness, but real, up-and-down, roller-coaster joy.
And joy, according to Nephi (2 Nephi 2:25), is the very reason for mortality, the very purpose of earth life. We have always felt that there were four levels of joy: First, the joy of just being in mortality, having the beauty of the earth and the freedom of agency. Second, the added joy of loving and of doing—of relationships and achievements. Third, the fuller joy of understanding the “why” and of knowing our purpose here and being guided by the eternal truths of the gospel, and fourth, the greatest joy of feeling God’s love and His approval of what we are doing. The stewardship of children helps with and enhances each of the levels of joy.
These four types of joy correspond interestingly with four ascending “love” levels (which, once again, are totally affected by children): First, the love of the earth and of just being here on it. Second, the love that is deepened and made unconditional by our family commitments and stewardships. Third, the love that is made even more complete by understanding purpose and being a conscious part of God’s plan, and fourth, feeling the pure love of Christ as we earn God’s approval and the presence of His -Spirit.
Motivated by these four levels of joy and of love . . . read on!
by Chad - reviewed on March 23, 2011
I've only read the first part of the book and it has been simply outstanding. Such a great resource for any parent to have.
Opened our eyes.
by Daryl - reviewed on April 23, 2011
This book has truly awakened me to aspire to be the parent I could and should have always been. I can see the mistakes I have made but I see how to correct them as well. I am looking at our children in a different light now. Wonderful Book!
by Mark - reviewed on March 01, 2011
I am so thankful to have read this book. The perspective given really puts family life into focus. A reminder that family bonds and relationships are sacred and essential to our eternal happines.
at last, a real LDS parenting guide
by Customer - reviewed on March 03, 2011
I started out just by loving the title! So many LDS parents are tired of the parenting ideas of the world. Of course our kids have most of the same problems as kids everywhere.....entitlement, addictions, too much technology, "problem" friends, and temptations of all kinds. But like the Eyres say, our solutions can be unique....and spiritual! This book makes us see our children in a different light and gives us specific ways to use the truths we have (not to mention the Church and its resources) to raise righteous kids in an unbelievably unrighteous world. I love that Stephen Covey says "every LDS parent should read this book" and even Mitt and Ann Romney who apparently know the Eyres well weigh in on the back cover by saying that this is "A wonderful LDS parenting guide." I highly recommend this book. It did not make me feel guilty, in fact, it made me feel empowered. I am going to give one to each of my married kids because I think it will help them raise my grandkids!
This will change the way you parent
by Dawn - reviewed on March 08, 2011
If you can only own one book on parenting, this is it. It should be a foundational book in your library that truly clarifies what it is to be a parent from an eternal perspective and how that knowledge empowers and inspires! Loved every bit of it!