What does God expect from mothers and fathers?

There are a lot of things God wants from mothers and fathers, but today I want to share six principles of Christ-centered parenting that have meant the most to me:

1. Appreciate each family member’s unique divine gifts
One of the reasons I know there’s a God is that I can see glimpses of divinity somewhere in the personality of each person I meet. This is especially true of my children. I have never met a little girl who can give a bigger, more heartfelt hug than Charlotte. I have never met someone with a more perfect balance of obedience and creativity than Madelyn. I have never met a 2 year old with more interest in construction equipment than Parker. The more I get to know someone — anyone — the more I am amazed at the totally unique gifts and attributes they possess.

When it comes to being good mothers and fathers, I believe God wants us to really know each member of our family. We need to know what our children are good at and what they will struggle with. We also need to know ourselves — what are we really good at (and need to be sure to pass on to our children), and where do we struggle (and need to find other ways to make sure our children learn those values)?

If you look closely, there’s a beautiful truth here: there are no perfect parents in the general sense, but with a little effort you can be the perfect parent for your child by getting to know his/her needs and interacting with them accordingly.

2. Practice patience and forbearance
Fortunately, God doesn’t show us everything we’re doing wrong all at once. If He did, we’d be overwhelmed to the point of giving up. Instead, he’s extremely patient with us and doesn’t show us our weakness until we’re ready to improve. In like manner, parents should strive to teach their children “line upon line.” Parents who are impatient with or overly critical of their children risk damaging their confidence & self esteem (younger children) and creating rebellion (older children). This is much easier said than done and we all fall short, but I believe God wants us to be extremely patient with our kids.

As a practical strategy for guiding children, my wife and I have found success using something Linda & Richard Eyre call the “5 facet review.” Basically, we dedicate one date night each month to reviewing each of our children spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally and socially. As we conduct our review, we divide up “homework” assignments, such as “Parker is struggling with feeling loved. Your job is to do one thing with JUST him each week this month.” This helps us to focus on supporting and building our kids up one “brick” at a time.

3. Lead by example
In a recent re-reading of the New Testament, I was struck by just how much service Christ did. He of course taught some powerful sermons along the way, but his life was literally full of service to others. I find this particularly interesting because Alma 7:13 points out “The Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh” In other words, Christ could have learned about everything we were going through via the Spirit, but he chose instead to “roll up his sleeves” so to speak and live among us in order to actually experience it.

Likewise, parenting is a contact sport. It’s not about theories and thoughts. It’s not about ideas and instructions. It’s about literally getting in there and working with our kids to show them love and nurturing. It’s about late nights, early mornings, messes, kissing owies, shedding tears and sharing joys. I believe that God expects us to lead by example, modeling good behavior in all things for our children.

4. Practice open communication
I have learned that there are 5 levels of communication, ranging from level 1 (very topical — the weather, sports, news, etc.) to level 5, which is where we share our deepest and innermost feelings, hopes and fears. In my experience, too many of our family interactions happen at levels 1-3 and not enough happen at levels 4-5. We assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them, but we should never assume. We should tell them. When we hold back sharing feelings of vulnerability, we miss out on an opportunity to grow closer. It takes a lot of practice, especially for men who have often been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, but the rewards are immense.

One of my favorite times to express these kinds of feelings is during family prayer. When Christ prayed among the Nephites, they recorded that “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Nephi 17:17) In like manner, we can do a lot of good for our relationships by praying for our families aloud in their presence.

Another great time for marital communication is during what my wife and I call our “weekly tactical.” Each Sunday night, we sit down to discuss the general state of our family, our marriage, our involvement in the community and our week ahead. During this process, we make specific plans to help move us towards our goals.

5. Pace yourself
Mosiah 27:27 teaches “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Leading our families is a marathon, not a sprint, and in a marathon it’s essential to pace yourself and seek appropriate sources of fuel. As I study the life of the Savior, I notice that he frequently took little breaks to meditate and be with his father. I believe this is what he meant when he said “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 15:5) When we seek to maintain our spiritual health, we plug ourselves into the very power that will sustain us through the monumental effort of leading our families.

I have found too though that it isn’t just about spiritual learning. Parenting books, seminars and even just good conversations with our spouse or role model can inspire us and give us the strength to carry on. We need to not be too hard about ourselves when we make mistakes. Learning to be good parents is part of the process for us, too, and God is in control of the outcomes.

6. Lead in partnership with God
As a parent, it’s really easy to give in to the temptation to believe that I have to do it all myself. “If I don’t raise these kids right, who will? If I mess them up, it will be totally my fault.” This kind of thinking can be discouraging, but it’s simply not true. Yes, God gave us these kids to raise, but he doesn’t expect us to do entirely it by ourselves. For me, an essential part of leading our families in the Lord’s way is to learn which part of the parenting job is ours and which part is the Lord’s.

One of my favorite parenting scriptures is found in Moses 1:39, which reads “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” In this scripture, we learn that God is full-time, completely consumed in raising His children. It’s not a side project. It’s not something he throws in after a long day of creating galaxies. It’s literally the entire object of his efforts, and he’s extremely good at it. So the next time you feel inadequate as a parent, just remember that the ruler of the Universe — the same guy who created the solar system and parted the red sea — is on your side.

A little introspection..
How are you doing? As a mother or father, what does God expect of you? Here are a few questions for us to consider together:

  • What are the faults & flaws that I am ignoring in myself that will hurt my ability to lead by example?
  • What strengths do I have that I need to be sure to pass on to my family?
  • Do I truly know each family member? How can I get to know them better? How can I adjust my behavior according to their needs?
  • How can I discipline my children in a way that maximizes the likelihood of that discipline being received?
  • What things will the future version of me thank the present version of me for having done with regard to my family?
  • Do I take time for myself to meditate, pray, learn and develop as a family leader?
  • Am I sharing the responsibility of leading a family with God? Am I trying to do it all myself, or on the other extreme, am I dumping it all on him?
  • Do I fully trust Him to do the part that corresponds to Him?

I believe that leading our families is one of the most important things we’ll ever do. Families are of utmost importance in God’s plan for his children. I believe we’re doing better than we think we’re doing, but if we’ve failed to lead our families the way we should have in the past, then let’s start today. It’s never too late for the Atonement of Christ to have effect in our lives. The Spirit will guide us to success if we seek it.  

“And He Has Sent Me Here”

After the birth of my fourth baby, I braced myself for a new, crazy life. With four children under the age of six, I knew that life was going to be hectic; however, I was unprepared for some of the challenges that came my way.

When my youngest was about a month old, I noticed that I was having frequent, unbidden thoughts that caused me great anxiety. These thoughts were affecting my ability to be positive and happy. Some days, the anxiety consumed me so much that I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I struggled to keep up with my various responsibilities, I lost patience with my kids too easily, and I felt hopeless.

One of the feelings I have experienced most often is fear — fear of the world around me, which was seemingly spiraling into deeper and deeper turmoil; fear of terrible things happening to myself or my loved ones; fear of never being able to achieve my goals and dreams, for one reason or another. The thoughts of these fears coming to fruition made me unbearably sad, and sometimes extremely panicked. At times it was difficult to think about the future or feel any sort of hope, because I would immediately think “But what if…?” My mind was becoming trained to think that happiness was never coming.

With the support of my husband, I visited a mental health counselor to try to get some of these feelings sorted out. The counselor was very helpful and supportive, and immediately recognized my symptoms as signs of postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD. While the diagnosis was somewhat frightening, it was also somewhat relieving to finally have a name for my feelings — a label to put on an existence that was previously mysterious.

At the height of this trial, life went on. I had four young children to care for — feed, bathe, clothe, take to the doctor, and clean up after. The commonplace routines could not stop. It was one of those commonplace routines, however, that ended up giving me a major boost, right when I needed it.

I was putting my two-year-old son to sleep. It had been a difficult day, full of fearful thoughts and a generally troubled mind. When I asked my little boy what bedtime song he wanted, he requested “I Am a Child of God,” which is a song the children at our church sing very often. I began to sing,

 

“I am a child of God,

And He has sent me here…”

 

I froze. Many different phrases of this song, in their beautiful simplicity, had struck me before, but this was the first time this particular phrase really jumped out at me.

“He has sent me here.”

This world that I felt so afraid of? God sent me here. I believed that, and I had believed it from my childhood. And yet, if I really did believe that, how could I be so afraid all the time? Why was I afraid of this place that my loving, all-knowing Heavenly Father had sent me to? Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t need to be.

The peaceful feeling I had when I sang those words that night made it difficult for me to finish the rest of the song without quite a few tears. But as I have thought more about this phrase and what it means for my life — for all our lives — I have come up with a few ideas that have helped me battle my anxious thoughts.

 

1) There is a plan for my life.

God didn’t send me here without a purpose. Why would he? Why would he make us, his children, face life’s challenges for no reason? I believe that as loving Father, God sent me here because He has a plan for me. He wants me to learn, grow, and become better. Any challenge I face has that ultimate purpose.

2) God is at the helm.

I didn’t end up here by chance. God deliberately sent me here. He sent me to this time and to this place. He knows what He is doing. If bad things happen, it is because God knows that they need to happen in order for us to reach our full potential. He does not direct or inspire wickedness, but he does allow it to happen, and He has taught us how to persevere through it and in spite of it.

3) Earth is the best place for God’s plan to be carried out.

I was sent here, to Earth. This place, and its people, will help me to achieve God’s purposes. The bad things that may happen here will not stop His plan from being carried out. As long as I don’t let them, they will also not outweigh the tremendous happiness and joy that I can experience here.

 

It is not easy to remember these things in the midst of an anxiety attack — when my mind is racing and my heart is pounding and I feel like the world as I know it is ending. But the more I reflect on these truths during my good moments, the more they become a part of me, and the more power I give them to push away my anxiety and my fears.

I’m still facing my mental health challenges, but I have faith that God wants to help me overcome them and help me grow because of them. I have faith that God wants me to find help: He wants me to visit all the counselors I need to visit, to take the right medications if necessary, to care for my body and my mind in ways that will lead to happiness and peace. He wants me to be healed.

The fact is — I know that God is there. He is real. I know that He loves me. I know that I am one of His precious children. And I know that He sent me here. Knowing these things has given me strength and solace throughout my life, and I have faith that this knowledge will continue to help me through this trial, and through all my trials to come.

Power, Love, and a Sound Mind

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about faithful women — the struggles they face, the strengths they exhibit, and the amazing potential they have to truly make a difference in the world.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith,” which dwelt first in his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, two women who clearly took care to pass their faith down through the generations. (2 Tim 1:5)

Following this reminder of the influence of these women, Paul then writes this meaningful passage:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

As we strive to recognize and remember our divine, extraordinary nature as daughters of God, I would submit that we too strive to become women of faith like Eunice and Lois, developing and displaying power, love, and sound minds.


Power

First I’d like to talk about power. What does a woman with the spirit of power look like? She is a woman who does God’s will and trusts in His timing. She relies on Him, and trusts that He knows how to overcome any trial she may face.

Women face great trials. Single life, unhappy marriages, guilt for working outside the home, guilt for not working outside the home, terrifying surprise pregnancies, infertility, motherhood, cancer, body image issues, etc. Haven’t we all met women facing similar challenges, and so many more?

According to many researchers, women feel shame when they think that they are not perfect. That is, when a woman struggles with anything in her life, she feels that something must be wrong with her. What does God think of this misunderstanding? I’m sure His heart breaks to see us struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

The truth is that we are not perfect. No one is. But does a powerful woman let this discourage her, or let this make her feel bad about herself? No. A powerful woman recognizes that God is on her side in all her trials, and allows His will to become her own during hard times. She uses the power of the truth that she has been taught to have power over any efforts to discourage her.


Love

Next, let’s talk about love. I think that women understand love very well. In fact, I often feel as though women understand love so well, and feel it so often, that we sometimes forget to deliberately express or show love as much as we should.

As women, expressing love is important for a reason: we need each other. We need acts of love to help us feel noticed, wanted, and appreciated. Certainly, the grander gestures — stopping by a friend’s home with a treat or babysitting her kids for a few hours — all have their place. But I would encourage each of us to think about the small things we can do to make others feel loved: the text messages, the quick compliments, the “thank yous”. Don’t think about what others could do for you; trust that your needs will be taken care of as you take care of others. Trust that you will feel love as you show it.

Developing the spirit of love within us will strengthen our bond as women. We will learn more about the divine capacity for love that God has given to women. We will feel of that love, God’s love, which will give us confidence and purpose.


A Sound Mind

Lastly, let’s focus on having a sound mind. To me, this means seeking truth – in our homes, in our churches, in the scriptures — anywhere we can find it. As the scriptures say, “The Glory of God is intelligence.”

How will having a sound mind help us recognize our divinity as women? Most important, I think, is that it will teach us that the doctrine of the divinity of women is real. It is there for us to find. The scriptures teach us of Eve, of Esther, of Mary, of the woman at the well (to name a few). We also have many examples of women in our own neighborhoods and families who know who they are and what their purpose is.

I believe that if we earnestly seek it, we will learn that the divinity of women is not something said only to make women feel good about themselves. It is not idly taught. We will learn that we are literally daughters of our Heavenly Father. We will learn that we play important roles in the world. We will learn that we are inherently equal to our husbands and to all men. We will learn that we are not women by accident – but by divine appointment. There is a doctrine of women. Using our “sound minds” to learn it will allow us to recognize its reality, and apply it to our lives.

 


Conclusion

There are many real fears that come with being a woman. We may fear inadequacy or loneliness. We may be afraid of not being able to pay our bills. We may be afraid to fully repent. We may be afraid about the health or well-being of our family members, or of ourselves. We may fear being ridiculed or unaccepted. We may be afraid to speak up. We may be afraid of not being able to become better. I know that sometimes I personally feel overwhelmed by how far I have to go; I worry about the things I have to do and the responsibilities I carry; I fear that I will not earn or deserve the approval of others, or of God.

We do not need to be afraid. God has not given us the spirit of fear. He has given us the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. These gifts are readily available to us, if we will just work to develop and use them. As we do so, we will learn of our divinity as women. We will learn that we are not “just” mothers, wives, friends, sisters, or daughters. We are not “just” women. Whatever we are is what God has called us to be, because it is what He needs us to be. We can and will find purpose as women of God. We will discover that we are more capable than we ever thought possible. And we will have the impact we want to have, in our families, in our churches, and in the world.

To all women everywhere: thank you for your example, your love, and your light. I’m grateful to be a woman. We truly are extraordinary, and we can do extraordinary things.

 

Exercising Faith – by Carolyn Stout

Our Own Little World

This past summer we took a family camping trip up to Mirror Lake in the Uintah mountains. Our campsite was close to a running river, and someone had created a pool out of rocks so the grandchildren had a great place to play. We went hiking and sightseeing, and watched our three grandsons (ages 5-7) work together to build a path out of rocks so they could cross the river. We roasted hotdogs and made s’mores. It was a wonderful time being in our own little world where we were secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and we could build strong relationships and make wonderful memories.

The Outside World

The evening of our last day there we had a group of kids in their early 20’s pull in and start setting up camp a few yards away. At first we were concerned because they were intruding on our wonderful time together, second because it was a coed campout and we had sweet innocent little children with us. The ‘world’ had entered into our sacred space.
We went ahead and fixed dinner and had our evening ritual of s’mores and stories. As our children were getting the grandkids ready for bed, the music and laughter began getting louder from the neighboring camp, so our sons went over and politely explained that they had small children going to sleep and asked if they would keep the noise down. The other group was very polite and said they would.
As the evening went on and we were playing games inside the trailer, we could hear the drunken laughter and music get louder.

A Test of Faith

I was getting a little concerned but the thought kept coming to me to pray and everything would be all right. So before my son, Ben, went to his tent and my other son, Jason, went to his car where his two kids were asleep, we had a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to protect us through the night – that we would be in a protective bubble from the ‘outside’ world. We went to bed confident the Lord had heard our prayers. I even said another one after I got in bed and felt a peace come over me that we would be okay. But then I would hear loud laughter or someone walking around our tents and trailer, and I started to doubt my faith that Heavenly Father was protecting us. I would remind myself of all the lessons I had taught and learned about how if we pray in faith and trust that He hears our prayers he would bless us, like the scripture ‘Ask and it shall be given.’
When I remembered that and put my trust in Him I could rest, but when I allowed the ‘outside’ to come in again I couldn’t. It was a long night.

I couldn’t wait to talk to the kids the next morning to see how they slept. They both said they slept well and didn’t hear a thing, which was a tender mercy. Prayers had been answered.

Reflections On Faith

That morning happened to be Sunday and our son got permission from his church leader to have our own Sacrament Meeting. As I sat there under the covering, surrounded by family and the beautiful trees, and listening to the river flow beside us, I couldn’t help but think of our pioneer ancestors who held all of their meetings outside as they crossed the plains. I thought of their unwavering faith as they listened to the early prophets and embraced the gospel and then of their courage to set out for an unknown place so they could worship in peace.

As I looked around at half of our beautiful family and especially our sweet little grandchildren who were there and how reverently they partook of the sacrament and listened to grandpa speak to them, I thought of their faith and how it is growing and developing daily, then I thought of my own faith and how I had let it waver throughout the night. Why couldn’t I be like my ancestors and my posterity?

I just have to remember my favorite thought ‘Faith is not believing God can. It is knowing God will.’ I have seen Him bless us in the past when I have asked in faith, so I need to remember that He will bless us in the future IF I am trying to live righteously and IF I ask in faith and put my trust in Him.
I know He is there and loves me.

“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.” – President Thomas S. Monson

What I Learned about Parenting at a Wrestling Match

Recently, I was at a wrestling tournament to watch my 14-year-old son. Wrestling tournaments usually start early in the morning and take up most of the day. On this day, I had left my other three children at home, and I was sitting in the gymnasium thinking of my to do list that was a mile long. I love wrestling, and I love being with my son, but this day, the commitment to a long day in the gym seemed a little too much.

Motherhood Low

After a lot of waiting, my son finally wrestled his first match and got pinned in only 15 seconds. I thought he hadn’t given his all and was a little annoyed he lost because if he lost the next match he was out of the tournament, we would be heading home and all of the time and effort I had put into getting him there would be a waste.

After his match, he came and found me in the stands as he always does. I told him he didn’t do his best and to get out there and try harder. It wasn’t my finest mom moment. He went to rejoin his team, and I felt ashamed I hadn’t been more positive. I had let my frustration get the best of me and I felt bad.

Scripture Changed My Perspective

The gym was full of people. There were five wrestling matches going on at once, parents were cheering, wrestlers were warming up and music was blaring. Since I knew I had a long wait until my son’s next match, I reached into my bag and pulled out my Kindle. I had planned to read a novel I was in the middle of, but instead I clicked on the button to read in the Book of Mormon. I started reading in the place I had left off at the day before. Despite the chaos around me, I got completely engrossed in the verses.

I read about a great leader named Captain Moroni. He was a leader everyone wanted to follow. He had integrity and even though he was fighting a war, his motives were pure. This is how the the verses I read described Captain Moroni:

And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.

Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.

(Alma 48:11-13,17)

A Softened Heart

I finished the chapter, looked up from my Kindle and instantly saw my son in the far corner of the gym warming up for his next match. What I read about Captain Moroni changed my perspective on what I was doing that day. My heart was softened. I was being taught what was truly important for me to show my son.

I knew it didn’t matter if he won or lost his next wrestling match. I didn’t need to pray for that. I needed to pray he would be like Captain Moroni–someone the Lord could depend on no matter what. Suddenly, I wanted my son to be “strong and mighty” not so he could beat his wrestling opponent, but so he could be who God wanted him to be.

Parenting Lesson

My son lost his second match, which meant he was eliminated from the tournament. When he came to me in the stands this time, my heart was full of love for him. I told him I knew he had done his best and I was proud of him.

We headed home, and the day was not a waste because I learned an important lesson about parenting in God’s way and not the world’s way. I had learned what God wanted me to teach my son. His value is not based on his worldly accomplishments. He isn’t defined by winning a wrestling match. He has value simply because he is a child of God.

How have you learned to parent in God’s ways? Share your thoughts in the comments.