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.  

Can video games hurt relationships?

As someone who has spent a lot of time both playing video games and interacting with gamers, I feel pretty qualified to say “Yes, of course they can.” Not all video gaming behavior is bad, but I’ve seen people and families get anywhere from a little to way messed up by too much screen time.

My sense is that as a society we’re still not entirely sure what to think about people who play too much. If it’ll help someone out there who is wondering about this, I’d like to share my story:

My story:
As a teenager, my video game behavior could definitely have been classified as an “addiction,” although I definitely didn’t see it that way at the time. I played the occasional Nintendo game as a kid, then progressed to computer-based strategy games during junior high. In High School however, I started playing a new kind of game called an RPG (“role playing game”) where you control a character who lives in a world of his/her own. In a short period of time, the game completely consumed me. I would play from the minute I got home to the minute I went to bed, and I would often get up later in the night to play again after my parents went to bed. When my parents cracked down, I’d get up really early to play for a few hours before school.

There was no meaningful purpose behind the gaming, but I felt compelled to get to the next level, find the next item or score the next kill. It didn’t help that this was the kind of game that allowed you to interact with other gamers, so I soon felt like all of my friends were in the virtual world too. My parents (bless their hearts) probably didn’t know what to do. Knowing how I was as a teenager, they probably didn’t have a lot of power to stop me anyway. But I do remember them explaining to themselves and to others “Well, there’s worse things he could be doing,” and I think I kinda used that story as a way to justify my behavior to myself as well.

I pretty much continued to play day-in and day-out for 3 or 4 years. The game kept a log of how long you had played for, and I remember it saying near the end that I had logged the equivalent of over 180 continuous days played during that short time period. At the height of my addiction, I actually turned to caffeine pills to keep myself awake during class. That’s crazy to think about now, but that’s where I was at at the time.

How did I finally quit? It’s pretty simple — I got a job. With the new job came a desire to make money and do different things, and I just didn’t have time to play anymore. Also randomly (or perhaps by divine providence), the first person games started making me dizzy/sick after 10-15 minutes of play, so I couldn’t really do those anymore either. But it’s not like I came to some realization — like I said, it wasn’t until much later that I realized I had been addicted, so really it’s just lucky that life got me out or I’d probably still be playing :).

The cost of playing
I try not to think about it, but sometimes I wonder what this addiction ultimately cost me? For sure, I can’t say I had a very good high school experience. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t do ANYTHING extracurricular. I got good grades, but I suspect that was more about knowing how to beat the system than it was about actually learning anything. I didn’t think about college or scholarships until it was way too late to apply to anywhere prestigious. I didn’t have much social skill (in fact, I think I was in my mid 20s before I really started to care what others were feeling). I wrecked a few high school friendships, but I think I regret even more than that the close relationships that I never developed. I could’ve been much closer to my siblings, my parents, my teachers and my friends. It hasn’t been a total tragedy, but I’d say I probably only reached 50-60% of my total potential coming out of high school and it has taken me years to recover. That’s an incredible price to pay for an experience that gave me so little in return.

I hear people say they are just playing video games to “blow off stress” or “relax” and I get that. I think the shorter, offline games are better. At work, we play a quick game of soccer on the xbox at lunch time to bond as a team and to get our minds off work for a bit. I still enjoy playing the occasional strategy game with my brother too, but I’ve noticed something different about my gamer behavior now — I play to spend time with people I care about, not to avoid them. I also feel like I’ve developed enough self control to say confidently “It’s just a game” and turn it off whenever I need to. Perhaps most importantly though, I’ve got enough other stuff going on for me in my life (my wife, my kids, my business, my ministry) — stuff that honestly just blows any video game out of the water — that I don’t feel nearly the desire to play that I once did.

I can’t tell you whether or not you (or someone you love) is addicted or simply playing too many video games. But it’s scary stuff and unfortunately it seems like the kind of problem they just have to realize and get out of on their own. For me, having to face the realities of life did the trick. It wasn’t painful at the time, but I can tell you that it’s painful now. Be careful out there!!

The Lord’s Perfect Timing

My husband and I have been married for 21 months.  For just over a year, we’ve been trying to have kids.  It hasn’t always been my every waking thought or in my every prayer, but lately it’s becoming so.  I had a dream the other night of holding a sweet, chubby baby boy in my arms.  As I sat in church that day, I saw parents with their children, little babies in their carriers, and thought of when my dream from the previous night would come to pass.  Tears came to my eyes as I thought back to the prayers I’ve given, pleading with the Lord for Him to bless us with a child but with patience to wait for His timing.  

I thought back to January 2009, when I sat in class at Brigham Young University – Idaho and the thought came to me to go on a mission.  It filled my soul, and I knew it was what I needed to do.  I fasted and prayed about it, but the answer came that I shouldn’t go.  I was so confused why I would have such a strong feeling in one moment and then when I would seek confirmation, the answer was the opposite.  But I moved on with life, graduated from college with my Associate’s and thought nothing of serving a mission again.

Fast forward almost two years.  I had recently started dating someone.  Things were getting pretty serious.  I was happy at the time, but something felt like it was missing.  I prayed fervently, fasted, and read my scriptures daily for the answer to come.  I knelt in prayer one night, asking the Lord for Him to tell me how to fill the void, and it was then that I received the answer I had searched for two years earlier – go on a mission.  That was an answer I neither expected nor wanted.  I was happy in a relationship that was growing quite rapidly, and I didn’t want to give that up.  But, I heeded the call to serve, and that boy sent me on a mission with a proposal of marriage.  Did I want to go?  Not at all.  Did I wish to serve my Father in Heaven?  Absolutely!  Was I resentful because He answered me no when I had nothing to lose and told me yes when I felt like I was sacrificing everything?  Unfortunately, yes.  

For almost nineteen months I served the Lord with what I hoped to be a willing heart.  I met some of the most amazing people and had some of the greatest strengthening experiences of my life.  I became who I am today because of my mission.  I don’t regret even the slightest bit leaving behind family, friends, and a fiancé to serve my Lord.  When I got home, I found my feelings for that boy had changed, and, to keep a long story short, ended up marrying someone I met on my mission.  We are so happy and completely and 100% in love.  I wouldn’t have met him, or anyone else in Seattle for that matter, had I not listened to the call of the Lord to serve Him.  

Accepting the Lord’s Timing
It was hard to leave behind the life I knew.  It was hard to accept the Lord’s timing of it all, but the blessings I gained in return far outweigh the sacrifices I made.  It’s not always easy to accept the Lord’s timing.  We live in a world of fast-paced technology and can have almost anything we want within seconds at the touch of a button.  But, the Lord doesn’t work like that.  He has His own timetable, and He uses it for our advantage and gain.  We don’t always see it that way in the moment, but we always see the blessings in hindsight.  I don’t know why the Lord has had us wait for a child, but He’s a loving God.  I know that.  He doesn’t hold what we want from us just to see us suffer.  It’s for our benefit.  One day, my husband and I will welcome a beautiful baby into our home, and only then will we see the blessings of the Lord’s perfect timing.

How to Overcome Selfishness in Marriage

Bliss and Blues of Newlywed Life

My husband and I have been married for a beautiful 19 months. We’ve shared laughs, cries, TV shows, deep conversations, conversations about nothing, disagreements, compromises, etc. Has it been blissful? Absolutely! We are very much enjoying the paradise that is being married to each other. We no longer have to say goodnight when he drops me off at my parents’ house, we get to wake up next to each other every morning and decide to sleep just a little longer while snuggling, we have a constant companion to comfort us and take care of us. Have there been blues? I’d be lying if I said no. I know as well as you do that it’s hard going from single life to married life. One day, you’re spending your money on whatever you want. The next, you’re dying to buy that super cute pair of shoes (or in my husband’s case, a dirt bike) but have to save your money to pay bills you never thought you’d have. Pretty soon, arguments start to happen about money, whose family you’re visiting for the upcoming holiday, if your food tastes better than his mom’s, the way you fold the laundry. It can be exhausting. But, after every tiff, you kiss and makeup, and things are back to being blissful once again. Does this happen in my marriage? Absolutely not, we’re perfect! (Yeah, right!) Of course it does!!! That’s part of the joy of being married. Life throws things your way. Sometimes those things come from you, your spouse, or outside sources, but no matter what you have your spouse to work with to roll with the punches.

What Does My Spouse Ever Do For Me?

One such ‘punch’, which may sound familiar to you whether you care to admit it or not, is the infamous “I do everything for my spouse, what do they do for me?” I find myself thinking that more times than I care to confess. I feel like I’m constantly giving back massages, doing dishes and laundry, cooking dinner, and running to the store. Sometimes you find yourself wondering, as you scrub the crusties off your casserole dish (I find that frustration really helps with that, by the way), why you have to do it all and what your spouse does for you. I’ve been there. Recently. I lay in bed while my husband played Xbox out in the living room, and I caught myself thinking about this exact topic. I wondered why I felt like I had to do it all with nothing in return. And then I allowed the thoughts to continue further. If I were single and living on my own, would I still be doing dishes? Yes. Would I still be doing laundry? Naturally. Would I still be making myself dinner? Probably more than I do now. Would I still be working full-time and have to come home and clean the house, pay the bills, wash the dog? Yes, yes YES!!! I realized that all those things I do for him, I do for me too. Everything!! I clean my house for me. I do the dishes and the laundry, one because I need them clean, and two because that’s just who I am. I like to clean. I like to have things organized. Do I get tired and just decide one night that I just don’t want to do the dishes? Yep. I would be doing that if I were single, too. But, of course, then I would have no one to blame but myself. So I pin it on the guy watching TV after 10+ hours of working in the Arizona sun every day. Sound familiar?

A Cure

So I decided to make a change – two in fact. One, I wanted to start doing something for him and him alone. Every day, I’m going to do at least one thing for him that doesn’t benefit me at all. Two, I’m going to do better at noticing the things he does for me. I put this to the test following my brilliant ‘ah-hah’ moment, and I have already noticed a difference. For example, the next day I woke up with my husband instead of sleeping in (FYI: he wakes up anywhere from 4:30 to 5:30 in the morning) and I made him lunch. I guess it could be argued that it’s to my benefit as well because we save money on lunches, but that wasn’t my motive. I did the same the next day…and the next. I’m slowly but surely getting into that habit. I also did his laundry late one night because I noticed he had no work clothes for the next day. Not my clothes (I have a closet full, and I’m pretty sure I can’t run out), just his. I also became very aware of how much he helps me. For instance, I hate going grocery shopping alone, especially to Costco, and he totally volunteered to go with me. He also knows how much I HATE getting gas (you may think it’s laziness, I just think it’s a waste of my time), so he fills up my car for me. He’d appreciate it more if I told him before the gas light came on instead of him finding out on his way somewhere, but, hey, I’m not perfect.

I’m not at all trying to be showy and brag about what a great wifey I am – believe me, I’m still pretty selfish – but, I thought I’d share what took me a year and a half to learn. Obviously, this won’t be the cure-all solution, but it can be the cure to something.