In our world where people are confused, how are Latter-day Saint parents to go about raising their children? Fortunately, the Lord has given us direction through the scriptures and prophets and apostles, and it all begins with having the courage to share our testimonies with our children.
A talk I gave in church on Mother’s Day, Sunday, 12 May 2013.
Please note that, while the text below pretty closely follows the audio of my talk, it is not an exact transcript. I took the liberty to tidy up some of the text and clarify portions for someone reading rather than listening.
Some time ago, Susan and I babysat for a family in our branch. As their children go to sleep, they have CDs playing in their rooms, of songs in the Children’s Songbook or similar music. Our daughter, Fiona, thought this was a good idea, and ever since then she, too, has had us turn on a CD in her room while she goes to sleep. She, too, listens to songs from the Children’s Songbook, which are the songs sung by children in Primary. One of these songs has a couplet that makes Susan and me smile every time we hear it:
Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
(“Follow the Prophet”, Children’s Songbook, page 110)
If you do watch the news, or if you open a newspaper or magazine or listen to the radio, you will see that people argue and debate constantly about all sorts of different issues: politics, fashion, the economy, what you should eat, how you should exercise. And certainly one of the things people argue a lot about is the best way to be a parent. I did some brief research online to see how people talk about some of these parenting trends. Here are some trends you might have heard about recently in the news.
- We have “tiger moms.”
- But then we also have “martyr moms.” I guess those are people who sacrifice a lot for their children—which would probably describe a lot of people.
- Clueless dads, which is the way that media and culture typically portray dads when it comes to taking care of their kids.
- We have “Walmart moms.” According to what I read, those are apparently mothers who are more concerned about family finances than national finances. I know that I am.
Then there are different types of parenting.
- You have “helicopter parenting.”
- Then you also have “slow parenting,” which apparently is like the “slow-food” movement.
- And then the thing that’s been in the news a lot lately—I guess because of an article in The New York Times about it—“diaperless parenting,” which I’m guessing is helicopter parenting and slow parenting combined together.
People ask these questions: When are you too old to have kids? When are you too young to have kids?
The big thing every few months: people debate over which country’s (or continent’s) parents raise their kids the best. Are they in Asia? Are they in France? Are they in Sweden?
And, finally, there’s been a lot of chatter about books, mostly geared toward women. There is a book recently that has instructed women to “lean in.” Or another book that I found: How to Look Hot in a Minivan. (Yes, that was an actual book title.)
Again, we do live in a world where people are confused. There are so many trends out there. But for us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what trend are we to follow in raising our own children? I think a very good explanation of that “trend” was given by the Lord Jesus Christ himself through the Prophet Joseph Smith:
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
(Doctrine and Covenants 68:25)
So think about that instruction that the Lord has given to parents who are members of this Church. Think about the elements of that instruction. You have first, “faith in Christ the Son of the living God;” second, “the doctrine of repentance;” third, baptism; and fourth, the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The missionaries can tell you that those are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel (see the Fourth Article of Faith). So, in short, the “trend” that we as parents in this Church are to follow is to teach our children the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that’s what it all comes down to.
But where and how do we start? I think Moroni gives very good instruction on where we are supposed to begin. I found this pretty interesting; I’ve never noticed this verse before:
Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
We begin teaching our children the gospel of Jesus Christ by internalizing it ourselves, by obeying the commandments and the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. That’s where we start.
I want to take a moment to talk about what has worked in our family in terms of teaching our own daughter the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think these things will sound pretty familiar to you.
- We really try to pray daily as a family, both in the morning and the evening.
- We try to say blessings at mealtimes—at every mealtime.
- As a family, we try to have daily scripture study. Now, Fiona is not yet three years old. But we still read the Book of Mormon with her. We read with her six verses a day. I haven’t calculated how long it’s going to take us to get through the Book of Mormon, but it’s probably somewhere over half a decade. But we do it. [Writer’s note: Since giving this talk I have made an actual calculation. There are 6,604 verses in the Book of Mormon. At a rate of six verses per day, it will take 1,101 days to read it, which is three years and six days. But it sure feels like it’s going to take us longer.]
- We hold family home evening. We try to do it on Mondays, as we’ve been instructed by Church leaders. But, you know what? It doesn’t always work out on Monday. And it’s pretty amazing how often things come up on Monday evenings—things which take me or Susan away from home and make it impossible to have family home evening on Monday. So we just try to have it one day a week, whatever day of the week works. And, again, Fiona’s not even three years old. A lot of times it’s as short as five or ten minutes. But we try to have it.
That’s where it all starts. It’s the things that our Church leaders have instructed us to do for a very long time.
I want to take a moment and tell you that if you aren’t doing that in your own family, it’s not too late. It does not mean that you’re a bad parent. It just means you should start, and try your hardest to do it. I promise you that, as you do these things, the blessings of the Lord will come into your lives and you and your children will be blessed. I promise you that.
What happens when parents don’t do that?
I think back to my own mission. I served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission. We had over 300,000 members of the Church within my mission boundaries. That means I was in the homes of a lot of members of the Church. Most of them were very good, strong members of the Church. I was very impressed by so many people I met. But every once in a while, we met parents whose children had fallen away from the Church. Now, that happens sometimes. All of us have to choose whether or not to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ and the commandments that he has given. Sometimes our children, despite our best efforts, will choose a different path. And if that happens, all we can do is love them, and we have to love them. And that’s it.
But there were some people, whose children had fallen away from the Church, who would whisper to me, “Well, when it came to religion, we sort of just let them choose their own path.” I really wondered about that, because I really feel strongly about our own individual ability to choose. I’m grateful that I’ve had the ability to choose in my own life, and that I can choose the path that I want to follow. Now this is the path that I’ve chosen to follow — to stay close to the Church. But what about my own daughter? Can I just let her do whatever she wants to do?
In this context, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said something in this last general conference (April 2013) that really stuck out to me, that I think contrasts with the confusion you see in the world, particularly when it comes to faith and religion. He said:
Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! … Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle. (Ensign, May 2013, page 94)
What that says to me is that parents need to have the courage to share their testimonies with their children. Most of us in this room have felt the Holy Ghost testify to us that this Church is true and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. If we have had the Holy Ghost testify to us that these things are true, then we need to share that testimony with our children.
I still remember vividly the very first time I ever shared that testimony with Fiona. Here is a photo of me holding Fiona for the very first time. This is at almost 2.00 in the morning on 15 July 2010. She had been born at 1.40 that morning—already keeping us up in the middle of the night. Susan had held her, and then Fiona had been bathed. Then it was my turn to hold her for the very first time. The first thing I did was I introduced myself as her father. Then I told her that her mother and I had been married by the priesthood authority in the temple and that, because we had been married in the temple by the right authority, she had been born into an eternal family. I promised her that we would do everything we could to make sure she was ours forever.
Doing everything we can simply means upholding the covenants that we made at baptism and that we renewed today by partaking of the sacrament.
As I mentioned in a talk that I gave a few months ago here, when we are baptized there are a few things we covenant to do. Those covenants we make can be summarized very simply: we covenant to provide for each other’s spiritual and temporal needs as members of the Church, and we covenant to teach each other the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when you think about it, when it comes down to it, that’s the same thing expected of us as parents in this Church: we are to take care of our children’s spiritual and temporal needs and teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. By doing so, all of us can uphold our baptismal covenants to follow our Savior and his commandments.
In closing, I leave my testimony with you that I know that God is real. I know that Jesus Christ is his Son and that he is our Savior. I know that this is Jesus Christ’s Church upon the earth. As we follow the scriptures and the living prophets and apostles that we have today, we will be able to raise children who are strong and who are able to lead happy and productive lives. I’m very grateful for those in my life who have done the same for me. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
This article appeared on pages 24–27 of Issue 11 | July 2013.