I am a parenting how-to junkie, especially when it comes to parenting methods that line up with gospel principles, such as Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44, which I think is the one scripture that sums up exactly how we should parent. Whenever I read parenting books, I measure the advice next to this scripture. If the advice fits, and if I feel confirmation from the Holy Ghost that the principles in the parenting book echo the principles of the gospel, then I accept the advice and try to apply it in my parenting. I have read a lot of parenting advice (in books, on the internet, etc) that makes me feel so dirty and wrong just reading it that I would never dream of applying it in my parenting with my children (not knowingly, anyway).
I love the way Elder Lynn G. Robbins speaks. His sentences are simple, his concept easy to understand, and his language straightforward. While Elder Robbins seemed to speak about being, Elder Richard G. Maynes focused a little more on the doing part of parenting and our children’s behavior – however, the things that he stressed doing are really a part of being, too. “We learned that our children might not remember everything about the family home evening lesson later in the week, but they would remember that we held it. We learned that later in the day at school they would probably not remember the exact words of the scriptures or the prayer,but they would remember that we did read scriptures and we did have prayer. Brothers and sisters, there is great power and protection for us and our youth in establishing celestial traditions in the home.”
I realized this same thing as I have grown and left my parents home. I couldn’t tell you what we studied in the scriptures, or what the topics of our family home evening were. I couldn’t even really tell you how often we did any of these things. Because we did have family scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening, it seems to me like we did it consistently, ever day and every week, even though I know that’s not true. But the point is that my parents made an effort, and what I remember is that we read scriptures together as a family (and I remember how we read scriptures), I remember that we prayed as a family (and I remember how we prayed), and I remember that we had family home evening (and I remember how we had family home evening). The content probably just blended in with all the other gospel content I have learned over the years. I am sure I cannot tell you where I first learned a gospel principle, but chances are I learned them in the home.
Elder Maynes also talked about the be. He said, “Learning, teaching, and practicing the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our homes helps create a culture where the Spirit can dwell.” The principles of the gospel are what will help us be like the Savior and what will help us teach our children to be like the Savior. Elder Robbins said, “When we teach children doctrine by the Spirit, that doctrine has the power to change their very nature—be—over time.” Teaching those principles of the gospel will change our children (and ourselves).
Elder Robbins counseled us to focus our parenting on teaching our children how to develop Christ-like attributes. We need to teach them to learn to be like the Savior, and not just do good things, or “behave” properly.
Elder Robbins’ talk reminded me of a talk by President Boyd K. Packer in which he said, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.” Elder Robbins reiterated this sentiment when he said “Because be begets do and is the motive behind do, teaching be will improve behavior more effectively than focusing on do will improve behavior.” When we worry about what our children are doing, we forget that more important than what they do is who they are becoming. If we want our children to become Christ-like, then we need to teach them about Christ and teach them how to become like Christ.
Elder Robbins gave a lot of good advice on how to focus on teaching our children be while still talking about the do. I challenge everyone to read his talk. A really good parenting you might want to check out for more advice is The Soft Spoken Parent by my former institute teacher, Bro. Wallace Goddard. He teaches correct principles in all of his books and talks and lessons. He is probably my favorite parenting expert because he bases his parenting advice on the scripture, the prophets, and gospel principles.
I really liked Elder Robbins’ inclusion of the quote from Alma that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword.” I recently read this exact verse in my personal scripture study and I was struck by the same principle – punishing the do – whether in children or adults – is not half as powerful as teaching the be. This is one thing that I learned from Brother Goddard and his teaching of the scriptures – Heavenly Father doesn’t usually punish us. There are, of course, consequences for our actions, and our Father does not shield us from those consequences. However, our Father’s number one method of parenting is to teach us. He teaches us daily, through the prophets, the scriptures, prayer – however we will come to Him, He will teach us.
I think of my role as a parent the same way – I was given children to teach, not to punish or consequence. Sometimes I think that as parent we get carried away thinking that it is our job as parents to “make” our children behave in a certain way. That is grossly false. First of all, thinking that we can make our children do anything is to laugh in the face of our Father and His Son who provided agency for everyone – even (and especially) little children. Second, our job is to teach our children. Going back to D&C 121, we should discipline (teach) our children “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge.” Elder Robbins said, “Discipline comes from the same root word as disciple and implies patience and teaching on our part.” We are not task masters, we do not parent with a whip. We teach.
Elder Maynes ended his talk with this statement, that “we understand and believe in the eternal nature of the family.This understanding and belief should inspire us to do everything in our power to establish a Christ-centered home.” I feel like I can do a much better job of having a Christ-centered home by teaching my children about Christ-like attributes and focusing on be rather than do, both with them, and with myself.
Do you find yourself wanting to “make” your children behave? Have you seen changes in your children’s behavior as you teach them correct principles of the gospel? Do you follow the counsel given in Doctrine & Covenants 121 as you parent your children?