Editor’s Note: The following is the second installment in a serialization of ‘Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth,’ a series on parenting from Wallace Goddard.
It’s easy to be irritated when our hearts are darkened. It’s easy to be gracious when our hearts are right.
One Sunday at church, I turned to find that our sweet granddaughter Vivian had scribbled in a cherished book. I observed patiently. When she was finished, I added a notation: “Commentary added by Vivi, February 1, 2009.”
Perhaps my heart was softened by sitting in sacrament meeting. Maybe it was tenderness for Vivi and her developmental delays. Maybe it was because we love her so much. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to do the right thing when our hearts are right.
The scriptures teach us that “a good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things” (Matthew 12:35). It is nearly impossible to be good parents when we are frazzled—when our hearts are not right.
Exhaustion Puts Us at Our Worst
Some years ago Nancy and I received a call from an overwhelmed mom. She told us to come to her house immediately because she was extremely upset with her daughter and feared she might do something she would regret. We went immediately. When we arrived we found a tired and overwrought mom and a frightened child. We sat with that mother and inquired about her dealings with her four-year-old daughter. Mom had been pushed to the edge by life and over the edge by her daughter’s tiny infractions and normal childishness. What was clear to us was that Mom needed a break. We volunteered to take the daughter for as long as needed for her mother to get feeling peaceful. We expected to have the little girl for a few hours; we had her for several weeks as Mom sorted out her struggles.
We have all seen the effect that stress and exhaustion can have on our parenting. We overreact. We are harsh. We fail to use good sense. We lose sight of the child’s motives and needs. When we’re not happy and balanced, our parenting worsens and our children suffer. I believe that being a healthy person is the beginning of good parenting.
One of the many ironies of parenting is that the blessed arrival of children comes with such burdens. It’s almost as if God wanted to jerk us out of the center of our concerns and teach us to focus on the well-being of others. It’s almost as if He knew we would become whole as we serve and sacrifice. Thus parenting is terribly inconvenient. The demands are relentless and sometimes overwhelming.
One of the biggest problems in parenting is our perception that our children are encroaching on our lives. The reality is that children invite us to a greater maturity and goodness that only come as we surrender our independence, our otherness, our self-serving, our order and convenience. Effective parenting mandates that we surrender much of our concern for ourselves and become more like God—dedicated to the well-being of others.
Life (and parenting in particular) pushes us towards stress, exhaustion, and self-concern. God invites us towards Him and His loving, tender, and selfless way of being. Being a healthy, balanced, compassionate, unselfish, flourishing person is fundamental to good parenting. But although it is fundamental, it is not easy for any of us.
Models of Well-Being
There are two major models of well-being, one secular and the other spiritual. Each helps us see the path to flourishing. The table below summarizes the secular model as described by Martin Seligman (2002), a psychologist who has studied the factors that contribute to what he calls “authentic happiness.” To Seligman’s model, I have added a few scriptures confirming that these processes are rooted in eternal truths. In the next article, I will discuss the spiritual model of flourishing at length.
Let’s briefly consider each of these three levels. The pleasant life is the result of savoring the good things all around us. We appreciate sight, the ability to breathe, the beauties of nature, the richness of friends, the joys of gospel truth. Savoring is the attitude of gratitude.
Savoring can have three time orientations. Obviously we can savor the present moments. But we can also savor our past. What are the good things from the past that enrich our lives now? This may include everything from faithful ancestors to rich childhood experience. The past can provide a rich foundation of well-being—if we choose to find and cherish the gems in our histories.
We can also savor the future. With the eyes of faith, we can look to a future filled with goodness and growth. Knowing that God presides in our lives, we are stubbornly optimistic. We know that even the bad things that happen will be turned to our blessing by a gracious God (see Romans 8:28).
The next level of authentic happiness is attained by using our talents, gifts, and strengths. It is not enough to have pleasurable lives; we yearn to be productive. As we discover our unique strengths, we can design our lives to use them regularly. Maybe your career allows you to use your creativity. Maybe your church service employs your compassion. When we take on challenging tasks that fit our God-given gifts, our lives become radiant.
The third level of authentic happiness is reached only as we serve. That is the conclusion of solid social science! Service is essential to flourishing. Of course, parenting is filled with service opportunities from walking the floor with a fussy child to being a Scout leader. Yet there is more. When we find ways to make the world around us better, we become better. Often, we can draw our children into serving with us. That will help them along the path of authentic happiness.
The best of psychology teaches us to be grateful for what we have, to actively use our talents, and to find ways to serve. As we do these things, we are more likely to be healthy people who can function better as parents. All of this is in agreement with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet this perspective can be enriched and enlarged by considering principles that are even more fundamental and powerful in effective parenting. These principles become clear as we study God’s perspective on parenting. In the next article we will discuss the spiritual perspective on well-being.
Reflection and Application
How well do you savor your past, present, and future? Is there more the Spirit invites you to do?
Does your life provide you regular opportunities to use your strengths? How can you redesign your life to have more opportunities?
Is service a regular part of your life? Are you grateful for the opportunities God gives you to serve—even in such mundane ways as taking your child for a walk?
Brother Goddard has written or edited many books in addition to Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth. You might be interested in The Soft-Spoken Parent, Between Parent and Child, or Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.