Editor’s Note: The following is the first installment in a serialization of ‘Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth,’ a series on parenting from Wallace Goddard.
We all want to be good parents. We want to be close to our children, and we want them to develop into good people. We have mental pictures of loving, peaceful, happy families extending from the dinner table into eternity.
But the toast burns, milk spills, chores get forgotten. Children act childishly. And we parents get tired, distracted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Life burdens us.
In spite of our noble aspirations, we spend a lot of time being irritated with our children—sometimes downright angry. Family scripture study devolves into periodic wars. Family prayers either involve chaos or they are forgotten. Siblings fight. Children act irresponsibly.
We don’t know whether to be angry with the children or disgusted with ourselves. We slump in parental despair. It seems that all is not right in our families.
Unless we have the heavenly perspective. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). The heavenly perspective teaches us that life was designed to be hard. Parenting is supposed to test us to see whether our failed efforts will lead to better attempts. God wants to see if we will learn and keep trying. He wants us to discover that we cannot be the parents we should be without patient effort and His divine help.
After all, He is preparing us to become partners with Him. Our imperfect but wise and persistent efforts on earth will yield not only faith-filled children but reformed and refined character in our parental souls. That is God’s purpose. That is godly parenting. This book is intended for good parents who would like to raise their children in light and truth—just as He commands: “But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:40).
It had to be difficult being a prophet and leader while having a son who was “a very wicked and an idolatrous man” (Mosiah 27:8). It may have been doubly painful because Alma the Elder was filled with the glorious truth that his namesake son rejected and undermined among his followers. Alma the Younger “became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God” (Mosiah 27:9). Alma the son was destroying all that his father was trying to build in his own soul and in the Church.
But the faithful father never gave up. He prayed for his son. He joined his faith with that of fellow Saints, that his son “mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth” (Mosiah 27:14). In response to persistent prayer, the Lord sent an angel to the wayward son. When that angel confronted the younger Alma with his destructive behavior, the long-neglected teachings of his father came to life: “I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17).
Had Alma’s father taught him the true spirit of prayer, or did the Spirit inspire it? We do not know. But Alma uttered the words that changed his life: “Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).
A Model for Godly Parenting
We rarely recognize the eternal significance of parenting in God’s plan. We may think more about the importance of Church callings. Yet parenting is God’s central task: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24; emphasis added). Parenthood is His core identity. It is His calling. First and foremost, He calls Himself Father.
Earthly parenting is the place where we learn the vital lessons to prepare us to join Him in His work. It is, above all else, an apprenticeship for godliness.
Research has shown that LDS people have distinctive beliefs about parenting—but their parenting is just about like everybody else’s. What a shame that our extraordinary understanding of God’s plan has not informed and enriched our way of caring for our children! What a tragedy that our light doesn’t shine brighter than it does.
What are the distinctive doctrines that could make our parenting more heaven-like? What are the principles God models in His own parenting that should be the core of ours? How can the principles be translated into practices that strengthen our families?
Benefiting from Science and Scripture
God has always had the best answers to all questions and challenges. Yet we have hardly ever mined His truth for all its riches. I believe science can help us ask better questions, especially in the area of parenting. Drawing on the best thinking of the best scholars can open us to divine answers we never recognized before. A national project reviewed decades of research and released a report called the National Extension Parent Education Model, which identified six principles as central to effective parenting1. I would like to take four of those principles—the ones I consider most essential—and enrich them with spiritual perspectives to form a Model for Godly Parenting.
In this article I will introduce each of these four principles. I will use the analogy of building a house to help us envision the key ideas for raising children. In subsequent articles, we will examine these principles in detail and discuss how to apply each of them.
The Footings: The Flourishing Parent
At the base of any substantial structure are the footings or footers. This substantial course of concrete is generally wider than the foundation and assures that the foundation (and the entire structure) will not settle and crack. The integrity of the structure depends on the strength and solidity of those footings.
What are the footings of parenting? What does the entire structure rest on? I believe the footings are each parent’s state of mind and quality of character. Parenting scholars often speak of the concept of “parent care for self,” meaning a parent must be a healthy, balanced human in order to be a good parent. A miserable, unhappy person is not likely to be an excellent parent. In spiritual terms, when we are not built on a rock, the storms of parenting will wash us away. When we are built upon the rock of our Redeemer, we are solid (see Matthew 7:24).
The gospel of Jesus Christ suggests that we must be converted before we can strengthen others (see Luke 22:32). A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (see 3 Nephi 14:17). The same principle applies to parenting. A dead tree trunk cannot nourish the branches. A troubled, hostile, bitter parent will find it difficult or impossible to deliver life-sustaining truth and goodness to children. A person who is spiritually alive and growing is more likely to be what I call a flourishing parent, capable of nourishing children and helping them thrive and grow.
Of course, the gospel prescribes very specific actions if we are to flourish. In fact, God provided a clear directive to parents: “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” (Moroni 8:10).
Apparently it is the process of becoming good parents that is especially apt to help us become good Saints. The foundation principles of faith, repentance, and covenant-making have special relevance to parenting. These are the principles of spiritual growth. We must be good Saints if we are to be good parents.
The Foundation: Compassion
Built on the footings of a solid structure is the foundation. The scholarly model of parenting recommends understanding as the foundation of parenting. This concept encompasses everything from understanding normal development to understanding a child’s unique temperament and circumstances. Understanding is vitally important.
God prescribes something even richer than understanding: compassion. While understanding entails a knowledge of development and personality, compassion involves being “touched with the feeling of our [children’s] infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). Compassion goes beyond understanding the child, since it entails a readiness to act in his or her interest. This is best done when we see the world through the eyes of the child. Parental compassion is the offering of our whole souls to experience the lives of our children.
Compassion is exactly what Jesus had as part of the Atonement. Not only did He bear the burden of our sins, but He also bore our infirmities so that His compassion would be fully informed (see Alma 7:11–2). We can never rightly say to Him, “You just don’t understand!” He does understand. He bore every pain, discomfort, and disappointment any human ever suffered so that He would have perfect compassion. What a terrible price He paid to gain that powerful compassion!
Jesus invites us to have compassion for our children as He has compassion for us. I believe our development of compassion is absolutely foundational to good parenting. In the absence of compassion, we cannot be effective parents.
The Body of the House: Nurture and Guidance
The body of the house involves two companion processes. In the scientific community we call them nurture and guidance. God calls them something similar in scripture: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; emphasis added).
I believe God chose the words “nurture” and “admonition” very deliberately. These are the exact words Enos uses in describing the godly parenting he received from his father (see Enos 1:1).
Nurture is any behavior the child experiences as warm, caring, and supportive. The key is how the child experiences the behavior. In other words, all the parental “I love you’s” in the world do not constitute nurture unless the child feels loved.
This is where wise guidance provides the perfect balance for gracious nurture. Children must not only be loved but also learn the law of the harvest. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Children must be taught eternal principles and the natural consequences of disregarding them. They must learn how to use their agency responsibly.
The reality of mortal parenting is that children won’t always feel loved or loving when they are learning the law of the harvest. Sometimes we don’t feel loved by God, even though His love never fails. Yet we can create a bond that is stronger than the cords of death (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:44) while helping children learn to honor the principles of eternal growth: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10).
We can best teach children when we ourselves are striving to honor the laws of God. Then we strive to teach our children the very principles that guide our lives.
The Roof: Eternal Purpose
Our objective is not merely to get our children through mortality in a way that keeps them out of hell in eternity. Those of us who have the fulness of the gospel have loftier ambitions. We are preparing our children to do the work God does, and in the process we are preparing ourselves to do as He does and be as He is. That is an exalted objective! In fact it is fully impossible for mere humans—unless we get divine help. When we understand God’s eternal purposes, we are humbled. When we earnestly seek heavenly counsel, we are taught from on high, including how to more effectively, compassionately, and wisely parent our children.
In the following article, we will walk through each of these principles in more detail, looking at specific processes to help us rear our children in light and truth.
Reflection and Application:
What parts of your parenting house are strongest?
What spiritual gifts has God given you that will help you be an effective parent?
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.