In our religious culture, it is not uncommon that we tend to be extremely critical of our own efforts.
For some reason, we tell ourselves that if our children don’t serve a mission, don’t have an Ivy League or BYU degree, marriage and at least one child by twenty-four years old, we have failed as parents. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but we do have a tendency to judge our family and personal righteousness by benchmarks instead of by spiritual standing and personal progress before the Lord.
I know that I am often guilty of overprotecting them and reminding them that they shouldn’t embarrass me. This is my problem. I have felt from time to time that as I prohibit them from making choices, they do not learn to choose, nor do they learn from natural consequences. I am inhibiting them from truly learning the meaning of the atonement of Jesus Christ when I make choices for them.
Balance is an important thing, however. Should I ignore the command to teach my child the gospel and let him or her loose to do as they please? No, definitely not. We can set boundaries and let our children make choices within those boundaries. We can talk about possible consequences beforehand when there is a choice to be made.
The answer given by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he was asked how he governed such a large body of people was, “I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. The time is drawing near when the Lord is going to gather out His people from the wicked, and He is going to cut short His work in righteousness, and the principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.”1 In other words, “…teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”1 This is the Lord’s method.
It is our job as parents to teach those correct principles and teach them continuously. Even Nephi understood this. He recorded in 2 Nephi 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
Stumble and Fall
Will they stumble? Yes. Will they learn for themselves that giving in to temptation only leads to sorrow? Yes. Will it be easy for them to refocus and repent? Probably not. It is then that our teachings become even more important. When our family members are broken and hurting, we need to be there to remind them that they are loved by us and especially by our Father in Heaven and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Gaining a testimony of the Savior’s atonement through the repentance process is one of the most personal and powerful experiences we go through because that is when we learn that the entire gospel is personal.
Enos, the son of a prophet, had to learn for himself at some point also. He said “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.” (Enos 1:3) The Spirit bore witness to Enos that what his father taught was true and it happened when he was ready to receive it, not when someone else thought he should be ready.
Let us never forget that sin or imperfection is part of mortality. That is the reason we needed our Savior to do what He did. He does not shame us for our mistakes but stands ready to welcome us into His loving arms, to draw on His mighty power to heal and close the gap that we created between ourselves and the Father. He stands ready for you and I and for every one of our children, no matter what.
- “Chapter 24: Leading in the Lord’s Way,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith(2011), 281–91