Being a parent today is tough—and arguably more complex than ever before.
Instead of just worrying about how to prevent underage drinking, parents today are also fretting about drugs that look like candy and legal substances (that you’d never think twice about) being abused in ways that make them harmful, even deadly.
Instead of worrying about how much time their kids are watching TV after school, they’re questioning whether there’s anything they can do to pry their kids away from their video games, phones, and tablets.
Instead of making sure their kids are ready to move out and be on their own at age 18, parents today are wondering how long they’ll be caring for their adult children, their families, and grandchildren and if they’re ultimately helping or hindering their progress in life.
Being a parent today is tough. We could all use some help in navigating some of the complexities that are unique to our day. And often the solutions to those unique challenges are found in the “ultimate self-help book” that’s right in front of us but not necessarily utilized every day as a guide for parents—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in scriptures and words of living prophets and apostles, we can find solutions to today’s problems. That’s the idea behind the new Mormon Channel series Gospel Solutions for Families, which promises “practical, relevant tips for raising children in faith.”
In this episode, show host and mother of three Amy Iverson sits down for a half-hour conversation with Sister Carole M. Stephens, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, and Dr. Liz Hale, a licensed clinical psychologist, to talk about teaching the ideal pattern for families when you’re divorced, a single parent, or in another complex family situation we may consider to be less than ideal.
Dr. Hale has spent nearly 25 years in her practice focusing on strengthening marriage and family relationships. Sister Stephens has spent four years visiting with and teaching women around the world as part of her calling in the Relief Society. She has six children and 21 grandchildren.
Read on to see some of their answers and gospel insights relating to teaching the ideal in less-than-ideal circumstances, as shared during this episode of Gospel Solutions for Families on the Mormon Channel.
Amy: How can we be thoughtful when teaching our children or others when our own lives may not live up to the ideal, and maybe neither do the lives of those we are teaching?
Sister Carole M. Stephens: I think that we need to just begin from a foundation of love. We just always have to be sending forth love and not judging. Be open to questions and validating the concerns of others. If we can just show that Christlike love and just always be reaching out to every child and every woman, they’ll be receptive to what we’re teaching. None of us has the ideal family. You are married with children, you’re married without children, you’re single never married, you’re single divorced, you’re widowed. We have all of these different groups of women in the Church. But I really have a concern that sometimes when we segment ourselves into these silos, we create “-ites” in the Church. And that’s something we really don’t need. We need unity among our women. We need everyone to feel like they’re included, that they’re needed, that they’re part of, and that they’re loved. And you teach that to your children by modeling that behavior in how you treat others.
Amy: How can we move past some of our trials and heartbreaks to teach our children the ideal?
Dr. Liz Hale: It is why we’re here. It reminds me of this quote from Orson F. Whitney:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”
We’re so blessed to know that we’re here for a purpose. We didn’t come here to learn how to love ourselves. That we already know how to do. Whether I’m self-loving or self-loathing (it’s the opposite ends of the same stick, which is self-absorption), we really came here to learn how to love others. And nothing needs to ever be wasted. Everything is for our experience.
Sister Stephens: I know when we’re going through the struggle, we wonder “Why?” But after we’re beyond it and we can look back, we realize how much it’s changed us, how much we grew through the experience, and that refinement is really key. But we never have to do this alone. Surround yourself with good friends and family, people who have been through tough times, are on the other sides of things, and can share some of that hindsight. We can be lifted by others, and when we are lifted, we can then have the strength to help lift our children.
Amy: What would you say to those who feel their “broken” family has ruined the future for their kids?
Dr. Hale: It’s not the marital status that determines the happiness of a child. What makes a child unhappy is the lack of unconditional love in their life. We can always show unconditional love. Any time we’re angry or disappointed with our children, consider that we might be wrong. Are we making it about us and how “you’re making me look not so good as a parent right now” instead of “I’m so concerned about you; help me understand where you’re coming from”? When we make it about “I care about you” and “You know you’re loved without a doubt,” then our kids trust us. They find happiness in our relationship with them. We can choose how our everyday relationships will look and feel. We can all write our own scripts.
For those who think, “This is just how my family has always been,” and they’re stuck because of it, you can change. After being taught the Lord’s pattern for families, our kids can decide who they’ll date, when they’ll date, who they’ll marry, what their standards will be. They’ll do the best they can with the decisions before them and then take that leap of faith. They can be fearless that good things will happen in life. There will undoubtedly be struggles, but that’s why we have faith. The stronger that is, the more clear we are of who we are, the more endurable those things will be. It’s not if hard things will come; it will be when they’ll come and what they will be, but there is always hope. To children in any family circumstance, you can make your future different.
Sister Stephens: That’s what the gift of agency is all about. It’s our ability to choose what the next steps are for us, and it’s also our opportunity to say, “We can’t be weighed down, and we can’t allow the agency of others to control our agency forever.” The agency of someone else does not control our individual happiness. We can be happy. We can get out of sorrow and regret.
I think of when the Savior was walking on the water and Peter’s desire to do the same. When Peter was focused on the Savior, he had the faith to get out of the boat amid all the winds and the waves, all the turmoil around him, and walk on the water. It was only when he lost his focus and he got distracted by everything happening around him that he was beginning to sink. And I love that word, “beginning.” All of us every single day are beginning to sink, in some way, under the weight of responsibility. But Peter exercised his faith, and he used his agency to ask for help and reached out his hand. The Lord in turn reached out His hand and caught Peter and said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Focus on the Savior. Trust God’s plan. Trust our divine identity. Trust the Savior. Trust His Atonement. The Father has provided everything we need to be successful in this mortality that He knew would be so difficult. But we have to learn to trust in that.
Get more practical advice from Sister Carole M. Stephens and Dr. Liz Hale by watching or listening to this full Gospel Solutions for Families episode on the Latter-day Saints Channel.