“The Environment of Our Homes,” Ensign, June 1985, 3
What a difficult, at times discouraging, but nevertheless wonderful and challenging thing it is to be a parent—a mother, a father of children born and growing in this complex age. We all make mistakes, most of us make many of them. We all experience heartache, and most of us have felt much of that. But we have also felt pride and gladness as we have witnessed our children grow from infancy to maturity.
I am confident that some of you have come to this meeting with the hope that you may receive help with your difficult problems. You have received such help from those who have spoken. I have pleaded with the Lord that he will give me direction to say something which will be helpful to you.
It is not an easy thing to be a parent. There is so much of frustration, so much of worry, so much of blighted dreams and broken hopes for so very many. I recognize, of course, that there are many homes where this is not the case, where things go smoothly and well, where there are never raised angry voices, where there are parents who are happy and calm, and children who are faithful and grow up without serious problems. If such be your home, be grateful. Thank the Lord for the marvelous blessing that has come to you.
But I assure you that there are many of the other kind, for I have received letters concerning them—letters from parents and letters from sons and daughters. It is very easy to say that if we will do this or that, all will go well. But I have seen conscientious men and women, people who are faithful and true, people who try to observe the teachings of the Church, who still experience broken hearts over the conduct of their children.
I know some of the answers to these problems, but I confess that I do not know all of them. Many of the problems are of our own making. In other cases, they seem to happen notwithstanding all that we do to guard against them. I think of some wonderful people I know. Their older children grew up and were married and went forward with their lives in a way that made the hearts of their parents glad. And then there was a younger son, a bright and able boy. It was the associations he had in high school that moved him in another direction. His hair grew long and his dress unkempt. He did other things which brought great distress to his father and mother. His father was distraught. He scolded and threatened; he wept and prayed and rebuked his son. But there was no response. The boy went his wayward course. His mother also wept and prayed. But she controlled her feelings and kept her voice low. She repeatedly expressed to her son her love for him. He left home. She kept his room tidy, his bed made, food for him in the refrigerator, and she told him that whenever he felt like coming home he would be made welcome.
Months passed while hearts ached.
The love of his mother finally began to touch his heart. He came back occasionally to sleep. Without ever scolding, she smiled, joked with him, placed delicious food before him, put her arms around him, and expressed her love. Finally, be began to show increasing neatness in his person. He stayed home more. He came to realize that there was no other place as comfortable, no place as secure, no place as happy as that home which he had earlier left. He finally got his life under control. He went on a mission, at an age older than most young men do. He proved to be a successful missionary. He returned home, entered school, and began to apply himself. The last time I saw him, he and his mother, each blessed with a good voice, sang a duet while some who knew the history of that family shed tears.
To any within the sound of my voice who may have such sons or daughters, may I suggest that you never quit trying. They are never lost until you have given up. Remember that it is love, more than any other thing, that will bring them back. Punishment is not likely to do it. Reprimands without love will not accomplish it. Patience, expressions of appreciation, and that strange and remarkable power which comes with prayer will eventually win through.
In the spirit of trying to be helpful, I should like to suggest four elements in building the environment of your homes. I suggest that you let your children grow in a home where there is (1) a spirit of service, (2) an atmosphere of growth, (3) the discipline of love, and (4) the practice of prayer.
Selfishness is a destructive, gnawing, corrosive element in the lives of most of us. It lies at the root of much of the tension between parents and children, and it leads to strain in well-meaning parents who sometimes nurture harmful selfishness in children by indulging with extravagance their wishes for costly and unneeded things.
The antidote of selfishness is service, a reaching out to those about us—those in the home and those beyond the walls of the home. A child who grows in a home where there is a selfish, grasping father is likely to develop those tendencies in his own life. On the other hand, a child who sees his father and mother forego comforts for themselves as they reach out to those in distress, will likely follow the same pattern when he or she grows to maturity.
A child who sees his father active in the Church, serving God through service to his fellowman, will likely act in the same spirit when he or she grows up. A child who sees his mother assisting those in distress, succoring the poor, and going to the rescue of those in trouble will likely exemplify that same spirit as he or she grows in years.
Would you have your children grow in a spirit of unselfishness? Indulgence of selfish desires will not do it. Rather, let them come to see in their own homes, and in their most intimate family associations, the truth of the great principle set forth by the Lord: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:35.)
What a marvelously interesting thing it is to watch young minds stretch and strengthen. I am one who greatly appreciates the vast potential of television for good. But I also am one who decries the terrible waste of time and opportunity as children in some homes watch, hour upon hour, that which neither enlightens nor strengthens.
When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumes—the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years.
We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.
There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study.
There were also magazines—the Church magazines and two or three other good magazines. There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a set of encyclopedias, and an atlas of the world. There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But there was an environment, an environment of learning. I would not have you believe that we were great scholars. But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully.
In so many of our homes today there is not the possibility of such a library. Most families are cramped for space. But with planning there can be a corner, there can be an area that becomes something of a hideaway from the noises about us where one can sit and read and think. It is a wonderful thing to have a desk or a table, be it ever so simple, on which are found the standard works of the Church, a few good books, the magazines issued by the Church, and other things worthy of our reading.
Begin early in exposing children to books. The mother who fails to read to her small children does a disservice to them and a disservice to herself. It takes time, yes, much of it. It takes self-discipline. It takes organizing and budgeting the minutes and hours of the day. But it will never be a bore as you watch young minds come to know characters, expressions, and ideas. Good reading can become a love affair, far more fruitful in long term effects than many other activities in which children use their time. It has been estimated that “the average child on this continent has watched something like 8,000 hours of TV before he or she even starts school.” A very large part of that is of questionable value.
Parents, work at the matter of creating an atmosphere in your homes. Let your children be exposed to great minds, great ideas, everlasting truth, and those things which will build and motivate for good.
The Lord has said to this people, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.) I wish to urge every parent within the sound of my voice to try to create within your home an atmosphere of learning and the growth which will come of it.
It is so plainly evident that both the great good and the terrible evil found in the world today are the sweet and the bitter fruits of the rearing of yesterday’s children. As we train a new generation, so will the world be in a few years. If you are worried about the future, then look today at the upbringing of children. In large measure the harshness that characterizes so much of our society is an outgrowth of the harshness imposed upon children years ago.
As boys and girls we enjoyed the ward in which we lived. There were many varieties of people in that ward, and I think we knew them all. People seldom moved in those days. I think we loved all of them, that is, except for one man. I must make a confession—I detested that man. I have since repented of that emotion, but as I look back I can sense again the intensity of my feeling. His young sons were our friends, but I regarded him as my enemy. Why this strong feeling? Because he had a vicious temper which flared on the slightest provocation, and he shouted at and cuffed his children in a manner I have never forgotten.
Perhaps it was because of the home in which I grew, where there was a father who, by some quiet magic, was able to discipline his children without physical punishment, though occasionally they doubtless deserved it. I have seen the fruits of our neighbor’s temper come alive in the troubled lives of his children.
I do not hesitate to say that no man who is a professed follower of Christ, and no man who is a professed member of this Church, can engage in the abuse of children without offending God who is their Father and repudiating the teachings of the Savior and his prophets. It was Jesus himself who declared: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones. … it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6.)
Said Brigham Young: “Bring up your children in the love and fear of the Lord; study their dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly, never allowing yourself to correct them in the heat of passion; teach them to love you rather than to fear you.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 207.)
Discipline with severity, discipline with cruelty, inevitably leads not to correction, but rather to resentment and bitterness. It cures nothing. It only aggravates the problem. It is self-defeating. The Lord, in setting forth the spirit of governance in his Church, has also set forth the spirit of governance in the home in these great words of revelation:
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained. … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; …
“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost [and only then I think]; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 121:41, 43–44.)
Wrote Paul to the Ephesians: “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4.)
When little problems occur, as they inevitably will, restrain yourself. Call to mind the wisdom of the ancient proverb: “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” (Prov. 15:1.)
There is no discipline in all the world like the discipline of love. It has a magic all its own.
Twice blessed is the child who, while he or she is so young as perhaps to be unable to comprehend the words, can nevertheless feel the spirit of prayer as a loving mother or a kind father helps with a few words of prayer at bedtime.
Fortunate, indeed, are the boys and girls, including those in their teens, in whose homes there is the practice of morning and evening family prayer.
I know of no better way to develop a spirit of appreciation in children than for all of the members of the family to kneel to thank the Lord for his blessings. Such humble expression will do wonders to build within the hearts of children a recognition of the fact that God is the source of the precious gifts we have.
I know of no better way to cultivate a desire to do what is right than to humbly ask for forgiveness from him whose right it is to forgive, and to ask for strength to live above weakness.
What a wonderful thing it is to remember before the Lord those who are sick and in sorrow, those who are hungry and destitute, those who are lonely and afraid, those who are in bondage and sore distress. When such prayers are uttered in sincerity, there will follow a greater desire to reach out to those in need.
There will be increased respect and love for the bishop, for the stake president, for the President of the Church when they are remembered in the prayers of the family.
It is a significant thing to teach children how to pray concerning their own needs and righteous desires. As members of the family kneel together in supplication to the Almighty and speak with him of their needs, there will distill into the hearts of children a natural inclination in times of distress and extremity to turn to God as their Father and their friend.
Let prayer, night and morning, as a family and as individuals, become a practice in which children grow while yet young. It will bless their lives forever. No parent in this Church can afford to neglect it.
My beloved fellow parents, these are the four elements I should like to suggest to you as you work to create the environment of your homes—(1) A spirit of outreaching service, (2) an atmosphere of stimulating growth, (3) the discipline of godly love, and (4) the practice of sacred prayer.
I thank the Lord for the many good parents of this Church who are impressive examples of honesty and integrity before their children and before the world. I thank him for their faith and their faithfulness. I thank him for their great desire to nurture their children in light and truth as the Lord has commanded. May his blessings crown your efforts and may each of you someday be able to say, as said John of old: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 Jn. 1:4.)
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
Four important elements are central in building a positive environment in our homes:
1. A spirit of service to each other and others.
2. An atmosphere conducive to the growth and development of family members.
3. A parental decision to use love as the guiding principle in family discipline.
4. A practice of daily family prayer wherein the family is united in seeking Heavenly Father’s guidance and forgiveness for mistakes.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the four guidelines outlined above.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?